Ian McDonald Ramsay was born in Hope Bay, Portland, on June 2, 1930, to David C. B. Ramsay, a teacher, and his wife Sarah Salmon-Ramsay. His father moved to Manchester to teach at Nazareth Elementary School, which young Ian attended.
Munro Young Leader
He won a scholarship to Munro College, which he attended from 1942 to 1948. At Munro, Ian Ramsay excelled in academics and sports. He captained the boxing team, was vice captain for the football team, and was a member of the hockey, gymnastics and shooting teams. He was awarded colours in all five, and was given special mention for his individual voluntary routine in the gymnastics competition.
He was a member of the music and dramatic society, of which he was the secretary, and played the lead role of Macbeth in the society’s rendition of the famous Shakespeare play. He was also the captain of Coke House. He obtained his School Certificate in 1945 and his Higher School Certificate in 1947, then won the Centenary Scholarship in 1948 and left Munro at the end of the Christmas term that year for higher studies.
Ramsay studied at Cambridge University, where he obtained his MA and LLM degrees and then went onto Gray’s Inn in England where he qualified as a Barrister and was called to the Bar in 1955. He served as a Deputy Clerk of Courts from 1955-1956 and then entered private practice, rapidly building a reputation as an advocate of skill and high integrity.
A Renowned Lawyer
Like a true Munronian, he was suave, urbane, and debonaire. He was also blessed with a deep grasp of the law in addition to sharp intellect, quick wit and a sharp tongue. Ian Ramsay is widely regarded as one of the finest criminal attorneys in the history of the entire Caribbean. In partnership with Howard Hamilton, QC, who he mentored, he shared a record of two hundred successive acquittals.
In over forty years at the bar, Ramsay won great respect from the legal fraternity. He was made a Queen’s Counsel, the youngest ever in Jamaica’s history. In fact, he was twice made a Queen’s Counsel, as he gave up his appointment in 1969 in protest against the verdict of a certain judge in a murder case, and was re-appointed nine years later.
In the 1990’s, in order to fill the need for a forum to discuss the merits of law, Ramsay chaired regular meetings of noted Jamaican attorneys, including fellow Queens Councils K.D. Knight, Norma Linton, and Howard Hamilton. They would discuss recent decisions of the Privy Council, the Jamaican Court of Appeal, and decisions from elsewhere in the British Commonwealth.
The Young Lawyers Association had been defunct since the 1980’s, and so it was soon decided that the younger attorneys among them especially needed a platform to represent them. The Advocates Association of Jamaica was thus born. Ramsay and Jacqueline Samuels-Brown drafted the constitution, which was adopted in 1992, and Ramsay served as the Association’s first president, from 1992 to 1996.
It seems legal prowess is indeed in his blood, as his daughter, Justice Margaret Ramsay-Hale, was in 2014 sworn in as the first female chief justice of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
He dabbled a bit in national politics, serving in the early 1960s as a deputy general secretary of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and as a senator in the mid-1970s. He also served as a Councillor of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC).
He was awarded the Order of Jamaica for his sterling contribution to law and his outstanding public service, in 2002.
For all these reasons and more, the late Ian Ramsay, OJ, QC, was inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.