Saluting unsung heroes Clarke and Champagnie
Recently, Winston Clarke died. He was an icon in St Thomas - owner and operator of a gas station in Morant Bay. However, his major contribution to St Thomas was agitating for the parish to get its first high school in January 1961. The school started with 61 students, one of whom was my sister, Roenna.
St Thomas was the last parish in Jamaica to get a high school. Clarke had to overcome many obstacles to get the Morant Bay High School established. It was he and Uriah Fagan of Airy Castle Methodist Church who moved a resolution at the Methodist Synod to establish the school. The resolution had the support of others, including the Reverend Hugh Sherlock. Clarke was a founding member of the board of governors of the Morant Bay High School. His tenacity in the face of setbacks brought into being the school.
In January, the school held its Founders' Day service, at which I was the guest speaker, and one of Morant Bay High School's most famous graduates, Olympian Juliet Cuthbert, was a motivational presenter. Winston Clarke was present, along with Sydney Ross, who also was instrumental in the founding of Morant Bay High School. Clarke's mind was still sharp. He hailed me as "Willard Son". My father was Willard, and they both belonged to the Methodist Church. Little did I know, it would be the last time I would see him. He was a hard-working visionary and unassuming person.
St Thomas has been the forgotten parish, not getting its deserved recognition since the 1865 Morant Bay Uprising led by national hero and native Baptist pastor, Paul Bogle. However, Clarke believed in the academic ability of the children of St Thomas. His relationship with God meant that he wanted the total development of the children of St Thomas.
The impact of Morant Bay High on the parish of St Thomas is hard to quantify. The school, as the premier secondary school in the parish, has improved the social, economic, intellectual, sporting and spiritual life of the parish and Jamaica. It was an oversight on our part that Clarke, whose vision and hard work brought into being the Morant Bay High, was never given a national award.
Another giant who died around the same time as Clarke was Leleka Champagnie, who was integral to my story at Boulevard Baptist Church when I started ministry there in 1990. She was assigned to me to make the transition smooth for someone moving from a small congregation to a large, complex congregation. She did a fantastic job.
Champagnie was a foundation member of the Boulevard Baptist Church, established in 1969. She served as chairman of the diaconate and in her late 80s, she introduced and structured the church's First-Aid Ministry, now named after her. She was always willing to learn, even as a senior citizen. She learned to use the computer in her 80s, doing e-banking. In her later years, she pursued training courses at the church's skills training centre. Champagnie was an encourager, a modern-day biblical Barnabas.
Champagnie served the Baptist denomination as a vice-president and treasurer of the Jamaica Baptist Women's Federation. Perhaps her greatest contribution was to nursing. She was a president and general secretary of the Nurses' Association of Jamaica (NAJ). She was a founding member of the NAJ Co-operative Credit Union and was instrumental in the NAJ acquiring and managing a home for retired nurses. She was a strong advocate for the welfare of nurses.
The NAJ named a building in her honour and the nation conferred her with the Order of Distinction (OD) in 1988.
Jamaica has lost two faithful, outstanding unsung heroes in Winston Clarke and Leleka Champagnie. Their lives have been inspiration to many and their footprints will remind us of the struggles we must endure for the betterment of the nation.
Reverend Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.