11 Lesser-Known Facts About Norman Washington Manley to Commemorate his 131st Birthday

In the heady days of the veritable political conflict of late 1979–1980, in the volatile community of Whitfield Town lived what some would describe as the neighbourhood drunk, affectionately known as Pipey. At night, though the roads would all be blocked, Pipey would journey from roadblock to roadblock to share some of his rather inspired gems.

One of his favourites was “All prospects please God, but only man is vile.” It took me long enough to work out what he said, much less to interpret the meaning, so I leave it to you all to work that one out for yourselves.

The second oft-repeated gem from Pipey was just a name, “Norman Washington Manley.” This he said while standing tiptoed, following which he would stumble but never fall despite extreme inebriation.

What you may not know about Norman Manley

We all know him as a national hero, the former Chief Minister of Jamaica, and the first Premier in 1959, but in spite of a well-documented history, there are some facts about Norman Manley that are not as well known. On this occasion of his 131st birthday, I want to share some interesting but lesser-known facts that add colour to his character.

A detailed and thorough legal advocate
Norman Washington Manley
  • Despite being orphaned at 16, Manley earned a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Jesus College at the University of Oxford, where he earned a Bachelor of Civil Law with First Class Honours. 
  • Maybe his most magnanimous act was to represent Alexander Bustamante after he was arrested in 1942 in relation to worker riots. This took place after Bustamante, who was initially part of the Peoples National Party (PNP) formed in 1938, left the PNP and formed the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). While the JLP was not formed until 1943 and the case against Bustamante ended in 1942, the fact is that the differences had already emerged, but this did not interfere with Manley’s advocacy on behalf of his cousin Bustamante.
The fastest gun-layer in the battery
Norman and Douglas Manley, Royal Field Artillery Deptford London in September 2015
Brothers Norman and Douglas Manley enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery Deptford London in September 1915
  • Norman became a first-class gunner sergeant and was awarded the Military Medal (M.M.) for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire”.
  • It’s said that Norman wore a black tie for the rest of his life, in memory of his brother who died at the age of 21 in the Battle of Somme in 1917.
  • In 2016, the brothers were featured in a Channel 4 documentary, Last Heroes of the Somme, marking the centenary of the last offensive in the Battle of the Somme.
The first of the great ones to appear at Boys’ Champs
Jamaica Journal: Quarterly of the Institute of Jamaica, March-June 1973, Vol. 7, No. 1-2, Pg. 10.
Photo Credit : Jamaica Journal: Quarterly of the Institute of Jamaica, March-June 1973
  • In the 1911 he won six medals at the Boys Championship and set a meet record of 10.00 seconds in the 100 yards a record that would not be broken until 1952.
  • That time would have placed him in the finals of the 1912 and Olympics.
  • This achievement was equaled 30 years later by his own son, Douglas.

And so, Pipey’s Norman Washington Manley a highly nuanced and complex character stands tall. And, although his birthday coincides with Independence Day in the USA, as far as Pipey is concerned, there is no doubt as to which event is more important. Normally, there is a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate his birthday. Beryl seems to have put paid to that, but not even a category 4 hurricane can bury the memory of this giant of a man who gave of himself to the land of his birth.

Cover Photo : Norman Washington Manley oil painting by Basil Barrington Watson


  • Denzil Wilks

    Denzil Wilks is a veteran community organiser and a noted figure in local sports administration. He is married to Nelsa, and Denelle and Najee are the products of that 46-year union.

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