Sun | Jul 5, 2020

Clarke kind, witty, and irreverent

Published:Wednesday | May 27, 2020 | 12:10 AM


OLIVER CLARKE was simultaneously kind, witty, irreverent and oft-times, deliberately annoying. Those characteristics could be discerned after even a brief interaction with him.

However, not as easily perceived was that Oliver was deeply nationalistic and had an easy rapport with ordinary Jamaicans. He had a deep commitment to the preservation of mutual institutions in the financial sector. That commitment was manifest in his decades-long leadership of the Jamaica National Group. To this end, his prime concern was that the small shareholders would remain the central focus of the organisation.

I clearly recollect receiving a telephone call from Oliver in the midst of the financial crisis. After a pointed reminder from him that the institutions, which had stayed true to the principles of mutuality, had remained viable, he said: “The crisis is such that we need all hands on deck. For several reasons, I believe that I can help and I’m available.” After consultations with Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, Oliver was asked to assume the position of executive chairman of NCB. He accepted the offer and remained in that position until the entity was divested.

His statement – “for several reasons, I believe that I can help” – was not solely a reference to his accountancy skills. It was also an acknowledgement of the unique role which someone of his socio-economic background could play, given the structure of the economy as well as the composition of the leadership of the private sector. Oliver’s appointment calmed the concerns of the ‘captains’ of industry; at the same time, not even his most extreme critics questioned whether his decision-making would be biased. His death provides us with the opportunity to explore more fully to assess the contributions to national development of Oliver and other Jamaicans of a similar background.


His daughter’s tribute to him alluded to the guidance he provided her in contextualising her position in society. A personal anecdote provides an example of his “guidance” to her.

Once I invited Oliver to a football match at the Arnett Gardens stadium. He accepted the invitation and came with his (then) little daughter, Alexandra. When I offered them refreshments, he said that having been given free admission, he felt that he should buy ‘drinks’ for everyone sitting in his row in the stands.

Furthermore, Alex would take the orders, purchase the drinks, and then serve those who had ordered. Carrying out these tasks meant that Alex spent the entire match going up and down the steps of the stands, serving her patrons. Anyone who knows the composition of an Arnett home crowd would appreciate that a ‘drinks’ girl looking like Alex would stand out. I remember asking Oliver the reason for his action. He simply said that Alex had received free entry to the game so she was obliged to pay back in some way.

Oliver was a unique individual. My family and I extend sincere condolences to Monica and Alex.


Former Finance and

Planning Minister