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Jamaican boy who became a Lord Mayor

HONOUR: Roy with his wife Hylsa, left, when he was Lord Mayor of Manchester

ROY WALTERS is a quiet reserved man, but he held nothing back when overcoming the challenges to his success.

Born in a place called Mount Zion, Rock River District in the parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, to John and Keturah Walters, Roy was part of a large family of eight siblings and had what he describes as a happy childhood.

In 1958, at the age of 19 he followed the love of his life, Hylsa, to England, settling in Moss Side, Manchester. Theirs is truly a love affair that has withstood the test of time. They met at the West Indian Sugar Company where they both worked. Roy was a research assistant. They married two years after he first touched British soil and over the years Hylsa gave birth to three girls and one boy. There are now four grandchildren and next year they celebrate 60 years of marriage.

Roy was too young to be a passenger on the Windrush, but he still remembers the vessel he eventually made his own voyage on – the Iripina.

PRESENT DAY: Roy, as he is now

“It was a long time ago,” he ponders as he lists all the places the ship docked – Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, Italy, France.

This was the first time he had left Jamaica. “It was fascinating; meeting up with different people speaking different languages. We all got on board as strangers, but you tried to build up a relationship with the people sharing a cabin with you.”

He knew very little about his destination. “Someone told me a little about England. So I knew the houses were built near to each other, they had outdoor toilets, fire outside and lots of smoke coming out of the chimney. There was discrimination, but I didn’t experience it directly. I saw the signs – no dogs, no blacks, no Irish and all the rest of it - but it didn’t affect me.”

An explanation for this is Roy’s positive approach to life. “It happened, it’s gone. I’ve got a life to live and I’ve got to move on. That’s not to say we mustn’t draw attention to it in the right quarters, but it mustn’t be a barrier. I’m not going to be a victim from it.”

But it didn’t take long for Roy to settle into routine life up north. In 1960, he got a job with Manchester Corporation Transport starting as a conductor and working his way up to become Depot Operations Manager by the time he took early retirement in 1991. In 1993, he was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to transport.

WORK: Roy the bus conductor

It was in 1962 when he was encouraged to get involved in politics that his civic life began.

“I joined the Labour Party and attended ward meetings and found out what was happening at the council. I decided I would get more involved in the future because I wanted to give something back to the community.”

True to his word, he did; serving as a magistrate from 1985 and then becoming councillor for the Moss Side Ward in 1998. But not one to rest on his laurels, Roy continued to strive forward.

“My greatest achievement was to be the Lord Mayor of Manchester during the Commonwealth Games. It was a good time and a first for Manchester. My wife supported me all along.”

Hylsa was in fact by his side, as she had always been, assisting him in his duties as the Lady Mayoress.

In 2004, Roy was the recipient of an honorary degree, doctor of laws, from the Victoria University of Manchester. And earlier this year he received Maundy Money, commemorative coins given to pensioners as part of a traditional royal service.

The event, dating back to the 13th Century, was held at St George’s Chapel – where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married in May.

Roy’s achievements and accolades are many, far too many to fit a page, but what is certain is that the list will continue to grow. He is not a man to stand still.

When asked if he ever has plans to retire "home" permanently, he replies with his usual reservation that "you can never say never".

“We all had a five-year plan and the five years isn’t up yet,” he laughed. “We’re still working on it.”

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