KINGSTON, Jamaica – Prominent Jamaican businessman, media tycoon, Oliver Frederick Clarke, died on Saturday, May 16, after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 75.
The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, which he managed and chaired for four decades, described him as a “quintessential media tycoon, Caribbean luminary, humanitarian and banker who had an almost inexhaustible list of accolades”.
It said that Clarke, was arguably one of the most influential and renowned media magnates across the English-speaking Caribbean, serving also as managing director and chairman of the 185-year-old Gleaner Company.
“A central figure in corporate Jamaica, Clarke played a pivotal role in the establishment of the powerful Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) in 1976 and was later immortalised among its esteemed leadership over the years when he was inducted into the organisation’s Hall of Fame in 1996.”
The paper said that Clarke, a shrewd businessman and entrepreneur extraordinaire, and the late chairman of Radio Jamaica, J. Lester Spaulding, inked a deal in 2015 to merge the newspaper with the RJR Communications Group, arguing that unfavourable local economic conditions were at the heart of the decision to amalgamate the media entities.
“You cannot provide independent news unless you are viable. What Jamaica faces is that there are a number of foreign companies coming in and putting up programmes that solicit advertising and you have a lot of businesses that are not making their way. The Gleaner’s interest in this is trying to create an organisation that is viable, can last, and is Jamaican,” Clarke said then.
Clarke worked with the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) as assistant general manager and later general manager from 1971 to 1976. He served as chairman of JNBS for two decades, 1977 to 1997, and also as deputy chairman from 1997 until 2002, when he was reappointed chairman.
His involvement with the institution deepened in February 2017, when he was appointed chairman of the newly launched subsidiary, JN Bank, as well as the restructured mutual holding companies, The Jamaica National Group and the JN Financial Group. In April 2019, he demitted chairmanship of both JN Bank and the JN Financial Group and remained chairman of The Jamaica National Group up to the time of his passing.
In 1990, Clarke received the Americas Award from the Americas Foundation. The American Foundation for the University of the West Indies recognised him as a Caribbean Luminary in 2004, and in April 2006, the American Friends of Jamaica awarded Clarke with its International Humanitarian Award.
In 2009, he was awarded the honorary Doctor of Laws from The University of the West Indies, and also from the University of Technology. In 2013, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the Northern Caribbean University.
Clarke, a chartered accountant, who studied at the London School of Economics and received a BSc in economics, was awarded the Order of Jamaica in 1998.
In a tribute, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness said: “News of the death of the Hon. 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.”
Another tribute from the PSOJ said the late media mogul was “ a magnanimous private sector leader and a true Jamaican patriot. He was fearless yet remained humble and affable, endearing many from all walks of life with his wit and sense of humour. He has been a powerful influence in the shaping of Jamaica’s modern history.”
He is survived by daughter Alexandra and widow, Monica Ladd.