The Hart family came from England in 1780, and made Jamaica its home and its people theirs. The family’s public spirit and philanthropy that he now typifies was already legendary when 7th generation Antony Keith Edmund was born in 1932, for by then his great grandfather had already donated the Doctor’s Cave Bathing Beach to the town of Montego Bay.
Tony Hart was sent to Munro College in 1941 and left in 1949. He entered in Form Π, which was a pre-first form class. Quite the all-round athlete, he represented the school in tennis, shooting, football, and gymnastics. He was competent in track and field, and placed third in the Class 4 100yds in 1941. In 1945 he was third in 440yds and 2nd in the shot putt. In 1948, he was third in the pole vault. In gymnastics, he was particularly commended by sports master K.W.D. Dunleavy for his summersault roll. He was a good shot, and featured on the rifle shooting team that won the Perkins Shield in 1948, but it was in tennis that he most excelled, and along with one DPL Aris, helped assure the tennis supremacy of Coke House in 1948.
Off the playing field, he also had a bookish and sophisticated side, and as a member of the dramatic society, played the Scottish nobleman Angus in Jeff Leben’s production of Macbeth.
On graduation, he attended Queens University in Canada, but the bitter cold of two Canadian winters drove him home, where he dived into what he really wanted – business; but his pursuit of business was to be anything but business as usual.
The Music Entrepreneur
He began in his father’s trading establishment, Samuel Hart & Sons in Montego Bay, and had a brief but significant flirtation with the music industry in distant Kingston. Tony met the President of Capital Records in 1951, and after procuring two partners in Alex Durie of Times Store and pioneer record producer Ken Khouri, started the very first record pressing studio in Kingston in that year at 129 King Street, simply named Records Limited. It was later to change location and become Federal Records in 1957.
Foresight and Ambition
Tony soon opted out of the fickle entertainment business, sold out to his partners, and after securing a dealership for Ford automobiles, concentrated fully on doing business from his base in Montego Bay. This was indeed fortunate for Montego Bay, as it is the expansive and ambitious vision of Tony Hart which is credited for developing the Montego Bay we know today. In 1967, he undertook the massive project of building what is now the sprawling Freeport in Montego Bay, involving dredging the sea in some areas, creating 350 new acres of land where swamp existed before, and installing four berths for ships in what became the largest port in the parish. This project produced 92 acres more than the 258 acres reclaimed in Kingston for Newport West in the same era. Engineering challenges aside, this creation was not without obstacles – the usual suspects; financial and political – but Tony persevered and got it done.
Tony then became Chairman of the Hart Group of Companies, which at one time encompassed an apparel operation with over 3,000 employees, a savings and loan company, an Avis rent-a-car licensee, a stevedoring company, and five farms. Good Hope, one of the five, is now the premier visitor attraction in nearby Trelawny.
Tony also had a political side, starting with the management of the 1959 campaign of fellow Munro old boy, Dr. Herbert Eldermire, which led to Eldermire becoming Minister of Health in the JLP’s administration of 1962. That first 15-man cabinet of independent Jamaica included no less than six Munro old boys. Tony became a Parish Councillor for six years, then ran and lost in the General Election of 1972 which swept Michael Manley to power. With Bruce Golding, he joined a breakaway group from the JLP which formed the National Democratic Movement in 1995.
He has served as Chairman for a number of Government Boards, including Air Jamaica, Jamaica Grains, The Coconut Industry Board, and Caymanas Track Ltd. He has also served as a director on other public and private Boards, including that of the Bank of Nova Scotia, Seprod, The Jamaica Development Bank, the Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation, and the Sam Sharpe Teachers College.
His wife and his children – Wendy, Mark, Bruce, and Blaise; as well as his close friends and associates, are well accustomed to his charitable nature and support of various causes.
Tony spearheaded the refurbishment of Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club and the Montego Bay Yacht Club, and the Hart family financed the restoration of the Baptist Manse in Falmouth, Trelawny, after it was extensively damaged by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. The building had been in a derelict state after the storm, when Tony and wife Sheila established the William Knibb Trust and purchased interest- bearing bonds, with the requirement that all dividends be used to restore the building.
They raised millions of dollars to keep the St. Mary’s Preparatory School open, and former students of Montpelier College, a now defunct Anglican institution, were also beneficiaries of Tony’s benevolence, as he financed and raised money to provide scholarships for students whose parents could not afford to send them to school elsewhere.
Tony’s retirement from his business enterprise has merely afforded him more time, and a new lease on life, to focus on his philanthropic work. His firm belief is that “if every child in Jamaica is computer competent, then every child in Jamaica can get a job.” Since he also believes that children should be given a solid foundation in the early years, he has set out to computerize one local primary school each year. With the assistance of his many friends, Tony spearheaded the fundraising efforts and netted over US$200,000 for the building of a state-of-the-art computer lab at the Corinaldi Avenue Primary School. The facility also serves the neighbouring Barracks Road Primary School and Montego Bay Infant School, and has transformed the lives of some the 3,000 students.
The Black River Primary in St. Elizabeth now has a new computer room, the construction of which was made possible with $3.5 million of his own money. This sum was matched by funds put forward by the Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club. The NCB Foundation also provided funding for the project, which will benefit 1,200 students.
Tony is also actively involved in bettering the lives of young adults. As coordinator of the mentorship programme at the Montego Bay campus of the University of the West Indies, he heads a group of prominent business people and professionals who have committed to sharing their time and expertise with a group of the institution’s very promising students.
In August 2004, Tony Hart, aka Mr. Montego Bay, was honoured by the government of Jamaica for his outstanding contribution to the development of western Jamaica, and was conferred with the Order of Distinction, Commander Class.
This year, Tony Hart will become the first person from the west of the island to be inducted into the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is scheduled for October 31 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston, and so the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame is thankfully ahead of the PSOJ by eleven days.
Although he has been blessed with a lifetime of opportunity and accomplishment, Tony feels that the greatest thing he ever did was to marry Sheila Desnoes and raise four children who are busy creating their own waves in life, and carrying on the family tradition of contributing to the community in which they live.
For all these reasons and more, Antony “Tony” Keith Edmund Hart, CD, JP, was inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.