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Jamaica mourns shock passing of agricultural minister

SHOCK DEATH: Roger Clarke

JAMAICA IS mourning the sudden loss of its much-loved agriculture minister Roger Clarke.

Clarke died in the United States this morning (Aug 29) where he was recuperating following surgery for a back condition.

It’s reported that the former minister was at an airport heading for Jamaica when he fell ill and was taken to hospital.

It’s believed that he suffered a massive heart attack.

Clarke grew up in Glen Islay, Westmoreland, and attended the Mannings School.

He later went on to pursue extensive management training at the now defunct Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation and Harbridge House in the United States in the 1960s.

The 74-year-old ruled the political roost in St Elizabeth for a quarter of a century, before spending a number of years in Central Westmoreland.

The death hit Jamaicans only weeks after declaring that he was not yet ready to depart the political arena, as the country needed him.

Shock, sorrow and anguish reverberated throughout the political community and the wider Jamaica as news circulated that the "larger than life" political figure had taken his last breath.

In another ironic twist, Clarke was ushered into the House of Representatives in 1991, when another PNP stalwart died.

Clarke, then mayor of Santa Cruz, made his entry in Parliament as the member of parliament for North East St Elizabeth after the ailing Sydney Pagon died.

Clarke served the constituency until 2007 when he bade farewell to North East St Catherine and representational politics.

The robust politician had a change of heart at the 11th hour and remained in representational politics after extending the stranglehold of the PNP on Central Westmoreland.

The political stalwart fell ill with back pains just over a month ago but appeared to be on the road to recovery to lead what he described as a healthier lifestyle, but this was not to be.

He was preparing to return to Jamaica from the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood Airport in Florida when things reportedly went awry.

Clarke rose through the ranks of the PNP, becoming a vice-president during the tenure of former President and Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.

After an ill-fated attempt to maintain the position of PNP vice-president in 2004, Clarke was voted out - an experience that temporarily pilfered his characteristically cheerful image as he broke down in tears.

Clarke was subsequently named vice-president emeritus of the PNP by Patterson.

He became a fiercely loyal supporter of Patterson's successor, Portia Simpson Miller - a cause that motivated him to remain in representational politics.

COMMANDED ATTENTION

In life, the buoyant side of Clarke frequently energised political platforms, much to the glee of fellow Comrades, with his capacity to command amused attention with his antics, dance and speech.

His political frolicking on the PNP stage, however, concealed an enviable level of shrewdness that rendered him an indomitable force.

As a councillor for the Balaclava Division, Clarke built his political fortunes and was rewarded with the mayorship until his ascension to the position of legislator.

There, he continued the PNP's reign of North East St Elizabeth.

In the House, his playful approach to parliamentary affairs endeared even his rivals who were frequent recipients of his good-natured ribbing.

Clarke's affectionate moniker to his political rival, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga while they sat in Parliament was 'Uncle'.

Bruce Golding made constant reference to Clarke's "engaging" qualities as he sought to launch a broadside against Clarke.

But even as the popular politician delved into politics, Roger Clarke never ventured from his roots, as he remained a farmer throughout his life.

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