Last year I received a call from Oliver Clarke’s assistant conveying his request that I continue to mentor a bright, young graduate whom he had been guiding through her final year at The University of the West Indies (The UWI).
I had no idea that this busy entrepreneur, leading the multi-billion-dollar JN Group and the RJRGleaner Communications Group, as well as serving on several other prestigious boards, would be making the time to be a mentor.
His mentee, Shanakay Dyer, explained that he took this very seriously: “At his office, he had framed photographs of his mentees on his walls, and he had files on each of us,” she shared.
She said Oliver Clarke would weave his characteristic sense of humour into his wise counsel. He invited his mentees to dinner at his home so they would get to know each other. “He made us feel like family,” recalls Dyer.
In a shining tribute to her father on Facebook, Alexandra Clarke told us she would accompany her dad to events as a small child and started working as a summer intern at The Gleaner Company when she was 13. Entitlement was not entertained, she wrote, as he even fired her one summer.
She said her dad’s famous wit enlivened conversations. “His wisdom was second only to his wit,” she related.
Millennial Alex said her dad never spoke about his philanthropic efforts; she heard about most of them via “buck-ups”. She found out that, as posted by Douglas Halsall, while Oliver was studying in England, “Jamaicans were migrating in droves. Oliver would spend his weekends at railway stations assisting migrants to find their way.”
So here is another buck-up, Alex. At a media launch of CCRP, an advocacy organisation for seniors, your dad sat across from me at the King’s House breakfast. At the end of my announcement he passed me an envelope. “What is this for?” I asked him. “My membership fee,” he answered with a wide grin. Of course, he had no need for the benefits of the organisation but, being a cheerleader for anything positive and constructive, he gave us his treasured vote of confidence to become member number one.
In a conversation with him earlier this year he was delighted to hear that in CCRP’s tenth year we now had over 10,000 members.
When our company won the tender to develop Flair magazine for The Gleaner back in 1984, then-editor Hector Wynter remarked on Oliver’s commendation of our proposal, which drove us to the fine-tuning of every issue during our three-year contract so we would not disappoint him.
As we celebrate Jamaica’s continued top rating for press freedom, we owe Oliver Clarke a debt for his vigorous support of the Press Association of Jamaica, and his presidency of the Inter American Press Association and the Commonwealth Press Association.
He recognised that press freedom was an important safeguard for our precious democracy. His patriotism shone in his establishment of the Peace and Love in Schools programme (PALS), which was housed at his North Street offices, and in the many affirmation programmes sponsored by his companies.
Oliver Clarke could spot talent in a millisecond, and gave respect to brilliant executives like Earl Jarrett, Chris Barnes, and Dr Dana Morris Dixon. Those of us who knew that Oliver had our backs are feeling a bit hobbled right now. However, he would want us to straighten up, keep flying on a path of excellence, and laugh at the wind.
We pray God’s comfort for his beloved wife Monica, daughter Alex, family, and close friends. Rest in peace, unforgettable Oliver Clarke.
—Courtesy Jamaica Observer