THE tribute from Sagicor Group Jamaica best described R Danny Williams: “Insurance pioneer, philanthropist, and nation-builder extraordinaire.”
R Danvers “Danny” Williams, the man who founded Life of Jamaica (LOJ) — now Sagicor Life Jamaica — in 1970, died on Saturday at a hospital in Miami, Florida, USA, where he had undergone surgery. He was 89.
His passing was met with sorrow among Jamaica’s political and business communities who recalled his selfless contribution to the country spanning six decades.
“He ranks within the highest echelons of committed leaders who have contributed beyond measure to the growth and esteem of our island. He was a towering giant in the fields of business, education, institution building and deserving charitable causes,” former Prime Minister PJ Patterson said, adding that Jamaica was poorer for Williams’ passing.
“I have lost a precious friend and an invaluable political colleague,” added Patterson who, in the 1970s, served alongside Williams in the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Michael Manley (now deceased).
“No words are sufficient to thank Shirley, his lifelong partner, for sharing him so generously with the entire country and taking such good care of him. To her and the family — by blood and extended — we express our profound sympathy. All Jamaica is bereaved,” said Patterson.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a post on Twitter, expressed sadness at the passing of a man who “made remarkable contributions across various fields”.
“May his life and legacy continue to inspire us as we recall with gratitude his service to public life and within the private sector, which has positively impacted the Jamaican landscape,” Holness said.
Retired Opposition leader and People’s National Party (PNP) President Dr Peter Phillips said he was saddened by Williams’ passing.
He said Williams was “a truly great Jamaican and a pioneering spirit who contributed tremendously to the development of his country and its institutions”.
Noting the period in the 1970s when Williams served as minister of industry and commerce, Phillips said, “He was courageous enough to serve in the Administration despite the turbulence at the time.”
He also recalled Williams’ “stellar contribution” at his alma mater Jamaica College, saying that it “must also be lauded as he steered the committee that undertook the rehabilitation of the college campus along with other old boys”.
Current Opposition leader and PNP President Mark Golding described Williams as a true Jamaican patriot who served, both in the private sector and the public sector, with great distinction.
“He was a pioneer in developing an indigenous life insurance industry, and built a reputation for even-handedness, great integrity, and commercial acumen,” Golding said.
“Danny’s legendary prowess in raising funds for worthy causes is unmatched in modern Jamaica, and several important institutions have benefited from those efforts,” added Golding.
Sagicor President and CEO Christopher Zacca said Williams “was deeply loved, respected and admired by colleagues, employees, and industry peers alike for his integrity and compassion”.
He described Williams’ contribution to Jamaica as “immense” and said he leaves behind a “tremendous legacy”.
Zacca said Williams steered the company through significant milestones and challenges, leaving an indelible mark on its 53-year history.
“His visionary leadership, unwavering dedication, and commitment to excellence were unparalleled and sowed the seeds for Sagicor Group Jamaica’s (SGJ) growth into a regional powerhouse. In 2017, in recognition of his service to SGJ, he was named as director emeritus,” Zacca shared.
“The profound impact of our beloved Danny will continue to shape the future and direction of Sagicor. His departure has left a void in our hearts at Sagicor and indeed the entire Jamaican business community.”
Williams was only 18 years old when he joined North American Life Assurance Company as a salesman, in 1953. Within seven years he was appointed branch manager for Jamaica, and over the next decade he guided the branch to the number one position in the company’s international network.
Eventually he founded LOJ and built it into one of the largest insurance firms in the Caribbean.
Williams served as president and CEO of the company on two separate occasions, but in the midst of the 1990s financial meltdown he ceded control of the company to the State-run Financial Sector Adjustment Company (Finsac).
Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Society and Life of Barbados acquired majority interest in LOJ some years later. Barbados Mutual in turn acquired LOJ, which was rebranded as Sagicor.
Williams remained a shareholder with 12.33 million shares through his company Ravers Limited at the time.
When the rebranding programme was being rolled out in Jamaica, Williams was the most known face at the press conference table, endorsing the new name and assuring the Jamaican clientèle it was business as usual, but even better than before.
For his services to Jamaica, Williams was invested with the national honours of Commander of the Order of Distinction in 1972 and the Order of Jamaica in 1993. He was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Laws (Hon) by University of Technology, Jamaica in 2005.
Jamaica Chamber of Commerce President Michael McMorris, in his tribute on Saturday, described Williams as the quintessential trailblazer in Jamaica’s post-Independence era.
“The fact that he was able to successfully mobilse his ideas as an entrepreneur and eventual business mogul, and then also serve with distinction in the public sector as a minister of Government underscores the rare qualities and drive possessed by this great Jamaican icon,” McMorris said.