Interview by: Georgina Dhillon & Dr. Roli Degazon-Johnson

His Motto: “Illegitimati non Carborundum” (“Don’t let the bastards grind you down”)

If anyone had told Howard Lloyd Hamilton that a little boy born in Lucky Hill, St. Mary, Jamaica, would one day become General Manager of Shell (West Indies) Limited; be a confidant of politicians; be a cricketer and cricket aficionado; owner and breeder of some of the island’s finest race horses and would make an enemy of the church and clergy for starting the first – albeit highly successful – lottery company in Jamaica, Hamilton himself would have told you: “Come on, pull my other leg!” But this is in fact the story of the son born to Sydney Lloyd Hamilton and his wife, Lilias Everyl, on April 2,1939:

H.H.: “I was born in a small rural village with no electricity, no running water or paved roads. The bathroom was an out- house. I went to Lucky Hill Primary School. My father was an Accountant with the Public Works Department, before he was transferred in 1944 to Portland where I attended Titchfield Primary School. I was fortunate as in those days, the government only had six scholarships that allowed you to go to the secondary school, and I was lucky to win one of those scholarships.”

The school education system in pre-Independence Jamaica was principally for the advancement of the families of the white colonial elite. As with many of its former colonies, the British sought to develop a cadre of civil servants and technicians who could support the policies of the government. A small number of government-funded scholarships were made available to local schools to prepare the brightest students for a future in the civil service under British colonial rule. High performers who were successful in these local examinations would benefit from free tuition to attend a leading secondary school.

The boy from Lucky Hill was to take his chance with the odds, winning one of the few government scholarships granted in those days and to enter Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston, where he completed his secondary education. His outstanding performance at secondary level would enable him to be awarded a Shell Company (West Indies) scholarship to enter The University College of the West Indies, later elevated to The University of the West Indies. He was awarded a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in 1961, one year before his country achieved Independence from Great Britain.

For many Jamaicans of the middle and lower socio-economic echelons, 1962 and independence from Great Britain would herald a period of hope, growth, prosperity, social change and upward mobility. Howard Hamilton’s life would be an example of how gifted, competent and hard-working Jamaicans could succeed in post-Independence Jamaica.

Was Luck his Lady…..?

“Games of chance must be distinguished from games in which skill makes a difference”

H.H.: “In school, I had a most beautiful Botany and Zoology teacher who came from Wales in the United Kingdom. My father wanted me to do medicine. It those days parents only wanted their children to be doctors or lawyers, nothing else. I refused point blank and insisted on doing the Natural Sciences, specifically Chemistry, Botany and Zoology, but I later dropped Chemistry.”

Before attending university, Hamilton spent a year “pupil-teaching” at a highly-reputed co-educational institution in Kingston called Ardenne High School:

H.H: “I keep telling people that the most fascinating job I ever had was teaching children and feeling the level of satisfaction when they do so well in school. I was younger than some of the students that I taught. It was a very Christian school and I had to go to prayers in the morning. The headmistress, a Mrs. Olsen, was a minister’s wife and she gave me a bible that I have to this day.”

With this love for teaching and developing others, it is no surprise that Hamilton should marry an educator, Marlene, his wife of 54 years who herself rose in the ranks of academia to become the first woman appointed Dean of the Faculty of Education at the Mona Campus of The University of the West Indies and in later years, its first female Pro-Vice Chancellor. However, their first meeting was not at The University, but was during a fair at his school, when at 14 years of age, Hamilton was asked to buy a raffle ticket by a lovely young female student from the adjoining Wolmer’s Girls’ School. He won the bottle of champagne which was the raffle prize and years later would also win the hand of the young lady who had sold him the ticket.

Lucky “Benbow” and his Passion for Cricket

During his years at The University of the West Indies, Hamilton developed a reputation for playing cricket, a sport introduced to the Caribbean by its British colonial masters:

H.H: “I was on the Wolmer’s Boys’ school team and played on the team that won in 1957, so I continued to play cricket at University. I used to have the finest pair of cricket boots that you could ever find. I made a name as a batsman and Marlene and all the girls used to come and watch me play, as I was quite good-looking too!”

In the heyday of West Indian cricket, teams captained by greats such as Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Sir Vivian Richards would destroy the games of their former colonial rulers, showing how well they had been taught, by giving them a sound thrashing. Hamilton’s personal motto – “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” – was consistent with the attitude of the West Indian cricket-loving public when their team played test matches against the English cricket team.

Amongst Hamilton’s university alumnae, the tale is told that he was quite an effective batsman who used a unique ‘turn of leg’ – bending and bowing – as he awaited the arrival of the bowler storming down the pitch to demolish the wicket. This ‘turn of leg’ earned him the nick-name of “BenBow”. Not surprisingly, in later years when he rose to head the Shell Company (West Indies), Hamilton would ensure that major support was given to the development and sponsorship of West Indian cricket by his company.

