Oliver Clarke hailed as patriot, media and business mogul

Tributes continue to pour in for Oliver Clarke, former Gleaner Company and Jamaica National Group chairman, who passed on Saturday night after a long battle with cancer. He was 75.

Major role in shaping the development of the nation

News of the death of the Honourable Oliver F Clarke has left me deeply saddened. I had known that he was very ill, but knowing the fighter that he was, I was hopeful that this battle would not be his last.

For decades Oliver straddled the Jamaican business community like a colossus. From his time as an assistant general manager at the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) to his last major role as chairman of the RJRGleaner Communications Group, Oliver has been a major player in many aspects of the Jamaican and regional private sector.

He may very well be lionised for the monumental role he played in moving The Gleaner Company into one of the most powerful newspapers in the English-speaking Caribbean after he joined the company in 1976.

Later he would play a leading role, along with the late J Lester Spaulding, in overseeing its merger with the Radio Jamaica Limited (RJR) to create one of the largest media conglomerates in the region.

For those who knew him, Oliver was more than a media giant. His role in shaping the development of the nation as a leader of the local private sector can never be discounted.

As president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica between 2002 and 2003, president of the Inter-American Press Association, and a member of the board of directors for several major private sector entities, Oliver provided sound judgement and a calming presence.

In 1998, Oliver Clarke was invested into the Order of Jamaica. A year earlier, in 1997, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ).

I extend condolence to Mr Clarke’s widow, Monica, and daughter Maria Alexandra.

Jamaica will be poorer for his passing.

Andrew Holness

Prime Minister

Unselfish enthusiasm for the national cause

The death of media mogul and long-standing giant of industry the Hon Oliver Clarke, OJ signals the end of an era in the historical development of the nation.

Mr Clarke represented a true example of patriotism as he facilitated and accommodated the many calls to national service. When Jamaica faced major challenges in its development, particularly over recent decades, Mr Clarke was never hesitant in responding to the call from different political administrations to serve at the highest levels in search of solutions.

Oliver Clarke was one of a kind. He was also indisputably a selfless and courageous patriotic devotee to the public services in multiple spheres of national life for the past 40 years or more.

Often controversial and gifted with a wry, sometimes sardonic wit, he was nevertheless able to motivate others to achieve national goals. His analytical skills, business experience, and accounting expertise were frequently called on to bring our nation through difficult times as was the case during the advent of dollarisation in the 1980s and as head of various task forces, including the body that examined the emoluments of parliamentarians.

The causes to which he devoted himself were myriad, ranging from the defence of press freedom, police reform, advocate of good governance, as well as integrity and anti-corruption reforms across successive administrations.

He was committed to the quest for economic efficiency and public sector transformation that would establish Jamaica definitively as a modern, socially just, economically efficient, and law-abiding State, exercising its sovereign independence in the global community.

Mr Clarke served with distinction on many public and private sector institutions; among them as chairman of the National Commercial Bank when the entity changed seamlessly from Government ownership to private hands. He was a voice of reason and influence on the Public Service Commission for many years during the reform of public administration.

Despite his unselfish enthusiasm for the national cause, everyone knew and respected his passion as chairman and managing director of the Gleaner Company. Mr Clarke gave it everything; he threw his weight behind critical national causes and celebrated the aspirations and triumphs of the nation in its many spheres through the annual Gleaner Honour Awards, which brought recognition to leaders in their field of endeavours. He was also instrumental in bringing to prominence the Governor General’s Achievement Award.

Oliver Clarke supported the formation of the Press Association of Jamaica in the 1960s and later the Media Association Jamaica, and carried his passion on the global stage through his association with the Inter-American Press Institute.

He created and provided opportunities to many young journalists and other media practitioners to develop their skills and serve their communities and country from the bastion of North Street or through its affiliated organs in the United States and the United Kingdom.

As chairman of the Jamaica National Building Society, which he led for many years, Mr Clarke was a leading and honoured figure in the private sector.

He had a deep passion for his country and spared nothing in standing behind causes of national development. He was willing to use what he had to reshape the nation for the better. It was this passion for change in the culture of violence which led to his creation of the Peace and Love in School initiative.

