Paul Fitz Ritson knew that he was marked for death

The Journey the late Paul Fitz Ritson, father of director Karen Fitz Ritson, and understanding more about the Fitz Ritson family and their role in Jamaica.

Paul FitzRitson, the executive chairman of National Sports Ltd and a popular Kingston attorney-at-law, was brutally slain by two armed robbers in the Norwood area of Montego Bay, St James, on the morning of March 16, 1974 -- the screaming headlines informed a stunned nation at the time.

This news, coming fast on the heels of reports of the untimely death of another popular and well-respected lawyer, Montego Bay's Robert Stennett, and the barefaced gunning down in broad daylight of prominent Kingston businessman Leo Henry, pushed then Prime Minister Michael Manley to summon a meeting of his Cabinet and the leadership of the security forces. Later, it would also see the hurried construction of the Gun Court and its indefinite detention system.

A terse statement from the prime minister followed the meeting in which Manley called for firmness in the face of rampant criminal violence which, he said, had shocked the nation.

In the meantime, massive police raids were launched in Montego Bay to try to nab Stennett's and FitzRitson's killers. These raids were under the command of the late Assistant Commissioner of Police Owen Stephenson, supported by Detective Inspector Gladstone Hutchinson, i/c Montego Bay CID (now retired Senior Superintendent) and detectives from Kingston, headed by special police investigator, late Senior Superintendent Ken Mayne.

In Kingston, special police investigators were tracking down three gunmen who were alleged to have taken part in the brutal slaying of Leo Henry, managing director of Modern Furnishing. Those investigations were under the direction of the Assistant Commissioner i/c Crime, the late Roy Smith.

The nation during this period was in turmoil. Especially after it was reported that the hard-working and dedicated FitzRitson -- who resided at the time in Copacabana near Bull Bay, St Andrew, a quiet, middle-class community overlooking the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea -- had reportedly left Kingston for Montego Bay the previous Friday in order to finalise plans for the telecast of the March 26 heavyweight fight between George Foreman and Ken Norton. This was scheduled to take place at the Palladium Theatre in the western city.

And that very afternoon, prior to the fatal shooting, FitzRitson was reported to have dined at Ironshore with his good friend, the then Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism P J Patterson (later prime minister of Jamaica); the late executive chairman of the JIDC, Wesley Wainwright and Hopeton Caven, his colleague of the TUC, of which he (FitzRitson) was the legal advisor.

The 30-year-old FitzRitson, it was learnt, seemed to have had some foreboding that he was to die soon, for it was reported that at a Board meeting of National Sports, shortly before the tragedy, he had said "that he had heard that there was a 'list' of prominent persons marked to be shot. The list included a number of attorneys "and I among them".

Known for his meticulousness in the completion of tasks and according to his close associates, anxious as well to dot all the (i)'s and cross all the (t)'s, in anticipation of the coming exciting championship bout, it was felt that the executive chairman, in furtherance thereof, had gone to visit a business associate and friend in Norwood that fateful night.

According to police reports, FitzRitson was leaving the friend's apartment about 12:40 am when he was ambushed by two men -- one armed with a gun and the other with a machete. They were said to have emerged suddenly from the back of the unsuspecting victim's car.

Taken by surprise, according to the police, the victim tried desperately to ward off his attackers who were intent on grabbing his briefcase. FitzRitson fought valiantly but failed in his attempt to ward off the savage attack, the police reported. He was shot twice, the bullets finding their mark, his heart. He died on the spot.

Further police reports indicated that the robbers then stripped the executive chairman of his wristwatch, grabbed the briefcase and made good their escape.

Not only were the people of Jamaica, as a whole, stricken by this sudden upsurge of violence in different sections of the island, but overseas interests, including th country's trading partners, it was said, had begun to wonder aloud about the effects on our tourist industry and there was the fear that our relatives abroad might be hesitatating to return home even for visits, as a result. There were reports that some returning residents already here, had become restless.

Then mayor of Montego Bay, Councillor Charles Sinclair, appealed to citizens to give the police and the government any information they might have to fight what he termed a crime wave, adding that all of Montego Bay was "profoundly disturbed" by the killings.

