Business titan and Jamaica Observer board member William Anthony “Billy” McConnell lost a long battle with cancer yesterday, plunging the business community into mourning for a man whom Prime Minister Andrew Holness hailed as a “trailblazer, nation-builder and inspiration to a generation of industry professionals and innovators”.
McConnell, who was 71, is survived by his wife, Patricia Dawn, whom he married in 1972, son David and daughter Susan.
He was honoured with both the Order of Distinction (Commander) in 1996, and the Order of Jamaica for distinguished leadership in business and the export industry in 2006.
A chartered accountant, McConnell was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) by The University of the West Indies (UWI).
McConnell served as managing director of Lascelles De Mercado & Co Ltd and the Wray & Nephew Group of Companies.
Yesterday, the prime minister expressed sincere condolence to McConnell’s family, friends and associates, and said that “Jamaica has lost one of its important sons who championed its development and modernisation”.
Holness added that McConnell was not only a businessman but an advocate for sustainable and progressive policies that would boost employment and spur economic growth. He credited McConnell for his “tremendous work” with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) as well as his various stints on State boards.
He also noted that McConnell’s efforts at encouraging a liberalised free market, as well as his championing of the removal of foreign exchange controls “created the environment where private business could prosper and enhanced the ability of entrepreneurs to develop competitive enterprises”.
“The Government and people of Jamaica owe a debt of gratitude to Mr McConnell for his vision and dedication to the development of Jamaica and its people,” the prime minister said.
Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips expressed sadness at McConnell’s passing and said his “remarkable contribution to the development of the nation’s business sector is well recognised”. He also said that McConnell had given outstanding service to the country through the private sector, in particular through Lascelles De Mercado Ltd and J Wray & Nephew.
“At the leadership level of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Mr McConnell was instrumental in several major initiatives which promoted the interests of not only the membership, but assisted many other sectors towards national advancement,” Phillips said.
“Jamaica has lost a stalwart of industries and a good and faithful son,” the Opposition leader added and expressed condolence to McConnell’s family, friends and colleagues.
Observer and ATL Group Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who shared a long friendship with McConnell, was crushed by the business leader’s passing.
“He was one of Jamaica’s stalwart business managers, and his tenure at Wray & Nephew was remarkable,” Stewart said.
He noted that McConnell, through his participation in different organisations, particularly the PSOJ, was always supportive of the private sector.
“Billy served on the Jamaica Observer board for a number of years with tremendous results. He was a friend to one and all, a strong family man. We’re going to miss him terribly,” Stewart said.
McConnell served the boards of a number of other companies, as well as the PSOJ as either vice-president or honorary secretary continuously for more than two decades.
Current PSOJ President Howard Mitchell said last night that he was devastated by the news of McConnell’s death.
“He was the root and the tree of the PSOJ, and was our honorary secretary for many years. The advice and service he gave were invaluable to us,” Mitchell told the Observer.
He said that the PSOJ would issue a release today in recognition of McConnell’s service to the organisation and the country.
McConnell joined J Wray & Nephew Limited as a financial accountant in 1973 and was eventually named managing director of the Wray & Nephew Group of Companies in 1977.
He served as the chairman of Globe Insurance Company of the West Indies, Scotia Investment Jamaica Limited and the Sugar Manufacturing Corporation of Jamaica Limited.
He also served as chairman of both the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica and Petrojam Limited, as well as chairman of Scotia Jamaica Investment Management Limited and Scotia Group Jamaica Limited until November 2007.
Regarded as an excellent business leader, McConnell also served on the boards of Wray & Nephew Limited, Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica Limited, University Hospital of the West Indies — Private Wing Limited, and Lascelles De Mercado & Co Ltd.
He also served as a non-executive director of Dolphin Cove Limited from September 2010 to February 27, 2018; and director of Carreras Limited from 1997 to September 2015.
Up to recently, he was a director of Spirits Pool Association of Jamaica, as well as the Sugar Industry Authority.
He also served Edwin Charley (Jamaica) Ltd, Rum Company (Jamaica) Ltd, Newton Cane Farms Ltd, Jamaica Estate Tours Ltd, New Yarmouth Ltd, New Yarmouth Holdings Ltd, Henriques Brothers Ltd, Daniel Finzi & Co Ltd, Caribbean Molasses Ltd, Jamaica Rum & Spirits Trade Association, Federated Pharmaceuticals Ltd, and Lascelles Laboratories Ltd.
William McConnell was born in Montego Bay on February 20, 1947, to David Charles McConnell and Elizabeth Charley-McConnell. He was educated at deCarteret School and Munro College in Jamaica, and the Dean Close School in the United Kingdom.
He attended McGill University (Canada) and began his working career at PriceWaterhouse (Montreal, Canada), then went to Touche Ross Thorburn (Kingston). An Anglican by religion, McConnell’s hobbies included tennis, golf and shooting. He was a member the Constant Spring Golf Club, Liguanea Club, Caymanas Golf Club, Trelawny Gun Club, and Kingston Cricket Club.