Percival J Patterson Still a Leader for Change

Kinisha Correia

A now 84-year-old PJ Patterson, Jamaica’s sixth prime minister, and now an author, last week launched his book at the Miramar Cultural Center.

The book, entitled “My Political Journey” is an account of Patterson’s life, in two parts – the pre-politics era, and thereafter.

As Patterson explains, “To me, the most important part is part one. I say that because what I did as Prime Minister, is more generally known. We needed to put it in context, but it is the earlier part that speaks of the influences, the things which molded you. What is it that infected you with a sense of caring for people; what is it that set standards which would guide you and would seek to influence the sort of society you would wish to create.”

Born on April 10, 1935 in Hanover, Jamaica, Patterson led Jamaica as Prime Minister for a solid, unbroken 14 years – a role he voluntarily stepped away from in 2006. The over 400-page memoir takes readers along his life and political journey.

“My Political Journey recounts his performance at the national, regional and global levels and is a fascinating record of a nation’s postcolonial growth,” the book’s summary reads. “Patterson is both a product of this new Jamaica and one of its architects, and his is a compelling and intimate account of a dramatic era for the young nation… Throughout his career in the People’s National Party, he gained international respect through the pivotal roles he played in the advancement of the causes of the developing countries of the world.”

During the launch, Patterson stressed that the book is not just a tale of his life experience, but rather an exploration of the social and political blossoming of an emergent, yet trailblazing, small nation.

Despite having a buttoned-up political career, during the Miramar launch attendees were reminded that Patterson was also once the manager of the popular 1960s Jamaica ska band – The Skatalites. The music lover showed off his admiration of the artform as he deftly danced with guest performer, Montego Bay-based songstress, Karen Smith. Though well into senior citizenship, the ex-prime minister’s spirit is still young, energetic, and determined to make a mark in some way.

Patterson spent his younger years growing up in Hanover before attending Calabar High School in Kingston. He then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of the West Indies, and a law degree from the London School of Economics.

He officially stepped into politics in 1952 when he joined the People’s National Party. One of his first feats was managing Michael Manley’s successful campaign for president of the PNP in 1969. He would go on to earn national repute as a master political organizer working to lead the election campaign that lead to the PNP winning the 1972 general elections and Manley’s ascension as prime minister succeeding Hugh Shearer, He would then go on to hold the roles of Minister of Industry and Tourism; Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade; Minister of Development, Planning and Production; and Minister of Finance and Planning. By 1992 he would become the party’s leader succeeding Manley who had retired, and served as the longest-standing Prime Minister of Jamaica to date, until his retirement from politics in 2006.

Hailing from humble beginnings, with his father Henry a farmer, and mother, Ina, a primary school teacher, Patterson’s career was marked by a strong conviction to radically reduce poverty in Jamaica. While in office, the country experienced a significant decline in poverty.

In that vein, he is credited with having led Jamaica’s greatest period of investment in tourism, mining, ICT and energy, and ending an 18-year borrowing relationship with the International Monetary Fund, which fostered the country’s independence in creating its own economic policies.

During his political tenure, Patterson played roles in CARICOM, CARIFTA, the G77, the Commonwealth Heads of Government, and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. Through these outlets he was known to push for the advancement of developing nations, while ensuring Jamaica’s voice and presence were consistently heard.

As Chairman of CARICOM, in 2004 he made international headlines when he led the organization’s decision to refuse recognition of the new government in Haiti that had removed Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office. In a bold move of defiance, Patterson arranged for Aristide to take up temporary residence in Jamaica during his lawsuit against the United States and France, in which he accused the countries of kidnapping him.

Now in his calmer years, Patterson’s book marks the continuation of a life used to contribute to something much greater than himself – the development of his country. His memoir is another gesture in his quest to effect social, political and cultural change through new avenues.

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