no early April fool’s joke that Custos Emeritus of St Mary, Alaric A “Bobby” Pottinger, will turn 90 on April 1.
Some of those close to him are amazed that the retired champion insurance sales representative, farmer, businessman and veteran justice of the peace still manages to indulge in the scores of activities, locally, regionally, and nationally, that have characterised his life all these years.
Remember now, Pottinger has served as president and director of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS); president and director of the All Island Banana Growers Association (AIBGA), director of the Coconut Industry Board, custos of St Mary for almost 20 years, senior in the Anglican Church, veteran Freemason; among other activities, most of which he is still tied to.
A bout of illness in recent months has slowed the Bromley, St Mary-born, but his desire to continue to serve the people of Jamaica in any small measure remains intact.
Having done well as a representative of Standard Life, Caribbean Life, and Jamaica Mutual Life insurance companies from the 1950s, and the first man to qualify as a member of the Million-Dollar Round Table for Mutual Life, Pottinger turned to farming and real estate to stay financially relevant. But his love for voluntary service glued him mainly to farming-based institutions.
He revealed in an interview last Tuesday, which forced a postponement of his daily swimming exercise, that in his 90th year, he will do one last term as a director of the Coconut Industry Board, which he has served in that capacity for over 25 years. While his interest in the JAS and the AIBGA will remain, the level of energy that he has expended over the years will be less. He enjoys emeritus status in the JAS and AIBGA too.
“I gave my life to the people by voluntarily serving Jamaica,” he said in the wide-ranging interview with the Jamaica Observer at his home in Gibraltar Heights — a stone’s throw by a strong man from the western St Mary sea coast town of Oracabessa and a short trip to another town, Boscobel.
“I am the first Jamaican to come into this housing scheme, he said of the picturesque community which is home, full or part time, to some impressive names across all walks of life, local and foreign, among them Governor General Patrick Allen.
“This house was developed by an Englishman for Queen Elizabeth’s cousin, who died and it was put up for sale in the 1960s,” Pottinger said of his specific property which has hosted a long list of celebrated names for diverse activities. By time the deal was closed, he paid 36,000 pounds for the structure and land which he improved, gradually, into what it is now.
“I worked hard for what I have achieved. I remember when I had to sleep in cars to pay my bills,” he reflected.
After serving as justice of the peace for several years, Pottinger was elevated to custos in 1994, edging out popular Port Maria businessman Stephen Chung, and thus succeeding Sydney Phillips who had recommended Chung. He maintains that he is the “first native custos” of St Mary, as the others before him were all chips off the colonial block, among them custos Westmoreland, after whom the Westmoreland Bridge, and Westmoreland Oval in Annotto Bay are named; Charles Pringle, and Chester Touzalin.
During his 18 years as custos, so appointed under the watch of then Governor General Howard Cooke, Pottinger acted “several times” as governor general while the holder of the office was away on national duties. He shared a vivid recollection of when he became the senior JP of the parish.
“I remember when I was being installed as custos, it was a big ceremony, unlike when others were being installed. It was done at the park in Port Maria, which had to undergo a major clean-up for the event. There was the Military Band, in fact, the army was in charge of the function; the world and his wife came; chief justice, at the time, Edward Zacca, who also served as a resident magistrate in St Mary, was also there.
“I will never forget when they called on me to reply, a half crazy ganja man was walking past the stage and a policeman grabbed him and started to lead him away. I said to the policeman, ‘Leave him alone, he too is welcome’, and the place erupted in applause. St Mary clapped, and the man was let go. They gave him a chair at the foot of the stage and he sat there and behaved himself. That made the audience know the type of man I was. Many said they had never seen anything like that,” Pottinger told the Sunday Observer.
“After that function, we went on a drive to recruit JPs, and did so successfully, with some credible people joining the ranks, which led KD Knight, who was minister of justice at the time, to remark that St Mary was the best run parish as far as organising JPs was concerned,” Pottinger related. “There were 14 police stations in the parish at the time, and I set up 14 consultative committees with JPs in all those areas and anybody who needed a JP had to go through those committees first. We recruited several JPs and each one had to be deeply vetted. Even people who you thought never wanted to become JPs were appointed.
“Selection in my time as custos had to be balanced with what the community said. Sadly, in later years, we had a JP who was buried last week who was involved in the stabbing of a man in Boscobel and jailed in Annotto Bay for 18 months before they let him out. And they made him JP, which should never have been. That would never have happened in my time,” the banana grower and coconut farmer fumed.
Pottinger retired as custos in December 2012, and was succeeded by hotelier Jeffrey McKitty in January 2013. However, illness curtailed McKitty’s reign, and he took leave from office by the following year. McKitty died in 2015 and was succeeded by now Cadet Brigadier Errol Johnson, a retired educator.
Even though he is no longer custos, Pottinger, a past master of Scottish Freemason Lodge Caledonian in Port Maria, still performs regular duties as a JP, as according to him, “the people just won’t let me go.”
He admitted to the Sunday Observer that he would hardly have been able to accomplish many of his achievements without the guiding hand of his wife of 65 years, Colleen Monica Pottinger, whom he described as “a real tower of strength”.
And even as he relaxes a bit more, he will not sit by and allow one activity near and dear to him to fall in the trash heap.
“I will continue with a project of mine at my main place of worship — St Mary Parish Church in Port Maria — to restore a pipe organ. Already, we have raised around 1,000 pounds for use in the restoration of the instrument which the church has had since 1880, and I hope that it can be done this year,” Pottinger said.