The resolution passed by the Board of Directors of National Sports Ltd at an emergency meeting held shortly after the tragedy, said it all for those who mourned Paul FitzRitson's passing:

"...Mr FitzRitson saw sports as a means of curing most of the social ills in the society and it is even more tragic that the very cause for which he stood, was perhaps, the source of his death," the resolution read.

As news of FitzRitson's killing spread, hordes of curious people descended on the St James Public Hospital where the body had been taken. Some wept openly, while others wrung their hands in utter despair.

Following a post-mortem examination, the body was flown on a Jamaica Defence Force aircraft to Up Park Camp. Accompanying the body to Kingston were the late Housing Minister Anthony Spaulding and Senator Hopeton Caven, who were both in Montego Bay at the time.

And among the representatives of government present at Camp to witness the arrival of the body were: the late Senator Dudley Thompson, QC, minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office and P J Patterson. FitzRitson's body was subsequently transported to the Sam Isaacs Funeral Home to await burial.

While the clock ticked and the police worked tirelessly to solve all three "despicable murders", their first success was in the capture of two men -- Noel Riley, 19, of 2a Union Street, Mandeville and Anthony Forbes, 18, of 6 Piccadilly Lane, Kingston -- who were later tried and convicted in the Home Circuit Court for Leo Henry's murder. They were hanged on the gallows at the St Catherine District Prison in May 1979.

A man had been reportedly detained in relation to Stennett's murder, following the massive raids carried out by the police in Montego Bay. But up to this day, Paul FitzRitson's murder has never been solved, despite the establishment quickly thereafter, of the controversial Gun Court by the government to "help stem the tide of gun crimes in the country".

Back at Stony Hill in St Andrew, Mr and Mrs Donald FitzRitson, the parents of the slain attorney displayed a calm and quiet strength in the face of the sudden tragic and heartrending blow they had suffered on receipt of the appalling news.

Why? This was the question on almost everyone's lips.

Speculation turned to the fact that quite two years prior, Paul FitzRitson had been the person -- along with well-known producer Buddy Pouyatt and Beverley Anderson -- who had proposed to then Opposition Leader Michael Manley that a Bandwagon show of Jamaican entertainers including the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh; Alton Ellis, Judy Mowatt, Clancy Eccles, Delroy Morgan, Hopeton Lewis and Max Romeo, be used by campaign manager, Patterson, in mounting the programme for the 1972 general election on behalf of the PNP.

By the following year, FitzRitson had been active in bringing to Jamaica, the still talked-about championship bout between boxing legend George Foreman and Joe Fraser o/c "Smoking Joe."

He was indeed a community organiser, with a particular interest in music and sports promotion, heavy accent on boxing.

As a matter of fact, FitzRitson was the product of a family of community- involved persons.

His father, the late Donald FitzRitson, himself an attorney-at-law, had served for several years as Scout Commissioner in Jamaica and was also a former chairman of Mico Teachers' College.

The elder FitzRitson played no small part in the early years in the projection of and work done in the establishment of Boys' Town.

The slain man's sister, Jennifer Messado, a well-known attorney-at-law, is recognised for her practice in civil law.

With his murder, FitzRitson's young wife was not the only other aggrieved family member who had suffered severe loss.

His daughter Karen, less than ten years old at the time, and her younger sister Lisa, later moulded by their mother, Winsome and loving grand-parents on both sides along the way, managed to survive the loss.

After studying Finance and International Business at the Florida International University, as the years passed Karen was to make her mark in June 2001 with the establishment of FitzRitson & Associates. By 2005, it was known to be the first institution in the Caribbean region to bring online professional training for financial professionals seeking to advance their careers. By 2006, it was the first institution in the Caribbean region, as well, to offer accredited professional programmes online.

This, after a distinguished career of expounding the art of managing money in many of Jamaica's top money management institutions of the time -- Grace Kennedy and Sigma Investments to name a few. Daddy's little girl had honoured his memory.

This unfortunate tale is recounting a story of deep disappointment in those of our people, who, in spite of the love, dedication and hard work put out by others to help them, are hell-bent on destruction.

Fortunately, it is evident that the surviving family members of Paul FitzRitson have not given up on Jamaica.

This article was originally published in the Jamaica Observer on Sunday March 3, 2013.

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