He believed in application of critical thinking in problem-solving; this led to the establishment of many think tanks that elevated important ideas on the issue of crime, national debt and other matters that were of national and international concerns.

On behalf of the People’s National Party, I offer condolence to Mr Clarke’s wife, Monica; his daughter Alex; and other members of his family, the staff at the RJRGleaner Group, and his many colleague and friends.

Dr Peter Phillips

Opposition leader and People’s National Party President

Transformed the local building society movement

As chairman of the JN Group Mr Clarke was instrumental in the transformation of the local building society movement by encouraging the expansion of building societies from parish-based entities into urban organisations, while maintaining the strong mandate to serve its members.

Before rising to chairman, Mr Clarke served as assistant general manager and general manager of then Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) from 1971 to 1976. He then served as chairman of JNBS for two decades, from 1977 to 1997, and as deputy chairman from 1997 until 2002, when he was reappointed chairman.

Under his astute leadership, spanning almost 50 years, Jamaica National Building Society embarked on a historic reorganisation programme in 2017, which resulted in the formal establishment of The Jamaica National Group comprising more than 25 entities. Among the historic achievements was the transition of the building society to a commercial bank, JN Bank.

Under his chairmanship, Jamaica National has become firmly established as a multi-national business which includes banking and other financial entities, technology, insurance, property management, and automotive services. Today it is recognised as one of the top 10 companies from the Caribbean to the world. While pursuing the expansion of the JN Group he maintained its ownership structure as a mutual organisation, owned by its members and customers.”

Mr Clarke also made a tremendous impact in business and media for almost 50 years.

He was a founding member of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and served as its president years later. He was inducted by the PSOJ into the Private Sector Hall of Fame in 1996.

Mr Clarke was also managing director of The Gleaner Company Limited from 1976-2011 and later chairman of 1834 Investments Limited, following the company’s merger with the RJR Group.

An advocate for press freedom, he was also a president of the Inter-American Press Association.

He was made a member of the Order of Jamaica in 1998.

All of us at The Jamaica National Group, who have worked and interacted with Oliver Clarke over the decades recognise the significant impact he made on Jamaica and the Caribbean and his passionate pursuit of initiatives that would achieve his objective of ‘people first’.

The directors of the boards, executives, managers and employees of The Jamaica National Group extend their condolence to his wife, Monica, his daughter, Alex, and other members of the Clarke family.”

Earl Jarrett

Chief Executive Officer, The Jamaica National Group

A true Jamaican patriot has left the national stage

Although I was aware that Oliver Clarke had been ailing for sometime, it was with great sadness and a profound sense of loss that I learnt of his passing on Saturday. A true Jamaican patriot has left the national stage and Jamaica will be poorer for his loss.

I will miss the camaraderie and friendly banter that characterised our long-standing relationship that was based on mutual respect and admiration, a lack of personal animosity, and collaboration at important points in the national development of our country.

Our relationship was certainly at a high during the 1970s when Jamaica was going through political and economic turbulence. A man with a huge personality and strong convictions, Oliver was determined to contribute to a different type of politics at the time.

In 1978 he virtually single-handedly rescued The Gleaner with his famous debenture stock issue, in which my company, Appliance Traders (ATL), was a pretty big participant. My feeling was that without The Gleaner Jamaica would be have been much worse off.

During Oliver’s tenure as chairman of the Government’s National Hotels and Properties — the divestment arm for State-owned hotels in the 1980s — Sandals became the first purchaser when we acquired the Royal Caribbean hotel, now Sandals Royal Caribbean.

While competition between us heightened in the 1990s, especially after the establishment of the Jamaica Observer newspaper, our relationship never lost the congeniality and ability to see past differences. Any remnant of discomfort that was there dissolved as Oliver and I shared what I believe was a very comfortable relationship going forward.

I will always cherish the fact that I am one of only two persons — the other being the late Prime Minister Edward Seaga — who twice received the prestigious Gleaner Honour Award under the stewardship of Oliver Clarke.

And how can I forget the occasion when Oliver presented me with the inaugural Pioneer Award in the RJRGleaner Hospitality Jamaica Awards 2017, on a wonderful night of conviviality, unvarnished humour and warmth at Montego Bay Convention Centre, St James?

