Wed | Oct 4, 2023

Pioneer. Visionary. Patriot.

R. Danny Williams leaves behind a tremendous legacy

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2023 | 12:10 AM
R. Danny Williams
R. Danny Williams
R. Danny Williams speaks with The Gleaner in an interview at his Irish Town, St Andrew residence in April 2017.
R. Danny Williams speaks with The Gleaner in an interview at his Irish Town, St Andrew residence in April 2017.
R. Danny Williams (left), chairman of the Project Committee for the Ashenheim Stadium at Jamaica College, passes the baton to Ian Forbes (right), member of the Project Committee, during a symbolic relay for the opening of the facility on February 20, 2019.
R. Danny Williams (left), chairman of the Project Committee for the Ashenheim Stadium at Jamaica College, passes the baton to Ian Forbes (right), member of the Project Committee, during a symbolic relay for the opening of the facility on February 20, 2019.
R. Danny Williams and his wife Shirley share a toast during his book launch in 2019.
R. Danny Williams and his wife Shirley share a toast during his book launch in 2019.

Hailed for his selfless contribution to the growth and development of Jamaica, sector leaders have saluted Dr R. Danny Williams OJ, CD, who died yesterday at the age of 89.

Williams – an insurance pioneer, philanthropist, nation builder extraordinaire and a former Cabinet minister – died at a hospital in Miami, Florida, where he had undergone surgery.

“He was deeply loved, respected and admired by colleagues, employees, and industry peers alike, for his integrity and compassion. We reflect on his immense contribution to Jamaica and the tremendous legacy he leaves behind,” said Christopher Zacca, chairman, president and CEO of Sagicor Group Jamaica.

“He was a selfless person, who dedicated his life to service in various capacities – both in the public and private sectors – giving of his personal time and resources to help underserved and underprivileged Jamaicans.”

Williams was the founder of Jamaica’s first domestically owned life insurance company, Life of Jamaica, now Sagicor Life Jamaica.

“May his life and legacy continue to inspire us as we recall with gratitude his service to public life and within private sector, which has positively impacted the Jamaican landscape,” said Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding said Jamaica has lost a great son of the soil.

“Danny’s legendary prowess in raising funds for worthy causes is unmatched in modern Jamaica, and several important institutions have benefited from those efforts,” Golding noted of Williams’ humanitarian work.

Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said Jamaica is now the poorer for Williams’ passing.

“He ranks within the highest echelons of committed leaders who have contributed beyond measure to the growth and esteem of our island. He was a towering giant in the fields of business, education, institution building. and deserving charitable causes,” said Patterson.

“I have lost a precious friend and an invaluable political colleague. No words are sufficient to thank Shirley, his lifelong partner, for sharing him so generously with the entire country and taking such good care of him. To her and the family, by blood and extended, we express our profound sympathy. All Jamaica is bereaved.”

Former president of the People’s National Party, Dr Peter Phillips, said Williams was a truly great Jamaican and a pioneering spirit who contributed tremendously to the development of his country and its institutions.

A self-made man

In its heyday, the now-defunct Life of Jamaica (LOJ) was a giant in the life insurance industry, not only in the country of its birth, but also throughout the Caribbean. And the man who stood just as tall beside this powerful force was its proud father, Raby Danvers Williams, better known as Danny Williams.

Williams could easily have claimed paternity in the case of Jamaica’s life insurance industry in general, as he created LOJ at a time when the key players in the local sector were all foreign-based. His vision took form when he raised capital for his venture by selling two and a half million private and public shares, making LOJ the first life insurance company to be listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange.

By the time he founded LOJ on June 1, 1970, Williams had already worked his magic with another insurance firm, the North American Life Assurance Company of Canada (NALACO), as branch manager for its operations in Jamaica. Williams had joined NALACO as a salesman, in 1953, when he was a mere 18 years of age. Seven years later, he had risen to the position of branch manager.

Under Williams’ leadership, NALACO climbed to the number one spot among the company’s overseas branches, as well as to the top of the heap among insurance companies in Jamaica. Along with business partners, Williams later arranged for NALACO to go public with a share offer, which helped to cement its Jamaican identity.

With his formal education not extending beyond high school at Jamaica College, Williams became a self-made man whose career, built on hard work, discipline, dedication and goal-setting, served as a motivation to several others.

As LOJ’s president and chief executive officer, “approachable” and “accessible” were two oft-repeated words that were used to describe him as he carried out his duties, and showed that a leader and manager need not be aloof or autocratic in order to earn respect from his staff.

Williams continually inspired his team to high productivity and, by 1986, LOJ had achieved the distinction of becoming the first company in Jamaica’s history to sell over $1 billion worth of life insurance in a single year. The following year, this figure was more than doubled.

Then came the 1990s when the country’s financial sector was plunged into crisis and businesses were going under on a daily basis. LOJ did not escape the economic tsunami, and was swept into the control of the Financial Sector Adjustment Company, more commonly known as FINSAC. A few years onward, Barbadian investors acquired LOJ’s assets, which formed the basis of what later became Sagicor Life Jamaica, a subsidiary of Sagicor Financial Corporation.

Williams’ involvement with life insurance was not at an end, however, as he was a shareholder in Sagicor, as well as a director, and was later made chairman of the company, assuming a mentorship role. In 2012, Sagicor renamed its corporate headquarters the R. Danny Williams Building, in recognition of Williams’ service to the company and its predecessor.

In 2017, in recognition of his service to Sagicor Group Jamaica, he was named director emeritus.

A life in politics

Aside from his responsibilities at LOJ, Williams had his fingers in several other pies. One such tour of duty occurred when he answered the call to political office and served as a senator, as well as junior minister and minister of industry and commerce between 1977 and 1980, in the Michael Manley-led administration. Years later, the Small Business Association of Jamaica named a training centre after him, in observation of the assistance he had given to the sector while he was minister.

Williams served in various capacities on the boards and committees of a number of private and public sector entities and educational institutions. These included his own management consultancy, Ravers Limited, Virginia Dare (Jamaica) Limited, the National Development Foundation of Jamaica (NDFJ), the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Adult Literacy (JAMAL), the Jamaica Anti-Doping Committee, the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, and the Jamaica College Foundation.

A philanthropist with a deep concern for the marginalised, Williams was the founder of the Lister Mair/Gilby School for the Deaf, and spearheaded the development of the institution’s training centre to provide opportunities for the hearing impaired.

Over the years, he made a stellar contribution to his alma mater, Jamaica College, as he steered the committee that undertook the rehabilitation of its campus.

Honoured for his service to country

Dr The Honourable Raby Danvers Williams, OJ, CD, was born to Leonard and Verna Williams, in the parish of St Andrew, on July 3, 1934, and attended Suthermere Preparatory School before going on to Jamaica College. Williams married Shirley Mair in June 1954 and they had a son and five daughters.

In 1972, Williams was awarded the national honour of Commander of the Order of Distinction (CD) and, in 1993, was conferred with the Order of Jamaica (OJ) for voluntary service to his community.

He was conferred twice with the degree of Doctor of Laws (Hon), by the University of Technology, Jamaica, in 2005, and by The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, in 2013.

He received the Caribbean Luminary Award from the American Foundation from The UWI in 2010, and the Gleaner Honour Award for Voluntary Service that same year.

Williams was inducted into the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Hall of Fame in 1997.