HAYES, Clarendon — King Lyon does not like to talk much about his role in transforming the Raymonds DAM community from an informal settlement to a well-respected neighbourhood in south-eastern Clarendon.
He prefers to turn the spotlight on the work which remains to be done to further develop the community and the wider south Clarendon.
"Yes, we have come a far way, but there are lots more to be done," said Lyon, one of three unsung heroes who were recognised last year by the parish for their contribution to community development.
Lyon, 73, is an American by birth and only traded the cold climes of the north for the sunshine of Jamaica after meeting his wife, Nelleta, who was studying in the United States, in the 1970s.
"The reason I came here in 1972 is because Nelleta and I were dating for three years and I asked her to marry me, but she said: 'No, I'm not going to marry you unless you ask my father,' so I said 'OK', and I came to Jamaica to ask Mr Richards.
"I enjoyed that first visit and since that time I never missed a year in coming to Jamaica; sometimes I would come alone and sometimes she would come alone. And on one of her visits she told me she had bought a place in Raymonds, so that's how we both ended up here," said Lyon, a Washington DC, native who worked as a trade unionist for 35 years.
"In 1995, I became eligible for retirement and it so happened that my wife retired at the same time, so we just decided to come to Jamaica and spend some time. Once we got to Jamaica and saw Raymonds we decided to stay and this has been our home ever since," he said.
But Lyon would soon find out that the house they had built in the 1980s was actually located on an informal settlement. Still, they were not prepared to walk away.
"When I discovered that where we lived wasn't a regularised community, but what they would call 'capture land', I decided to use some of my unionism training to look at our situation here because we didn't have a title. That's how I got involved in community development," he said.
"In 1997, my wife and I formed the Raymonds DAM Citizens' Association for four reasons: land title, electricity, telephone and trash collection. We had water, but we didn't have basic things like trash collection because captured land was like poison. So we had to form the association," he said.
It took them about a year to get their titles, but the wait was worthwhile.
"We met with the Honourable Easton Douglas, who was the Minister of Land, Environment and Housing at the time, and as a result of those meetings we were successful in getting him to bring Operation Pride to this area," Lyon recalled. "It gave us the opportunity to become land owners and then we began to lobby for electricity, telephone and garbage collection," he said.
Today, the community boasts over 3,000 residents with a good blend of youth and senior, Lyon said, but issues like unemployment remain a big problem.
"What we would like to see in our community is the repair of parochial roads, street signs, which might sound like something that's not critical, but it's important," he said. "However, what we need more than anything else is an immediate help with jobs. We need to find long-term employment to put our people to work," he said.
Going forward, Lyon and his fellow residents have their eyes set on a particular project, 'community tourism', which they believe will offer sustainable development for not just Raymonds but the entire Clarendon south coast.
"I believe south coast tourism would be a very good avenue to create employment for the citizens," noted Lyon, who also heads the Raymonds Council of Citizens' Association. "Not only do we have the (St Peter's Anglican) Church in Alley, which is one of the oldest in the Caribbean, but there are lots of other areas that could be used for heritage tourism," he said.
"There is the Monymusk sugar f actory which has old slave houses. We have one of the oldest jails in Jamaica on Salt River Road; we also have Fauker Beach, which was the site of a ship battle between France and Great Britain. We have crocodiles in Salt River and Sea Cows close by which is a beautiful tourist attraction.
"There is so much in the area that can be used to create employment through heritage tourism for not just the people in this community, but the entire area."