Indeed, when the Gleaner/RJR merger was floated, I quickly dismissed suggestions that as a competitor I try to put stumbling blocks in the way. My position is that we should let water find its own level.

I am proud to say that throughout these eventful years my personal admiration for Oliver Clarke has never waned. As he goes to meet his Maker, I wish him a special place in the heavens.

I offer my deepest condolence to his wonderful wife Monica and daughter Alex and offer them my support in this time of bereavement.

My condolence as well to the wider Gleaner family as they try to come to terms with this terrible loss.

Hon Gordon “Butch” Stewart, OJ, Chairman, Sandals/ATL Group of Companies

He loved Jamaica without qualification

We are saddened at news of the death of former Gleaner Company and RJRGleaner Chairman Oliver Fredrick Clarke (OFC to us) on Saturday evening at age 75. Our shareholders, directors, managers and staff will miss him dearly and assure his family of our continued love and support for them, and our commitment to guarding the legacy left by OFC.

Oliver was appointed chairman of the board of Radio Jamaica Limited, the parent company for the RJRGleaner Communications Group on December 11, 2017, following the death of his friend and fellow media stalwart J A Lester Spaulding a month earlier. Mr Clarke served as chairman until April 30, 2019 when he demitted office, but remained as a director on the board up to the time of his passing.

He had a passion for media, which he insisted is what keeps our democracy strong. He was fearless, strident and articulate on the points he raised and pursued for media rights, freedom, and independence. Oliver was kind and thoughtful, but he was also firm and impatient of folly.

He was a patriot. Oliver loved Jamaica without qualification. He was never shy to push for what he saw as Jamaica’s best interest and he was unafraid of whom he was challenging. He always said his job was to make whomever is in Jamaica House uncomfortable as long as there is more to be done for Jamaica and Jamaicans.

Oliver was unfazed by criticism. Of his critics he always said they have a right to their views and they should be encouraged and facilitated to share them.

Sometime in 2013 when The Gleaner and RJR started exploring the feasibility of an amalgamation of the media entities, Oliver was most concerned about their longevity as a profitable venture.

Oliver was a hard-nosed businessman, but he was a kind person, mentoring dozens, helping scores, and quietly doing a lot of good in the society.

We will miss OFC, but we will never forget him and his constant instruction to “get on with it”.

The RJR/Gleaner family salutes our friend, our colleague, and our former leader; we bid him farewell and wish him peace, even as we wish his family God’s comfort and mercy at this time.

Gary Allen

Chief Executive Officer, RJRGleaner Communications Group

A champion of media solidarity

I am deeply sadden by the death of Oliver Clarke, a man who has spent much of his life fighting for press freedom and the people’s right to know in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the Americas.

We at The Gleaner remember him as a self-sufficient human being full of love, humour, happiness, and deeply possessed with a desire to see Jamaica and the world as better places for all humanity.

His reach was boundless; his work a spectacle. He could walk with kings and yet had the common touch. That was our Oliver F Clarke — our OFC.

He relished the matching of wits, the rough and tumble that are inherent in life, not only as a businessman, but as a leader in media.

Oliver was always a champion of media solidarity. It was Oliver’s far-sightedness and leadership which helped us not only as a country, but as a region, to have a robust and fearless media landscape, evidenced in Jamaica’s continued high ranking in the World Press Freedom Index.

Destiny willed it that he made his enduring mark and his business genius on our society through The Gleaner which he served for over four decades.

Oliver, while at the helm of The Gleaner, nurtured those under his wings to be meaningful contributors to the development of not only this nation but also to be torch-bearers of truth and justice. He jealously guarded the gains made by our forefathers in the democratic dispensation of our society.

I am fortunate to have known Oliver for many years. He had, in fact, been the one to have appointed me editor-in-chief of The Gleaner in 2001 and from then set me on a path to leadership.

I got a university education from being under the tutelage of Oliver — the kind you don’t get in traditional studies. He was tough, but fair, all in service to this nation which he deeply cared about.

The Gleaner under his leadership has sought to liberate our society, impart wisdom, and share resources about wealth building, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship in this country, and we owe a debt of gratitude to him for the foresight and willingness to have led such an important publication that has thrived for 186 years.

We celebrate a great life that will live on through his very impressive and enduring legacy.