SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — He only started school at 11 years old and was largely self-taught.
However, political allies and foes alike are remembering Shirley Myers as an exemplary representative of the people, whose work as parish councillor over 26 years transformed Southfield Division into a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) stronghold.
He is also being credited with helping to consolidate the power of that party in the wider St Elizabeth South Eastern, to such an extent that it has outshone the People’s National Party (PNP) in that constituency over the last 12 years.
Myers, who was councillor for Southfield, unbroken, between 1986 and 2012, died in Florida on March 27, age 73.
A diabetic for many years, he suffered multiple strokes following retirement from politics.
After the election of then Mayor of Black River Frank Witter as member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Eastern in 2007, Myers served as mayor and chairman of the St Elizabeth Parish Council for three months, leading to the local government elections that same year.
Born in Top Hill on September 1, 1945, Myers, popularly referred to by constituents and friends as “Emmo”, was married twice and fathered 13 children.
On his retirement from politics in 2012, he was succeeded by his son Gregory Myers as councillor for Southfield. The latter switched political sides — joining the PNP — in 2015.
However, Southfield was returned to the JLP column in 2016 when Albert Williams, current deputy mayor of Black River, took the division by more than 1,000 votes.
Over recent days those who served alongside Shirley Reuben Myers, on either side of the political divide, have told the Jamaica Observer that his greatest strength was his love for people.
“He was a totally committed political representative of the people, an excellent servant of the people,” said Donovan Pagon (Braes River Division, PNP).
“He would do anything to represent his people and would go beyond the call of duty,” said Pagon, whose tenure as councillor goes back to 2003.
Witter, current MP for St Elizabeth SE, told the Observer that Myers’s “connections on the ground” was the source of his political strength.
“He was always able to to relate to the ordinary man… he was passionate about the interests of the JLP, but equally he was passionate about the interests of the ordinary man,” said Witter.
He recalled that when Myers first won the Southfield Division in 1986, the margin was just 20 votes. By the time of his last election in 2007, he was winning by close to 1,000 votes.
Jeremy Palmer, former mayor of Black River and current JLP councillor for the Pedro Plains Division, recalled that as MP for St Elizabeth South Eastern in the 1980s, he was central to Myers’s entrance to politics in 1986.
“I had to look for a new person… and I personally made the choice,” recalled Palmer.
In the ensuing years, it soon became clear that he had made a good choice, Palmer said. After his initial victory by the slimmest of margins, Myers built his support base purely on his representation of, and relationship with people, and by 2003 had established Southfield as a solid JLP division, winning by more than 700 votes.
Palmer and JLP councillor for the Junction Division, Cetany Holness, recalled that Myers gained much traction because of his livelihood as a vegetable vendor — taking produce from south St Elizabeth to the Frankfield market in northern Clarendon on a weekly basis.
They told how he gained great popularity not just in St Elizabeth, but also in the Frankfield area, not just becaue of his business, but also his warm relationship with people.
Everton Fisher, (Balaclava Division, PNP) spoke of Myers’s personality, which drew people to him and ensured there was always a cordial relationship across the political divide.
“He was a very warm person and left no room for any animosity,” said Fisher.
Also, Myers succeeded in politics because of his generosity.
“As a councillor, he would give away twice his salary,” said Palmer. “He was a kind and generous man who would go to any extent to serve people,” he said.
Holness recalled an incident when Myers gave away “the last money” he had at home when a constituent came calling, to say that she had no dinner.
“I can’t recall a politician who would give away everything… the way Shirley Myers did,” said Holness.
Myers was also ready to help younger politicians who, at times, found themselves in need.
“He would say ‘unno jus’ a come an’ unno no have nutten’,” said Holness.
Palmer told how Myers had the unique capacity to absorb insults without rancour.
“People would tell him all kinds of things, all sorts of insults, and it never seemed to affect him… he was still accessible to them and to everyone in the community,” said Palmer.
Like Witter, Palmer and Holness argued that Myers’s role ensured that JLP support in St Elizabeth South Eastern grew in the 90s and 2000s.
“He was transformational,” said Holness, and according to Palmer, Myers was “monumental”.
Myers lost his parents at a very early age and had a rocky childhood. That was a source of wonder for Holness, who spoke of Myers as a force on political platforms.
“People would come to political meeting just to hear Shirley Myers talk… for someone who only know schoolroom door when he was 11, he was a phenomenal politician,” said Holness.
For Pagon, Myers’s inadequate schooling should be a lesson to everyone.
“You don’t have to be learned to represent people well,” said Pagon.