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Beneath the tough bark, Clarke was a softie for charity

Published:Monday | May 18, 2020 | 12:27 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter

More than two decades ago, Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon contemplated starting a weekly newspaper through his charity organisation, Mustard Seed Communities.

Ramkissoon remembers reaching out to an old acquaintance, then chairman and managing director of The Gleaner Company, Oliver Clarke.

The clergyman had met Clarke years earlier when he got a surprise call from the media boss offering to assist him with a project that would benefit residents in the informal settlement of Mona Commons in St Andrew.

“So when I wanted to start a weekly newspaper at Mustard Seed in 1995, I called Oliver to see if he would help me print it, and, of course, that would be competing with his STAR (newspaper),” he recounted.

Clarke’s response was more than Ramkissoon expected.

“He says, ‘Well, I have a better idea for you ... . Why don’t you start a radio station?’ He said, ‘This is how you going to start the radio station,’ and he helped me,” Ramkissoon said, relating the story of how RootsFM began operations in 1997.

It was one of several acts of kindness Ramkissoon said Clarke showed him. But what’s more, he said, Clarke never sought public recognition for his philanthropy.

“He said, ‘Keep this private, you know ... . Don’t tell anybody about any of this,’” Ramkissoon said of Clarke’s role in the station’s formation.

Clarke, who was ailing from cancer, died Saturday at his St Andrew home. He was 75.

Robert Thompson, the Anglican Bishop of Kingston, had similar memories of the generosity of the late Gleaner boss.

Tracing the roots of both families back to the parish of Westmoreland, Thompson recounted a meeting with Clarke after he was appointed rector of St Andrew Parish Church.

“He said, ‘You know, Robert, I want you to know that I have a commitment to supporting you in your ministry, in your calling, and your personal development,’” Thompson said.

The bishop said that every year since that conversation, including in January 2020, he has received a cheque from the late Gleaner chairman.

“On the first occasion he sent a cheque to me,.I wrote back to him and said thanks, I will make this a contribution to the discretionary fund ... so I will hand it on to others,” Thompson said.

Clarke, he said, quickly “rebuked” him. “He says, ‘No, this is not for any fund that you support. This is for your personal use,’” Thompson shared.

“I’ve never forgotten that.”


Ramkissoon remembers, too, the cheques, each valued at more than $100,000, Clarke gave children in the care of Mustard Seed Communities.

“Not even a thank-you note he wanted.”

The diminutive clergyman laughed at some of the banter between them. The one that stood out for Ramkissoon was when Clarke asked him what influenced the name of his charity organisation.

“I said, of course, you don’t read the Bible ... . I said it is a passage from the Bible, and he said, ‘Oh, it could not be because of you because you will never grow,” Ramkissoon said, bursting into laughter.

Thompson believes Clarke was misunderstood. He said while the late media boss was wealthy and “wielded a lot of power”, there was a “softness and humility about him”.

“That softness was the foundation of his generosity towards persons and his country,” he reasoned.

Thompson said that Clarke was passionate about his country and believed there was a solution to all the problems “and that Oliver Clarke was part of the solution”.

He believes Clarke would not want any monument erected in his memory. “He would want to be remembered, I would think, as someone who loved his country dearly and would spend any resources in order to see that we right the wrongs, whether it is crime, COVID-19, or whatever it is.”

Ramkissoon held up Clarke’s legacy as something to be emulated by those blessed with financial wealth and a good education.

“How they can give back without seeking to get from what they give,” he said.