Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Clarke loved by all parties, unbeaten at the polls

Published:Friday | August 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM
In this file photo, Chistopher Tufton (left), who was then the minister of agriculture, greets Roger Clarke, who was the opposition spokesman on agriculture at the time, during the launch of the Eat Jamaican campaign at the Coronation Market in Kingston on March 1, 2011.
In this 2006 file photo, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke (second left), along with his colleagues, walks towards Gordon House for the ceremonial opening of Parliament. Also pictured are (from left) National Security Minister Dr Peter Phillips, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Education Minister Maxine Henry Wilson, and Member of Parliament Wykeham McNeill.
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Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

WILLIAM J.C. Hutchinson, Roger Clarke's first opponent in a parliamentary election, says the late politician endeared himself to people; it made him unbeatable at the polls.

A two-time councillor in the St Elizabeth parish council and former mayor of Black River, Clarke made the move into parliamentary politics in 1991, following the departure of Sydney Pagon as member of parliament for North East St Elizabeth.

Clarke has never lost a parliamentary election - six of them in total. In North East St Elizabeth, he has beaten Hutchinson (1991), Winston Lewis (1993), Basil Perriel and Lewis (1997), and Perriel again in 2002.

In 2007, Clarke switched to Central Westmoreland where he defeated Russell Hamond and later Marlene Malahoo Forte (2011).

Back in 1991, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) decided against contesting the election, but Hutchinson, one of its members, was adamant Clarke would not be unopposed. Hutchinson ran as an independent candidate, and though he lost the election, he was exposed to how wily an opponent Clarke was.

"I can remember when he was mayor of Black River and his vehicle broke down in Holland Bamboo. I recognised him and stopped, picked him up. He was actually going for the seat, to run as MP. While I was carrying him home, he actually stopped at every bar on the road, indicating to persons that I was his campaign manager," Hutchinson said.

Clarke had given a similar version of the story while contributing to a debate in Parliament. Hutchinson collapsed in his seat laughing and fellow parliamentarians all caught the infectious laughter.

But although a farmer by profession, Hutchinson said the long-serving agriculture minister had some shortcomings.

"He knew agriculture, but I can't say that directly the results showed during his tenure. As a matter of fact, his tenure wasn't one that can be boasted about as far as growth is concerned in the agriculture sector," Hutchinson said.

Hutchison said Clarke was a gentleman; he was one who was loved by persons on both sides of the political divide. "In his political life, he knew how to garner the support of people who were out there, not only in his party, but also among the JLP as well. It is a big loss to the people of Jamaica".

COMMITTED TO SECTOR

Dr Christopher Tufton, who succeeded Clarke as minister of agriculture after the 2007 general election, said Clarke demonstrated commitment to agriculture, both as a farmer and minister.

"But beyond that, he had a personality that made him the life of the debate or the party. He would give you jokes; if he disagreed, he disagreed strongly and we did disagree on a number of policy issues, but at the same time maintained a cordial relationship. He was of that personality that made it impossible to personalise discussions or debate, even when the disagreement were strong," Tufton said.

Basil Waite, a former president of the People's National Party Youth Organisation and one-time aspirant to represent the PNP in Clarke's old North East St Elizabeth seat, said Clarke and Donald Buchanan, who died in 2010, were two of his mentors.

"He lived his life as an example," Waite said of his fallen Comrade.

"One thing that struck me about him is that he never went about with any security whatsoever. He was in words and deeds a man of the people," he added.

Waite said it was amazing travelling across the country with Clarke: "He would know everybody everywhere we stopped on a first-name basis. It was unbelievable."

Clarke, who had delivered the eulogy at Buchanan's funeral, had mourners in stitches when he spoke about possible conversations Buchanan and Michael Manley would be having in heaven about life in Jamaica since he said his goodbye.

"My father and Roger Clarke were genuine friends," Hugh Buchanan, the member of parliament for North West St Elizabeth, told The Gleaner.