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Norman Manley — washed away by flood, lost at sea, held at gunpoint

Grandson of National Hero still stands

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 11, 2012    

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This is the 37th in the award-winning series of close encounters with death by Jamaicans, some of them in prominent positions of the society.

IF anyone has had a more exciting, adventurous life than Norman Douglas Manley, then he can put his hand up now.

The man who was named after his grandfather, National Hero Norman Washington Manley, has put off death on countless occasions and has vowed to keep the door shut on that dark spectre for as long as he can.

Six years ago he was washed away by raging water flowing through the Sandy Gully — one of the most dangerous experiences that anyone could undergo. To this day it remains a marvel that he survived the 90-minute ordeal that most would have perished under. He was not even hospitalised, as he discharged himself after hospital officials refused to allow him to smoke his cigarettes.

A few years before that, he endured the feeling of having the cold steel of a gun pressed to his temple by a bandit who had held up his father, Douglas, mere minutes before.

An adventure-filled journey at sea while he studied law at Cave Hill, Barbados during the 1970s was also a hair-raising experience, but only a little more chilling than his encounters with racist skinheads whom he fought off in England when he worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat and did his bar examination.

"I have had an adventurous life," Manley admitted to the Jamaica Observer during an interview at his Caledonia Mall, Mandeville offices late last week.

The older son of former Member of Parliament and Cabinet minister Douglas Manley, and nephew of former Prime Minister Michael Manley, the still sprightly Norman had gone to visit a friend at a local hospital when the Sandy Gully incident unfolded.

He heard that the friend had been discharged and was on his way back to his house during a period of heavy rainfall across Jamaica, when he almost met his maker.

"I was taking a short cut through Manor Park coming from the hospital, going through the gorge, then through Grant's Pen.

"I was taking my time going across, because there was water coming down, but I could handle it. Suddenly, a wave came down, I stepped on the gas and the wheels started to spin. There was no traction.

"The wave hit me off the gorge into the gully. I called my wife and asked her to organise a wrecker. Whilst I was talking to her on the phone, I noticed that water had crept up to my waist, so I said, 'this car is sinking', and she told me to come out the car. This is what saved my life," he stated.

But, in the process of opening the door to exit the car, a second wave came down.

The force of that body of water smashed the front windshield and pulled him from the vehicle.

"As I came out of the car, being pulled by the water, I tried to grab onto some overhanging branches, but the force of the water just took me.

"I was fortunate that there was sufficient amount of water in that gully, there were a number of drops (dips) right down to Riverton City, so when I went into the drops, I just went over, because I can swim," he added.

As the journey of miracles continued, Manley said that he was not thinking about his predicament, but more about the water. He used meditation to calm himself and would float or swim as the situation warranted.

As he drew nearer to Riverton City, the water flow became less. Recognising that he was growing tired from battling the current, he grabbed onto a floating log. Luckily, the force of the water did not hit him against the gully wall, thanks in part to his being a strong swimmer.

"I was in the water for about an hour and a half. Even a helicopter was looking for me. A group of men saw me going through Grant's Pen; they know me because I used to do (legal) cases.They threw a rope, but that did not work," he said.

He was eventually rescued from the water at Riverton City by some young men, but as he emerged he was robbed of personal items, including his wristwatch.

"When I reached Riverton City I could have walked out of the water, but I was so tired, so some guys from Riverton put me in a car — robbed me, took some things, including my watch. I passed out in the car and woke up at Andrew's Memorial Hospital," he said.

Manley spent less than 30 minutes at the Seventh Day Adventist medical institution. Officials there insisted that he should be admitted, but their refusal to allow him to puff on his favourite brand was viewed as unacceptable by the veteran lawyer.

"I badly wanted to pee. They had to push something into me and about two gallons of dirty water came out. They gave me a shot, an antibiotic; but first they drained me, because I wanted to pee and I couldn't.

"They wanted to admit me, so I said OK and asked them if I could go outside and have a cigarette before I go into the ward, and they said no. So I took my own discharge after spending about half an hour there.

"I was in shock and I was chipped up (bruised and cut) all over the place, especially my legs. I had to stay at home for a week," Manley said.

In an earlier escape from the clutches of death almost a decade ago, gunmen tied up Norman's father during a robbery at his St Andrew home. As if they were running a robbery marathon, the bandits next stopped at Norman's house which is behind his father's.

"They robbed my father and tied him up. He had a gold watch and they tied up the gold watch with him when they were tying him up. They were at my father's house for quite a long while, saying they were searching for a gun which was not there.

"I don't have a gun now, because I think it's a false sense of security. At that time I had a .38 gun and I was in my study because I couldn't smoke in the house. This happened at night. There is a parkway down from my father's house to my house and the men came down, (they) must have seen the light. And my wife called out, 'Norman!', so I came out and saw a man with a gun to my wife's head.

"So I started cussing him and asking what he was doing at my yard at this time of night, by which time, the man left my wife and rushed me. I ran to get my gun, pulled it out, slapped it down on the dresser table, only to find out that it had jammed. I next felt a gentle tap and I looked and saw the 9mm at my temple," Manley said.

"The man said, 'wha kinda idiot ting yuh a do?', so I said, 'Sir, I am going to lie down, I am not looking at your face', because I realised that the game was up when the gun jammed and shortly after he had his at my temple. I know the rules of the road... I am supposed to be a dead man.

"I went and lay down, but he had lost my wife and the clock was ticking, so you could see he was confused, there were too many little things in the room, so all he ended up taking was the firearm and a phone," added Manley.

Three men were involved in the robbery and the police knew all three. Within a week one was shot dead by law enforcers with the stolen gun in his hand.

Police never gave the gun back to Manley and he insisted that he would not try to get another, as he maintains that it gives the owner a false sense of security.

Several years before that — in 1976 — while he was enrolled as a student of law in Barbados, the likeable Manley got lost at sea.

"A friend of mine, now a lawyer in Calgary, went to Paradise Beach in Barbados. We borrowed one of those plastic boats from the hotel because we used to go down there regularly, so they knew us," he said.

The pair put to sea, not knowing fully what they would be up against.

"We were falling out of the boat rowing out and it dawned on us that we were far at sea and didn't know where we were. We could not see landfall. We kind of guessed where we were. I suspect that it was the current that took us outside and took us back.

Later, the two somehow landed back in Barbados.

"That was a miracle," said Manley, who admitted to being so furious at his friend for coaxing him into the canoe in the first place.

Anger, he insists is not the norm for him, however, and he credits his calm personality for helping him to keep going in the face of adversity.

"Like when I am in court, I would be going to do a case under high stress, I would be anxious. Once the case starts and I am involved, I am calm as ever. That's my personality.

"Those times that I faced danger, I wasn't afraid, even the time with the gunman," he said.

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