Speaking of his devotion to cricket, former West Indian cricketer Michael Holding wrote in his own autobiography that Hamilton was a friend of his, who “took an active part in cricketing matters in the Caribbean because Shell sponsored the regional Shell Shield tournament in which the islands and regions competed for first-class honours and so formed friendships with many Caribbean cricketers”.

A Honeymoon with Mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands

Recalling his early days as a Chemical Assistant, Hamilton was assigned to the Cayman Islands for his first big job which was to get rid of mosquitoes. His wife Marlene reminded him that he chose to take her there on their honeymoon:

H.H.: “In Cayman, there was a project with the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. If you ever knew about Cayman in those days, it was infested with mosquitoes. In fact, you put out your hand and your hand became black with mosquitoes on it. The story is that the mosquitoes were so bad that they could suffocate cows. I used to sit down in the evenings with bottles of mosquitoes and fish from the swamps there. I’d put doses of this chemical that we used, to see which strength would kill the mosquitoes, but not kill the fish. Eventually, we came upon a dosage in pellet form because you had to go in the mangroves to see whether the liquid would stick onto the mangrove leaves. We eventually realised that using pellets would solve the problem. Unfortunately, some of those pellets got onto the road. The chickens would go and pick up these little pellets. So, the chickens died, but the mosquitoes went. There were no more mosquitoes and they were happy for that. Eventually the Caymanians reclaimed most of the marshland and built hotels and it’s a paradise now if you go there . It is such a different place today but still under British rule.”

The Shell company would expose Hamilton to a wide variety of experiences and send him on various assignments to Caracas, Venezuela. He also pursued management development courses in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Appointed First Jamaican – and Youngest – General Manager

H.H: “I had joined Shell after quite an argument with my father over salary. There was a lecturer at University who organized a scholarship for me to go to Berkeley University in California to do Entomology. But I was interviewed first by Shell. When I told my father what my salary would be, he said “Look, I have a mortgage to pay. I can’t pay it if you don’t work, right? Start making some contribution to the house, you’ve had your free run.” I said, “but I didn’t cost anything.” So my father says “You know, I’ve been working in government for nearly 40 years and my pay is three quarters what you have just been offered. You going to take the (expletive) job boy, and don’t tell me a (expletive) thing about going to study or anything. So, there ended my scholastic career and I started at Shell where I then spent 35 years.”

Starting as a Chemical Assistant, Hamilton would be appointed Chemical Sales Manager and then General Manager Designate between 1974-5 before serving as General Manager from 1976-83. For 3 years between 1984 and 1987, Hamilton would be appointed President & General Manager for Shell Company in the Bahamas before being made head of Shell throughout the Caribbean region as General Manager of Shell Company (West Indies) in 1988.

Hamilton has been described as “an accomplished, decisive and knowledgeable marketing executive with over 34 years’ experience in the petroleum industry.” Under his stewardship, Shell became the leading petroleum company in the Caribbean. He also had managerial responsibility for Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti and spearheaded the introduction of unleaded gasoline to the Jamaican market in 1990. He has held director positions on Jamaica Chambers of Commerce, Comfort Hall Farms Limited and Sports Development Foundation and has also served as Board Chairman for the Jamaica Savings and Loans Building Society, Astrom Building Systems Limited, National Sugar Limited, National Rums Limited, Metropolitan Management Transport Holdings Limited and Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association. He has served as the Executive Chairman of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica. For his overall contribution to Jamaica’s economic development and his astute business ideas, Hamilton was recognised by the Government of Jamaica with the Order of Distinction, Commander Class.

A Love of Race Horses…….and “Marlene, My Love”

Excerpt from the Jamaica Observer newspaper, June 9, 2017: “After two previous victories in the Jamaica Derby, popular owner and breeder Howard Hamilton says more than ever he still has the desire to win another derby. This year Hamilton rests his hope on the filly Marlene My Love, a runaway winner of the Jamaica Oaks on April 29.”

H.H.: “My father was a race horse man and used to take me to races. My grandfather had owned horses and lost money and property through gambling, but not my father, he was too poor. In those days the race track was Knutsford Park, now full of hotels and skyscrapers. In those days two shillings was a bet, and my father would give me a five-shilling note. That was big money in those days.”

Good and bad luck would play turns in more than one dimension of Hamilton’s life: he would bet on the horses and win more often than lose. On one such occasion he bet on two horses with Chinese names – “Fu Manchu” and “Mahjong” – and won the equivalent of 720 pounds sterling. He carried the cash home and hid it in a shoe box under his bed. Sydney Hamilton, his father, had recently acquired a brand-new Ford Prefect for the princely sum of 400 sterling. One night when Sydney went out, Howard recounts taking the car out on a jaunt with some friends and ending up drinking too much at a bar in Cross Roads, Kingston, Jamaica, without either a driver’s license or his father’s permission. On his way home, the car met in an accident and Hamilton had to face his father with the news that his new Ford Prefect had been totalled. The outcome was that Dad got a new car from the proceeds of Howard’s winnings.

