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Cecil Charlton: The Mandeville superman

Published:Friday | September 20, 2013 | 12:00 AM
The late Cecil Charlton and wife Veronica. - FILE

Louis Marriott, Contributor

NOT ONLY the parish of Manchester, but also the rest of Jamaica said goodbye to a superman with the passing of former Mandeville mayor, Cecil Charlton, on Thursday, September 12.

Charlton's most recent successor as mayor, the incumbent Brenda Ramsay, found perhaps the most appropriate words when she said shortly after his death: "He was a fearless individual and a man of action. We are missing a giant of a man who was small in stature but large in many other ways."

Charlton was born in Mandeville on April 6, 1925, the son of David Charlton, a tinsmith, and Laura Palmer-Charlton. The last of 13 children in a poor family, he attended Manchester Government School in Mandeville but dropped out at the age of 11 as the family was overwhelmed by its financial problems.

It was, for him, the end of formal schooling except for a brief period of lessons at West Indies College, but he read voraciously and introduced himself to a new word each day through a dictionary that he sometimes took on motor car trips. He taught himself plumbing by keen observation of skilled artisans at the craft. Among the plumbing jobs that he undertook was the installation of gutters around the Mandeville Courthouse.

A deep, intuitive thinker, he realised early the virtues of hard work, self-development through education, and prudent money management. He achieved great success in business through inborn ingenuity, charisma, and a uniquely flamboyant style. A pragmatic, though bold and candid, politician, he served as mayor of Mandeville for a combined total of a quarter century. Even on the relatively rare occasions when he was not the incumbent mayor, he was almost always called "Mayor Charlton".

Charlton married Louise Wilson on October 7, 1944, and fathered two sons and a daughter by her. All three are successful businesspersons - the firstborn, Donald, a real estate dealer in New York; the second Winsome, 'Lady C', a Florida-based trailblazing entrepreneur, broadcaster, and entertainment promoter who describes her father as "the best" and "very, very strict"; and Cecil Charles Charlton Jnr, universally known as 'Junior'.

Louise Charlton died in 1975 and the perennial mayor married Veronica Bateman on February 22, 1977. The latter union produced a son, David, who, like his mother and brother Junior, lives in Mandeville.

Formula for business success

Asked to explain his father's great success in business, Donald tentatively speculated that it might be partly attributed to his having a number of Chinese friends who were adept at business. He was also often in the company of lawyers and doctors, and as a layman, had a remarkable knowledge of laws. "He liked to pick the professionals' brains," recalled Donald.

Horse racing

In the 1960s, Charlton owned the Green Heights Entertainment Club and a fleet of 11 radio-controlled Windsor taxicabs based in his hometown. Introduced to horse racing at the age of 12 and falling in love with it, Charlton immersed himself deeply in the business of the sport, operating a chain of Charles Off-course betting shops in a number of towns and acquiring many racehorses, numbering at peak 45 animals conditioned by five different trainers in 1977.

He named many of his horses, with tongue in cheek, after himself and other family members: Mr C; Call Me Ces; Maas Charles; The Mayor Himself; Lover Boy Ces; Cecil's Boy; Mr Mandeville; Miss Manchester; Cecil's Darling; I Shall Return; and Miss Muff, his pet name for daughter Winsome.

In 1976, he was the champion owner, with 33 wins. He retained the title in the following year, chalking up 44 victories. Among his other credentials in the sport, he was president of the Jamaica Bookmakers' Association, and he was inducted into the Jamaica Racing Hall of Fame in 2006, following the delivery of a citation by another famous horseman, Dennis Lalor.

Charlton's record of public service was no less impressive than his business portfolio.

He represented Jamaica on several overseas missions relating to water supply and local government administration. In addition to his mayoralty and chairmanship of the Manchester Parish Council, which began in 1962, he served as chairman of the National Water Commission, Hargreaves Memorial Hospital, Manchester Secondary School, Manchester High School, and the Manchester Parish Library.

Legendary philanthropy

Charlton's philanthropy has been legendary. He bought Mandeville's first ambulance with his own funds and handed it over to the health authorities. He donated his mayor's salary to the Salvation Army, in which his mother had brought him up. He was a generous contributor to a wide range of causes that he considered worthy. When a Manchester policeman was killed in the line of duty, Charlton offered to finance the education of his daughter provided that she performed satisfactorily at school, and he monitored her school reports and honoured his pledge. He financed the education of many other children of the parish.

A public park, a multi-purpose hall in the parish library building, and a street bear his name. Another Charlton legacy is the close-knit relationship and teamwork of his widespread offspring, spanning three generations.

In recent years, there has been considerable discussion among his parishioners of the idea of a statue or bust of Charlton in the heart of Mandeville.