Jamaica Gleaner



WHILE THE world is still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramson’s would never count it among their darkest days. That phrase is reserved for a very particular time in Jamaica’s modern history: the 1970s.

Michael Manley became Jamaica’s fourth prime minister in 1972 and during his tenure, Jamaica became an extremely difficult place to conduct business. From 1976 to 1977, Jamaica was under a year-long state of emergency. This coincided with the largest ‘brain drain’ in Jamaica’s modern history.

“There was no foreign exchange. It was illegal to have US dollars in your possession,” explains John Ramson. “You were allowed US$50 a year to travel. If I wanted to go on a buying trip, I had to approach the Bank of Jamaica with a form, a letter and convince the governors down there for travel money to pay for the trip.”

John talks about having to justify why he wanted to go to England. “I’d say, ‘I want to go sell oats’, and then I was cross-examined. They wanted to know where I was going, who I was seeing – I had to undergo all this just to get permission to buy money.”

After Michael Manley invited Fidel Castro to a campaign rally in Montego Bay, and pledged to follow him to the mountainto­p in his historic speech, Laurie decided to send Elizabeth to Canada.

Then in 1978, Laurie moved with his second wife to Pembroke Pines, Florida. John followed suit, settling his wife and three young sons in a house next door. Both men commuted to work in Jamaica – John every week and Laurie, less often.

“On Friday evening, I’d board Air Jamaica’s flight 24 to Miami, and then I’d be back in Jamaica by Tuesday morning,” says John. “Jamaica had absolutely no credit overseas.” The Government reschedule­d all overseas debt and enforced extended credit terms for new imports of goods and services. These were the terms John had to give his suppliers, who were luckily very understand­ing. Thankfully, over the years, all debts were paid in full, though this was no easy feat.

To import an item, Ramson’s had to apply for permission at the trade board. “You had to fill out a form to receive a physical licence,” said John. The licence would grant permission to import a certain number of units for a certain dollar figure, since foreign exchange was so limited. When the item landed in Jamaica, customs checked the amount against what was allotted on the licence and kept a running balance on the back of the licence. Once the goods arrived in Jamaica, Ramson’s had to then apply to the Bank of Jamaica for permission to pay for them.

It was a difficult time for all Jamaicans, but especially those in the food distributi­on business. There were massive shortages of rice, flour, sugar, and other basic food items due to the lack of foreign exchange and the import licensing regime. Oftentimes, these basic items were coupled with the purchase of other goods and were only available at the cashier when checking out of the store. Many supermarke­ts featured aisles of empty shelves for imported items, while manufactur­ed products like Foska Oats, D&G soft drinks, and Red Stripe Beer controlled the space.

Scheduled load shedding of electricit­y by JPS was commonplac­e, and we had to live with regular four-hour blackouts, several times a week. The company purchased generators because they could no longer manage working with camping lanterns and flashlight­s in the darkened offices without air conditioni­ng. It was a very

challengin­g time.

Those who could afford it also invested in standby generators to keep their lights on and maintain their sanity. Ramson’s was fortunate as they were involved in manufactur­ing a basic item – Foska Oats, that was considered an important part of the diet for ‘working Jamaicans”. Import licences for raw materials were issued to Ramson’s and other manufactur­ers to keep this important sector of the economy going.

Then came the election of 1980, signalling the end of an era and the rebirth of a nation. Michael Manley lost the election, and Edward Seaga was voted in. Immediatel­y, John and Laurie moved their families back to Jamaica in 1981. Elizabeth, who met and married Raymond Silvera in Canada, followed a year later with her baby daughter, Kathryn. For the first time in six years, the Ramson family was reunited in their beloved Jamaica, never to leave again. Raymond jumped in with two hands, to help in the family business. Although he intended to start his own enterprise, he felt the strong pull of duty and decided to put the good of the family first.

Together, Laurie, John, Elizabeth, and Raymond lay the groundwork of excellence that the Ramson’s brand is famous for today.

 ?? ?? 65th anniversar­y
65th anniversar­y

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