Forgetting that it was his moment of glory, Leighton McKnight made a desperate appeal for help for Jamaica's poorest children, on a night when he received the coveted Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica (ICAJ) Distinguished Member Award 2017. “The children are growing up angry and there is no end in sight,” McKnight told a full ballroom at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, honouring him for three decades of outstanding contribution to the accountancy/auditing profession and service to the ICAJ.
McKnight, who runs the Jamaican arm of world-renowned auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), has devoted his life to helping children from seriously deprived homes, assisting 50 of them with education and having the satisfaction of seeing several rise from virtually nothing to becoming university students or graduates.
“My greatest achievements are not my professional accomplishments, but the positive change I have been able to make in the life of the children I have helped. But there is still so much more to do in Jamaica. Don't worry about what you can't do. Do what you can with what you have for them,” he urged the gathering of mostly well-to-do Jamaicans.
“…I saw the headline this week about the 119 guns destined for Jamaica but intercepted and I am very concerned. We are doing well in establishing the accounting and auditing standards but it is not just about that, it is about nation-building,” McKnight declared.
He recounted some of the stories, giving background to the young girls and boys he had rescued, noting that it was not always only about spending money on them. He mentioned the outrage of Jamaicans over the woman who was seen on video beating her young daughter with a machete, saying he needed to know why a mother would do that.
Following a visit to the family in St Thomas, he became less enraged about the incident and started to understand the dire circumstances in which it took place. The desperately poor mother was at her wits' end and was punishing the child for missing school 37 times.
He noted that the mother so lacked exposure that she had never seen an elevator and he had to accompany her in one when she came to visit his office for assistance. He said it was okay to be outraged but after that people should offer to help.
Lauded throughout the evening for the wide number of organisations and causes he serves, his selflessness, charm, generosity and his ability to transcend partisan politics, the awardee paid heartfelt tribute to his mother Valerie McKnight, who was present, and his wife Novelette, admitting: “I don't know how Novelette is married to me. I wouldn't marry me.”
Several of McKnight's adopted daughters and mentees attended the event, two of whom — Amelia Dunkley and Dayandria Clarke — spoke of how he rescued them, bringing the audience to its feet in spontaneous ovation. A third mentee, Shawnalee Brown, sang in tribute.
Among those paying tribute too were Finance Minister Audley Shaw and Opposition spokesman on finance Mark Golding, both of whom have worked with McKnight who serves on critical committees of Parliament — the Independent Judiciary Committee, the Integrity Commission and the Audit Commission. For his service to the public, he was awarded the Commander of the Order of Distinction in 2013.
President of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Howard Mitchell, who met McKnight 27 years ago, described him as the “best auditor I have known”. Paula Marcelle-Irish, head of business development at the Trinidad-based Caribbean arm of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, the global body for professional accountants, praised him for his outstanding contribution to the regional body.
The ICAJ Distinguished Member Award was presented by President Raymond Campbell. Master of ceremonies was Wayne Robinson.