If there is one thing many Jamaicans are passionate about, it’s politics. And Dr. DK Duncan was a practitioner of the business (by the way, a dentist by profession) who was nothing if not passionate.
The news broke this morning that “DK” (Donald Keith), as he was simply known, had passed away from COVID-19, at the age of 80. He tested positive at the end of August and went into hospital. This was just a few days before two of his daughters – Imani Duncan Price and Patricia Duncan Sutherland – contested national elections on September 3, as People’s National Party candidates.
There will be numerous tributes and obituaries posted in the local press, which you can read. We will read of his political career as Michael Manley’s Cabinet Minister (and I am sure the word “controversial” will be used a great deal). Nationwide News Network shared an overview of his life and legacy here.
However, one thing that has always stood out for me was DK’s relentless activism, from the time when he first entered politics in 1966 up until a few weeks before his passing – when he was photographed with PNP supporters in Jericho, Hanover. He had retired from representational politics in 2016, after serving as Member of Parliament in Eastern Hanover for two terms. His activities in August in the parish may have stirred controversy – but are also an example of his continued dedication to political service, even at his age. He wasn’t going to be sitting at home, watching Netflix with his feet up. When you are an activist, it is very hard to “switch off” that drive, that energy.
There is so much more to say, but DK Duncan was more than a political firebrand in the Cold War era – a “war” that generated much more heat than its name implied of course. For more background on this, I would recommend a most revealing biography of the late former Prime Minister Michael Manley, in whose Cabinet DK served, which I reviewed here. It’s available locally from Ian Randle Publishers. Those were indeed turbulent times; but however one feels about the “experiment with democratic socialism,” those years helped to shape today’s Jamaica. Now, perhaps, a biography of DK Duncan is waiting to be written.
There was more to DK’s life than his contributions as Minister of National Mobilization and Human Resource in the Manley Cabinet. He was awarded the Order of Distinction, Commander Rank for outstanding service to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica; and when former Prime Minister Bruce Golding formed the National Democratic Movement (NDM), DK stepped up, joined and supported the albeit short-lived movement.
My sincerest condolences to his widow Beverley Anderson Duncan, and to the entire Duncan family.