In the upper echelons of the People's National Party, O D Ramtallie was called “The Happy Warrior”. He earned that moniker because whenever at officers' meeting and some task of peculiar difficulty had to be tackled, Comrade Ramtallie would either immediately volunteer or undertake the assignment without a murmur.
For he was blessed with that special gift of finding solutions by his own quiet approach of persistent application of the party's sacred constitution with sound listening antennae and which allowed him to find an acceptable solution, however intractable the problem may have appeared. So no matter what, he would leave all of us in the room while he departed on his errand with a cheerful smile. Michael Manley would say contentedly: “There goes the Happy Warrior.”
Orville Delany Ramtallie, “O D”, was one of a kind. His family roots were planted in St Elizabeth, where he was born and bred. His early beginnings imbued him with a devotion to family in which his grandfather Simeon Parchment fathered 16 children with his only wife and set the precepts for the whole family to abide.
He exited the Southfield School, passing the third Jamaica Local Examination, which equipped him with the requisite skills to become a teacher at a primary school adjacent to May Pen. He adjusted quickly to this new environment and soon everyone came to regard him as a true son of the soil and a Clarendonian to the bone.
In those days, Bustamante had ignited the flame of fair treatment for the workers. Norman Manley had embarked on the struggle to uplift the masses by an emphasis on community empowerment through Jamaica Welfare and the fuel of the Co-operative Movement. The new song for the young generation was “We're out to build a New Jamaica”. It was that clarion call which inspired the young Ramtallie to secure employment with the Cooperative Society in the plains of Clarendon.
That message also attracted him to The People's National Party which advocated Universal Adult Suffrage and self-government as the precursor of nationhood.
Soon after the grant of Universal Adult Suffrage, Ramtallie was part of a younger group enticed to the party, which sought to develop Jamaica as a whole. The parish of Clarendon, dominated by the sugar industry, was controlled by Labour. O D Ramtallie joined with a small cadre of energetic citizens like the late dentist Dr Duhaney, Ivy German, and T G Mignott to organise groups and spread the party's message of political freedom and social advancement as Norman Manley had proclaimed.
After the party's victory in 1955, the group sought to capitalise on the achievements of the party in Government, such as the acquisition of Rhymesbury and the free place for secondary school students, but it was not until 1972 that the prospects for electoral victory appeared bright in the plains of Vere.
O D Ramtallie was first and foremost a family man. He was modest and yet ambitious.
Had he chosen so then, O D Ramtallie would have been the obvious candidate for Central Clarendon, but he piloted home Dallas Young to an unprecedented victory as his astute campaign manager.
In 1976, O D Ramtallie was finally persuaded to run as the PNP candidate for Central Clarendon. He was diligent in advancing the welfare of his constituency and was a catalytic force in kick-starting the growth and expansion of May Pen.
His influence soon spread beyond that constituency to make him the undisputed leader of the entire parish. Within a short space of time, this fit and energetic giant emerged as the pivot of all major decisions to be taken by the PNP with his involvement. He may have been slim in size, but his political stature made him a true heavyweight on the hustings.
The bitter election campaign of 1980 brought severe violence to Central Clearendon and surrounding constituencies. He stood his ground valiantly but, like so many others of us, lost his seat.
It is in times of defeat and the borders of despair that the true mettle of the man is best tested.
Ramtallie did not miss a beat and decided to transfer his candidacy to South West Clarendon to give tremendous support and leadership wherever the party demanded in the southern belt.
O D Ramtallie stepped to the front line of leadership and was chosen as a vice-president in 1982.
After that, his campaign slogan was simple but devastating – 'Ram It'.
He excelled in providing mentorship to many seeking to enter the political arena – Senator Donna Scott being among his most prominent mentees. He was good at planning political succession so that the eventual transition in his constituency, firstly to Charles Learmond and then Butch Arscott, could take place without a hitch.
In 1989, Orville Ramtallie was appointed to the Cabinet as minister of ocnstruction and housing. He was a man who preferred to say little, but achieve much. He was blessed with a good business acumen, which sharpened his skills in public management.
As minister of housing, he presided over the construction of the largest housing development in our Caribbean – Greater Portmore. In its design and implementation he insisted that the mistakes and omissions of the previous phase should be avoided so that due provisions were made for educational and health facilities from the very start of this huge project.
As minister for the National Housing Trust (NHT), with the active engagement of its Chairman Dr Carlton Davis and the board, Ramtallie had to restore the credibility of the Trust through a sound financial base and the acceleration of building affordable houses for NHT contributors. Whenever possible, he allowed scope for smaller housing contractors.
Our road network was in need of urgent restoration due to rigid programmes of structural adjustment. He tackled this vigorously, using all the permissible devices within his ministry's budget without ever a hint of corruption, so long as O D's insistence on accountability was obeyed.
To the Cabinet he brought a good sense of judgement about how decisions would affect each sector and individual by his mastery of the common touch.
No Comrade has ever been more committed or worked more assiduously for the People's National Party as the vehicle of choice “to ensure economic security for all… work to the unemployed… fair and just treatment for all workers… to raise the standard of life not only on the economic level but the social as well”.
To make an honest and reasonable living, Ramtallie was at an earlier period engaged in cane farming, construction, and later on an insurance agency. He was insistent that all his daughters obtain the best education in order to pursue their own careers – but his dear wife often had to make a plea to those who her husband would listen to ensure that all he earned was not given away or used entirely to meet the party's financial needs. He was by nature generous and considerate.
Ramtallie was not confined to politics and business. He was an avid cricket fan – in the stands of Sabina Park with Danny Buchanan and Desmond Leakey, or travelling through the Caribbean to watch the invincible West Indies team batter one touring side after another. He fancied himself as a dancer, with a preference to display his foot skills to the Calypso beat.
When he decided to retire from Parliament in 1997, O D Ramtallie simply opened a new chapter of his continued earnest engagement in the organising programme of the party with his car engine throttling to take him wherever his experience was required.
My last memory of his political activism was during the 2011-12 election. He opted to help in Western St Mary and persuaded the National Campaign Team for Comrade Portia Simpson-Miller that the seat was winnable.
Every morning he would be in attendance at party headquarters to find out what he could scrape up – shirts, buttons, wrist bands, caps, or other paraphernalia to head off through the Junction. We would all laugh in the engine room: “There again goes the Happy Warrior”. Despite the illness he incurred, he was very much present at the Gordon House Swearing in of the new parliamentary members.
The passing of O D Ramtallie has allowed me to share this narrative of his life to illustrate and remind us all how a man with a mission can make a difference and contribute to all our efforts to make Jamaica that country where we can live in peace and harmony together to raise our families in a land where we are proud to call home.
Orville Delany Ramtallie, CD was a stalwart and a pioneer whose indelible contribution to democratic pluralism serves to underpin our national motto: Out of many one people.
We express our sincere sympathy to his wife Cecil; daughters Kareen Bhorasingh (Michael), Suzanne Robotham (Rohan), Andrea, Kathryn, and Brooke-Marie; sisters Jasmine Kirby and Muff; nieces; members of the extended family; his wide circle of friends; and Comrades everywhere.
The entire nation and the People's National Party express our profound gratitude to them for the sacrifice they made which enabled him to make such a difference for good in Jamaica, the land of his birth.
P J Patterson served as Jamaica's prime minister and People's National Party president from 1992 to 2006.