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The contributions to public service and the trade union movement by former South East St. Elizabeth Member of Parliament, and Junior Government Minister, Derrick Rochester, have not gone unnoticed.

Recently hundreds packed the HEART/NTA-run South West TVET Institute in Junction, in the parish where they heaped praises on him for his years in the public service.

When bauxite infrastructural development and expansion was at its peak in the 1960’s, and 1970’s, with Alumina Partners of Jamaica (Alpart), providing employment for thousands in St. Elizabeth, Mr. Rochester, after winning the South East St. Elizabeth seat in the 1972 General Election, quickly moved to establish the Junction Trade Training Centre, which was renamed in his hounour recently.

Describing Mr. Rochester’s decision to establish a training institution into the area, Executive Director of the HEART/NTA, Dr. Wayne Wesley, said it was a “vision that recognised that the citizens of this community must be in a position to take advantage of the economic situation that was present at the time”.

“Though small at the time, starting with about four programmes and 100 students, it was still a move that was bold. We have not allowed it to die, this institution has moved from that 100 trainees to 600 persons enrolled in our programmes at this time,” Dr. Wesley told the gathering at a ceremony for the renaming of the South West TVET Institute, Junction campus, to the Derrick Rochester campus, on March 22.

In his remarks, Minister of Education, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, said, “All of us who serve in Government now, are so happy that you are receiving recognition for your work, and more importantly, that you have set us a pace for achievement.”

Explaining how Mr. Rochester has transformed the lives of many in the community, Principal of the New Forest Primary and Junior High School, Arnaldo Allen, said he had “the vision that we should develop skilled workers to ensure that everything that happens in this country we could be part of it”.

Another senior educator in the parish remembered the improvement in skills that the training institution provided to the citizens in the area.

“I saw the benefit as I taught at what was the Junction Secondary School. I value the work that he did, and I support the renaming of this building in his honour, because he has been a stalwart and we appreciate the work that he did,” stated Head Mistress at Hampton School, Heather Murray.

Meanwhile, Mayor of Black River, Councillor Everton Fisher, said the former MP through his visionary and inspired leadership laid many foundations in his tremendous service to the country.

Current Member of Parliament for the constituency, Richard Parchment, lauded Mr. Rochester’s “transformational leadership” and told his audience that no “honour or award could adequately portray what Derrick Rochester’s work has meant to the lives of the people of South East St. Elizabeth…be it in trade unionism, and national building”.

Other tributes came from Custos of St. Elizabeth, Hon. Wilfred Nembhard for contribution to the Lay Magistrate group in the parish, while Citizens United in Appreciation, a civic organization in the parish, lauded Mr. Rochester for identifying the need for training institutions.

In his response, Mr. Rochester said he appreciated those who bought into his vision and volunteered their time to build the training centre, a medical complex and other facilities in the constituency.

“It is not by chance that this institution has grown to where it is today, I complement successive management and staff for their professionalism, discipline and hard work that I have observed over the years…I want to say thanks also to the business community who contributed in cash and kind to our efforts. Many churches and schools also got excited about the project, and held fundraisers which enabled us to pay the workers Monday to Friday, while they volunteered their labour on Saturdays, and even some Sundays,” he stated.

The former President of the National Workers Union (NWU), who has had the distinctive record of holding the offices of Island Supervisor and President simultaneously, was the first worker delegate to head the Union.

He became a Councillor in the St. Elizabeth Parish Council in 1969, serving until 1972 when he entered Parliament. Another record for Mr. Rochester is when as head of the union he negotiated an initial 100 per cent increase for workers in the bauxite industry followed by an 80 per cent increase. He first served as MP between 1972 and 1980, Senator from 1980 to 1983, and MP again from 1989 to 2002, when he retired.

By Garfield L. Angus, JIS Reporter