Oliver Clarke was a truly important member of Jamaican and Caribbean society, and a global citizen. His passing marks one of those moments when you know the world is diminished.
It is common to fete the lives of senior Caribbean politicians but rarely those successful in business.
Oliver was on the right side of history whether as Chairman or the Jamaica Gleaner, as Chairman of Jamaica National, or in the pivotal role that he played in the establishment of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and its international outreach at a critical moment in Jamaica’s history. All of which is to say nothing of the multiple academic and charitable ventures and initiatives that he promoted and helped over many years, or the high regard he was held in internationally by a wide range of senior people in politics, business and the media.
He not only ensured that the Gleaner survived to play a central role as a free and independent voice willing to speak truth to governments and individuals of all political complexions, but he also knew the importance of taking difficult management decisions that ensured the profits that guaranteed survival.
An astute businessman, over the horizon thinker, challenger of norms, and a humanitarian who cared deeply about ordinary people, Oliver was one of those rare individuals who was genuinely interested in all those who worked with or for him, as well as the daily struggle of the many caught in the difficult social and economic situations that continue to face Jamaican society.
We first met in Jamaica a lifetime ago. It marked the beginning of a sporadic but lifelong series of conversations about ideas, politics, and an extraordinary variety of Caribbean and international topics. As a weekly columnist for the Gleaner and a non-executive Director of Jamaica National Money Services and earlier as an association executive, we talk in various venues in Kingston and London. In such encounters he delighted in exchanging views and challenging ideas, before moving on to suggest topics that he hoped might be written about to bring matters that concerned him to wider attention.
Memorably, Oliver had a unique style of chairing meetings and hosting lunches or dinners. As anyone who was ever present can attest, this involved the agenda or topic being swept aside by one or more direct even personal questions because, quite rightly, he wanted to get to the heart of the matter that was concerning him, whether it related to financial results, strategy or what was really happening in a particular country.
He was also the kindest and most warm hearted of men with a wonderful, sometimes mischievous sense of humour.
He will be sorely missed by those who had the privilege of knowing and working with him.