Dianne Abbott’s tribute (UK)

    JN Group

    Oliver Clarke was a remarkable man. He was one of that great post-independence generation of Jamaicans in public life. I first met him, over 30 years ago, as a new British Member of Parliament. I was young, radical, a committed socialist and a big admirer of the former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley. Oliver Clark, by contrast, was conservative to the bone and a leading antagonist of the Manley administration.

    But, despite having very different views politically, Oliver and I got on well almost from the beginning and we stayed in touch down the years. Over time I grew to admire and respect him. Oliver was a genuinely patriotic Jamaican. He was also very engaged in the Jamaican Diaspora in the UK. And I liked the way that at events and exhibitions, Oliver was not too grand to involve himself in innumerable practical ways . He built the Jamaica National conglomerate up from its humble beginnings as the Westmoreland Building Society. And went on to steer it successfully through the terrible financial crisis in Jamaica of the mid nineteen nineties.

    I have an account with Jamaica National. So, before the onset of the internet, I would go regularly to the Bank’s office in London to transact business and I would see the very ordinary working class Jamaicans waiting patiently to be seen. They trusted Jamaica National with their money and Oliver Clark did not let them down. His contributions to public life in Jamaica are well known. But he also went to some trouble to promote talented young Jamaicans in his companies. He believed in his country and he believed in his people.

    Oliver Clarke probably wielded most influence in Jamaican society as the proprietor of the Gleaner newspaper. Whatever you thought of it’s political line, it was an iconic brand and for many Jamaicans a “Gleaner” was synonymous with a newspaper.

    I was fortunate to see Oliver on one of his last visits to London. He was already ill, but he was still Oliver, keenly interested in what was going in the political world. He loved to tease me, and on that day he teased me mercilessly about Brexit. He was such a strong charismatic character I can’t quite believe that I will never see him again. Oliver Clarke was many things: a businessman, a media owner and a political actor. But above all he was a faithful servant of his country. Rest in power Oliver.

    Diane Abbott
    Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

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