LLOYD GRAY & GRAY’S PEPPER PRODUCTS LTD.
Lloyd Wilberforce Gray, was born in the village of Swift River, Portland on July 26, 1918. He was the first son of Mortimer and Catherine Gray (nee Lecky). He died of a heart attack at his home in Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland, on October 6, 1999.At his funeral one of his peers summed up his life as follows: “Lloyd Wilberforce Gray, Officer of the Order of Distinction, Justice of the Peace, Philanthropist, Freemason, Rotarian – man of honour, man of peace and love … a professional animal scientist of great merit, distinction and creative genius.”
Lloyd Gray remained essentially a rural man, who, in his later years, lived on his small experimental farm on the outskirts of Savanna-la-mar, keeping a watchful eye on his successful agri-business, “Gray’s Pepper Products”, which he had not long before handed over to his only son Andrew, a graduate of the University of Toronto, who was eminently equipped to succeed him. Lloyd cared little for the artificiality of urban life and was fiercely proud of his family and his Portland roots.
Lloyd attended the Bloomfield Elementary School, and following in the footsteps of his uncle T. P. Lecky, he won the prestigious Merrick Scholarship to Farm School at Hope in St. Andrew, where he trained in practical agriculture and animal husbandry, before entering the Jamaica Government Service. Scholarships were in those days few and far between. The Merrick Scholarship was named for Charles Merrick, a wealthy resident of the old parish of St. George. In 1832, Merrick left a bequest for the education of poor boys born in that parish, and although the bequest had by the early twentieth century been depleted, the Government of Jamaica named the Government Scholarship to the new Farm School at Hope in his honour.
The parish of St. George was incorporated into the parish of Portland in the late nineteenth century, but the Merrick scholarship examinations continued to be written in Annotto Bay, the former capital. Swift River fell within the boundaries of the Parish of St. George, but Fruitful Vale fell within the parish of Portland. (Boys from Swift River were eligible for the scholarship, but boys a few miles away at Fruitful Vale were not.) I can well remember Lloyd going off in the back of his cousin’s truck on the three-mile journey to Hope Bay, to catch the train to Annotto Bay to sit the scholarship examination. Later he received more formal scientific training at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad.In due course Lloyd was transferred to the western parishes of the island, supervising cattle breeding and development in a number of these parishes. Lloyd was an avid reader of poetry and literature and could quote poetry at the drop of a hat. He had a photographic memory and could be relied upon at any time to give the local as well as the scientific name of a plant as well as uses to which it could be put.
He decided to make his permanent home in Westmoreland, married Dothlyn Hale and raised his three children there without ever losing touch with his Portland roots.
Some forty years ago, encouraged by his wife to commercialize his experiments in pepper, he single-handedly spearheaded and built his highly successful spice factory, Gray’s Pepper Products Ltd. The operation grew from a simple backyard beginning – grinding processing and bottling his own name brand of Jamaica hot pepper sauce and seasonings manually. On his retirement from the Civil Service he began working on his dream factory. He sketched and designed the engines he would need for the project, then had them built to specifications. As the venture grew he increased the number of local staff (which now stands at 24), guided farmers in Manchester and the surrounding parishes in the scientific methods of pepper farming, and provided a steady market for their products. Some of the original farmers still supply the factory today.
Lloyd was generous to a fault, sharing his scientific research, his animals and his trade secrets with individuals and village groups desirous of establishing small businesses, even though they eventually became his competitors in the market place. He treated everyone with respect and consideration. His workers adored him. When it rained heavily they could be sure that “Father Gray” would turn up at their door to take them to work. For his contribution to the agri-business and his humanitarian efforts he was honoured by the Government of Jamaica with the Award of the Order of Distinction (O.D.) in 1999, but died 11 days before the award was conferred. His nine-year old grandson Drew accepted the award.
In 1982, he submitted entries to the internationally famous Mande Selection Competition and was awarded the gold and silver medals for the quality of his hot pepper sauces. Under Andrew’s management the factory’s lab is approved by the Bureau of Standards to test its own products. The factory is fully automated and is capable of handling one million pounds of pepper per annum. It is the second largest agri-business of its kind in Jamaica.