St. James resident, Madge Neil Burnett, has worn many hats in her pursuit of entrepreneurship and community development, and for her effort she has earned national recognition.
Mrs. Burnett recently received the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer for outstanding contribution to Entrepreneurship and Community Development, on National Heroes’ Day (October 19).
Introduced to the value of hard work during her early teens, Mrs. Burnett did embroidery for tourists coming off ships until she moved on to start her own shop in Barnett Lane, Montego Bay.
“I got a space to rent and I started with a shop and a bar in my early twenties. There were a lot of other big shops around that people would go to, but because I am a people person, customers would support me, and the bar was doing well. I was young, tall and attractive, always smiling, and persons respected me,” Mrs. Burnett tells JIS News.
After deciding to leave Barnett Lane, she moved her business to Albion and successfully operated a shop there for over seven years, where she sold an assortment of items.
“I started with grocery items then shoes and other things, and eventually I stocked from a pin to an anchor,” she adds.
After travelling and purchasing goods for sale and developing her business in Albion, Mrs. Burnett began looking for another place to buy.
“I came by Greenwood through a family connection and realised it was underdeveloped. I was encouraged by my uncle that in five years it would grow. Once I got to Greenwood with all my doubts, because of how deserted it was, what really gave me the confidence was the big Martin Tour buses going up to the Great House filled with tourists. I said I am going to buy this place, because if I were to set up a shop here, I will get the tourists to stop,” Mrs. Burnett explains.
After buying the land and getting money to build the first structure, she continued slowly, adding a hardware, bar, gift shop and grocery over the years.
She says her favourite memory is when the first set of buses started visiting and she began entertaining customers.
“I would ask the bus drivers to stop by as well when they are bringing the tourists since I have my gift shop. I can remember one Sunday I got breadfruit, ackee and saltfish too, and I roasted it. When the tourists stopped they ate and bought drinks and they were so fascinated by the food that they spent some good money that day. I will never forget it, because it gave me hope,” she tells JIS News.
Mrs. Burnett, who is also a mother of five, stuck to her vision despite many challenges in the construction of what she called The Greenwood plaza.
“I put everything into it. Even dry coconut I had in there selling. Even when things got slow and I started looking at other places to buy, I saw the value where I was and built it up block by block. They broke in there three times and my husband got scared, but I still travelled the distance and built this place up even while pregnant. I used to drive from Montego Hills in the nights around 10 and 11 p.m. with no firearm patrolling and then return home just to make sure there was no one trying to break in again,” she says.
As the community of Greenwood grew with more persons moving in the area and building houses, the Greenwood plaza also grew, with the most popular business being the Hardware store.
“I gave my business the name, The Greenwood plaza and people would question it and say ‘what kind of plaza is this? It has one shop and you are calling it a plaza’. But I was building and parting off the stores and setting up a separate area for the hardware. I started selling everything – coupling, zinc, lumber and blocks – and it started taking off, because people started building left, right and centre,” Mrs. Burnett notes.
Mrs. Burnett’s husband of almost 20 years and partner for more than 40 years, Mr. Trevor Burnett, says he is proud of his wife for all she has accomplished, including the National Award.
What he admires most about his wife is her commitment to building her community and her strong work ethic.
“What I can tell you, she is a hard-working person, she is a community person and she gives a lot of her time to the community as the President of the Community Centre. She is also a farmer and she loves gardening. I admire how she handles her family and her business and I married her not only because of all this, but because I love her,” Mr. Burnett says.
In addition to her growth in business and her thriving farm, Mrs. Burnett was instrumental in developing the community centre, sponsoring the community football team and facilitating the beautification of her community.
Sharon Griffiths Lodrick has worked for Mrs. Burnett for more than 34 years and not only calls her boss but also mother.
Mrs. Lodrick, who also affectionately calls Mrs. Burnett Miss Pat, says she is her ‘adopted’ mother and her biggest motivation.
“Miss Pat is actually my mom and, trust me, all of my life and livelihood is motivated by her. I recall when I was planning to build my home she advised me to make it concrete, so that you do it once and done. All of my children’s schooling, the house and everything, I achieved while working for her. Even when I am down I feel pressed to move forward because of her. I moved from zero to hero because of her,” Mrs. Lodrick says.
Mrs. Burnett was among a group of 126 outstanding Jamaicans, excluding members of the uniformed groups, who were honoured on October 19, National Heroes’ Day.