William Robinson Clarke

‘The ‘miracle worker’ who made a difference to his town’

1927 - 2012

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When he died in 2012, tributes poured in for popular Reading businessman and grassroots activist Harvey DePass, who had arrived in the UK on the Empire Windrush more than 60 years previously.

Born in Jamaica – full name Ernest John ‘Harvey’ DePass – he was 21 when he sailed from Kingston Harbour, giving his occupation as a clerk.

Unlike many of his fellow passengers, he was already a married man, having wedded 17-year- old Olive Lydia Fyffe in St. Andrew, Jamaica, the previous year.

Olive stayed behind, meaning that the newlyweds missed spending their first wedding anniversary together. In due course, she would join Harvey and the couple would go on to have two children, Valerie and Patrick.

The family lived in Kinver, Staffordshire, before moving to Reading, which had a large West Indian community, particularly Barbadians, said to have formed the largest compatriot population outside of Barbados.

It would provide a ready customer base for Harvey, whose travel agency, DePass Travel, catered for West Indians returning home to visit family as well as for British holiday-makers heading for the Caribbean sun.

He had a reputation as a benevolent businessman. If people couldn’t afford the airfare to travel back home, he would book the flight and take payment whenever the passenger was able to afford to do so.

Harvey was Reading’s first community relations officer in the 1970s and he made efforts to ensure every West Indian took out British citizenship at a time when it was still free.

He knocked on doors, visited clubs and Black- led churches, and ran surgeries to explain why it was important to do so. He would then help people complete application forms, saving many from the horrors of what would in later years become known as the ‘Windrush Scandal’.

Harvey also helped launch the annual Reading Community Carnival, now an important event on the town’s calendar. The first parade in 1977 was centered around Oxford Road, where there was a large West Indian and Irish presence. He found time, too, to take young people on day trips and weekends away.

Harvey and Olive lived in Chazey Road, Caversham, near Reading. However, old age took its toll and Harvey lost his sight and had a stroke. But he soldiered on until he had to be admitted to the Parkside Nursing Home in Reading, where he passed away peacefully on Apri1 13, 2012, aged 85. His funeral was held at Reading Crematorium.

The local ‘Berkshire Live’ website paid tribute to Harvey, saying he “broke down barriers and fought tirelessly to better race relations”. Harvey’s friend, Peter Small, remembered him as a “miracle worker – he made life seem like anything was possible. He was a great man”.

In 2021, Reading Borough Council placed him on an approved street name list, which will be assigned once a suitable location comes up in Caversham.

Harvey’s beloved Olive died in Reading in 2019 aged 89.

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