A 79-year-old Jamaican native, who has resided in Cayman for over 30 years, has been conferred with a Jamaican national honour of distinction in recognition of his dedicated service to Parliament and Agriculture in that country.
Mr. William George ‘Billy’ McLaren has been conferred with the Jamaican honour of the Order of Distinction, Commander class, by the Governor-General on the advice of Prime Minister of Jamaica Bruce Golding.
A letter from Mr. Golding to Mr. McLaren, dated 25 July, 2008, reads, ‘Please accept my warm personal congratulations on your well-deserved honour’.
The appointment to the Order took effect on Independence Day, Wednesday, 6 August, 2008, and the Ceremony of Investiture will be held at the residence of the Governor-General, King’s House, Kingston, on National Heroes Day, Monday, 20 October, 2008. Mr. McLaren will attend the ceremony with his wife, three sons and two daughters.
Mr. McLaren, who has Caymanian status and first came to these islands in 1973, was heavily involved in politics and agriculture in Jamaica prior to this.
Mr. McLaren was born and raised in Coleyville, in the Manchester region of Jamaica, the west-central area and made his living from farming. ‘I was Jamaica’s largest Irish potato grower. I produced up to 520 tonnes of potatoes on my farm in a year,’ he said.
Mr. McLaren was one of those that decided Jamaica should leave the Federation. This was decided, he said, because Jamaica had 52.5 per cent of the population of the Federation but only 48 per cent of the votes.
In 1962 the head of the Jamaica Labour Party Sir Alexander Bustamante became Prime Minister and he appointed Mr. McLaren as chairman of the Christiana Area Land Authority, which assists agricultural development in the region. ‘During my tenure in five years we over-produced everything in domestic food crop and Irish potatoes was taken from 4,000 tonnes to 28,000 tonnes in four years within the Christiana Area Land Authority,’ he said.
In 1967 Mr. McLaren became a Member of Parliament and was appointed Minister of Rural Lands. During his tenure he established 13 new land authorities, besides the Christiana one already in existence. There was a Land Authority to represent each parish in the island and they overproduced domestic food crops to such an extent that for the first time they started to export, he said.
The land authorities provided training and tools, loans and subsidies, and general guidance to farmers.
‘It was very, very successful,’ he said.
In 1972 the People’s National Party was elected with Michael Manley as Prime Minister and while Mr. McLaren was still an MP, he was no longer a minister.
In 1973 he first moved to the Cayman Islands as a part-time resident as he still went to and fro to Parliament in Jamaica.
But in 1976 he retired from politics and moved to Cayman full-time.
He has owned and sold various businesses over his time here, including a chicken farm. He now has a construction company, Billy McLaren Construction.
‘My time here has been good,’ he said. ‘Cayman has been extremely good to me.’
When he received the letter from Mr. Golding notifying him of the distinction being bestowed on him, he was honoured.
‘I wrote him thanking him for it and pledging my support for anything he’d like me to do for him during his tenure,’ he said.
Mr. Golding of the Jamaica Labour Party, he said, had been in parliament with him in the early days. Mr. McLaren himself is a life-long member of the Jamaica Labour party.
And at nearly 80 years of age, Mr. McLaren is still enjoying life to its fullest. ‘I make a joke of things,’ he said. ‘I can smile all day and no worries go to bed with me. It stays until tomorrow.’