Then the ace in picking winners at horse races, would take the next step……to breed winners himself:

H.H. “After working at Shell for two years, a school friend of mine, Robert Hayle, called me up proposing that I buy a race horse he was training. Anyhow, that horse became famous. I called it “Caroline”. It ran 18 times and came last 17 times and the reason it didn’t come last on the 18th time was a horse broke it’s leg in the race and ended up last, so Caroline was second to last.”

Despite his first race horse being the “last jackass” in its races, Hamilton would race winners and have considerable success in later years with breeding some of the island’s best mounts:

H.H. “I got involved in a breeding farm back in 1991 and we have been champion breeders now, for the last ten years. I won the Derby with a record. The only other persons to have won two Derby’s in succession were a brother and a sister, with the two horses related out of the same mother, but a different father. I’ve been champion owner for about four years. The breeding farm has been a success for the last ten years we’ve been champion breeders. We have about eight stallions”.

In this November 2018 interview with KREOLs Editor-in-Chief Georgina Dhillon, Hamilton’s face visibly softened when speaking of the horse that he gave his wife’s name:

H.H. “The horse that I called “Marlene My Love” was a beautiful animal, a top-class horse. She won her first two races and we were preparing her for the Jamaica Oaks which is the big race for fillies, when her jockey was arrested!”

Attending the courthouse in St. Catherine, Hamilton pleaded with the magistrate to allow the jockey to ride “Marlene” and then return to prison following the race, but it was no-go. He was forced to recruit another jockey for the race. But the fates were not in his favour. During the race, another jockey came from behind “Marlene” and cut in front with his horse, causing “Marlene” to twist her leg and crack a bone in her ankle. “Marlene My Love’s” racing career was at an end. However, good luck and fortune would shine on Hamilton when in another year “A King Is Born”, ridden by celebrated jockey Winston Griffiths, won the prestigious Derby:

H.H. “King was a fantastic animal, my favourite horse. He would win whether running from five furlongs (1,000m) or up to 12 furlongs (2,400m). In fact, winning the Derby that year brought tears to my eyes and the photographers just would not stop taking pictures of me crying. Those were tears of joy!”

A National Council for Sports – heralding a new era in Jamaican Sports

At the time when Michael Manley was prime minister of Jamaica, he invited Hamilton to chair the finance committee of a newly established National Council which had been created to set new policies and guidelines in the field of Jamaican Sports. One of the finance committees first tasks was to refurbish the running track of the National Stadium which had been built in the 1960s when the island had been host to the Commonwealth Games. Funds for this project were not proving easy to identify.

Hamilton had recently been on a trip to Australia to watch a Test Match in which the West indies played against Australia. He visited and was very impressed by the new Opera House in Sydney which had been built with funding from an Australian lottery. On his return, Hamilton proposed the idea of establishing a lottery company the proceeds from which could fund the National Stadium repairs and other sports initiatives.

Manley had already shut down a lottery operation in the country and it would have been a wrong move politically to entertain this idea given the aversion to lotteries and casino gambling which had been voiced from the church-going Jamaican public and their leaders in the press. However, there was nothing to stop Hamilton pursuing the lottery as a private enterprise. And this is exactly what he did. The Jamaica Lottery Company was born.
H.H.: “My church was indignant. They ex-communicated me from church. It was a trying time. There was a lot of public opinion against it. I didn’t know anything about how to run a lottery company so I had to bring in people whom I did not even know. We lost a lot of money at first. We started off with “Scratch and Win” games. I was paying for tickets that I was selling for less than the tickets cost me. Anyhow, that was the genesis of the Sports Development Foundation. In two years we were able to pay off the loan and even though we were broke, still made the contribution to the Sports Development Foundation.”

Today, with the success of Jamaican sportsmen and women at the Olympics and World Championships, Hamilton derives tremendous pride and satisfaction from the difference that funding and support through the Lottery Company to the Sports Development Foundation has made to sports in Jamaica: one little island in the sun punching way above its weight on the world stage.

H.H.: “Our assistance helped the Reggae Boys go to the World Cup in France back in 1993. Through the funding they got from us they were able to prepare and equip themselves. What is more, basketball courts and running tracks have been built all over the island. I take a lot of pleasure and satisfaction in how much Jamaica’s sports has developed beyond all comprehension and recognition. And now even our women’s football team is going to the World Cup!”

The “Lucky Hill” Man and his Family

With the full extent of his achievements resonating in the atmosphere around his interview, an onlooker could only chuckle when Hamilton was asked about the place of family in his life: the bright scholar; the forceful batsman; the savvy chemical engineer and intrepid manager simply transformed into a teddy bear, all heart:

H.H.: “I have been lucky to marry the most fabulous woman, who has been understanding and tolerant of me. Most women would have left me a long time ago, but she has stuck with me through thick and thin, although she does keep threatening to leave me even after more than 50 years of marriage.
I adore my two wonderful daughters, both of whom have done well for themselves. One studied Computer graphics and the other did International Business and then Law. I would’ve happily had as many as six children, but Marlene had other ideas!”

Certainly Lady Luck and a great deal of Wisdom, Competence and Hard Work have enabled Howard Hamilton to achieve all that he has in his life and for his country.