The ‘PR’ I knew
Parnel was my close friend, perhaps my best friend at primary school in Barrouallie. He was then known as ‘PC’- Pernel Campbell. (I suspect that while preparing to take his entrance examination he realised that he was registered as Parnel, not Pernel). Parnel was very good with his hands as we would say. He made sling shots, tops and traps to catch ‘ground doves’. We went looking for tamarinds, rode scooters, played marbles and cricket on the beach. In fact, it is on one of those occasions I realised I could swim since he pushed me off the wharf and smiled as I swam shore. He was very adventurous and had an appealing sense of humour. We passed the School Leaving Certificate and the entrance examination to the Grammar School. Following an appeal by my teacher Olson Peters/ ‘Caribbean Pete’ I was kept back to do the scholarship examination. PR then went on to the Grammar School and lived with his mother and the rest of his family at Frenches. Being in different forms we developed a different network of friends, but often I went after school to play cricket at his home. We were voracious readers and exchanged novels, among them Perry Mason and Leslie Charteris’ The Saint. What was remarkable about PR was that he was able to complete a novel in a night while also attending to homework for school. I never understood how he was able to do this. From my second year while still in short pants I began to practice for a place on the school’s senior cricket team and a year or two later its football team, so much of my attention was focused on those two games. Parnel played cricket and football but never had pretentions to be serious about and skilled at them.
When I completed secondary school and began teaching at my alma mater, Parnel after teaching there for a year was about to leave to continue his studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada where he did a degree in Economics and Political Science and returned as a graduate in 1968 to continue teaching. Along with other colleagues Kenneth John, Eddie Griffith, Kerwin Morris and John Cato he established the Education Forum of the People (EFP) in April 1969. The late 60s was the period of the Black Power Movement and Parnel and other members, some of whom were teaching at the Grammar School found themselves at odds with and were being harassed by the Milton Cato regime. Parnel, with John Cato left to pursue legal studies in Barbados. On my return from studying in Canada I spent two days in Barbados and linked up briefly with him. At home I was invited to join the Forum by Kenneth John. Parnel, from Barbados, continued his contribution and wrote regularly for its magazine. I went to Barbados in 1973 to continue my studies and renewed my connection with him. We promoted the Forum and I remember once being on radio with him discussing the EFP’s programme. PR graduated in 1973 with a first class honours LL.B degree. That same year he was awarded Student of the Year and also was crowned as King JaJa, the campus’s Calypso King with his songs “Buy Your Own Cigarette” and “Bandit”, later performing those songs throughout Barbados. Sometime in 1973 a few friends wanted to go to a wedding reception to which we were not invited. PR came up with a plan which he kept from us. We journeyed to the hall where the reception was being held. We stayed outside while Parnel went in, spent a few minutes then came and invited us in. He had made contact with the MC and arranged to sing his two calypsos. Mission accomplished.
He lectured in law at Cave Hill for a year before going off to Trinity College, University of Cambridge to do a PhD in Law. Before doing that, he participated in the transformation of the EFP into the Democratic Freedom Movement and became its Deputy Head. The DFM in 1978 linked with Carlyle Dougan’s People’s United Congress and formed the People’s Democratic Movement which in August 1979 joined with Yulimo and Arwee to form the United People’s Movement. Parnel became a member in absentia and was invited in September to return to contest the election as a member of UPM. Before that however he took time off from his studies for three months to assist in coordinating relief for St Vincent following the eruption of the volcano on Good Friday that year. He had by then completed his Bar Examination and was called to the Bar of Grays Inn.
PR returned in September 1979 to contest the Central Leeward seat. He was one of three persons that constituted the leadership of that party. I was then working in Barrouallie coordinating the Glebe Development Project
and assisted him with some house to house campaigning. I learnt some serious lessons about politics. One lady spent a long time criticising the ruling regime for making promises but doing nothing for them. I marked a tick near to her name only to hear her say, “But a still going vote for them.” What more can one say! PR got the second highest number of votes for the UPM, 29 fewer than Ralph Gonsalves, but he was runner up to Arthur Woods of the SVLP while Gonsalves had to take third place falling behind the NDP’s Victor Cuffy. After the election, the UPM was rife with personality conflicts and differences over ideology. The PDM withdrew from the grouping and dissolved itself shortly after.
I was married a few months after the election with PR playing a central role. He was my best man and MC for the reception. It was held at the Casino at Vermont but three weeks before the building was ripped apart by a storm. Chairs from the casino were actually found in Barrouallie being carried away by the river. We had to resort to generators and part of PR’s task was to monitor them and refill with gas when necessary. A year after I had to make a decision whether or not to renew my contract with the Glebe project. I decided not to and opted to continue my studies. My decision was late, so I decided to apply to the University of Western Ontario where I did my first degree. My records were there and some of my lecturers were still around. I had by then a new-born son. My wife with son went to St Lucia to stay with her sister while I braved the winter and went off to Canada. Because my decision was so late, I was unable to sell my car. It was left with PR who took on the responsibility to sell it and pay the balance owing to the bank.
My wife and son joined me a year later and before I graduated, twin girls became part of the family. The year I graduated my son had reached the age of entry to primary school. Parnel assisted here again. That was a period when parents had to line up from 5 o’clock in the morning to try to secure places for their children at the Prep School. PR, through his contacts I suspect, was able to secure a place for my son. He also, if my memory serves me correctly made contact with VINSAVE, then called CANSAVE, to secure places for my girls at the pre-school.
PR following the break from UPM and the dismantling of the PDM devoted himself to his law practice but got involved in the management of cricket and squash, serving as the Vice-President of the Cricket Association and of the SVG Squash Racket Association. He joined the NDP in March 1984, campaigned for them in the 1984 election and in 1985 became a government senator and deputy speaker of the Assembly. In 1986 at the NDP’s convention in Bequia he was elected Chairman of the party and on February 2, 1987 won a bye-election to replace the late Eddie Griffith in East Kingstown. He served with distinction as Attorney General and as Minister of Justice, Information and Culture until his defeat in 1998.
I did not see much of PR after my return to St Vincent. He dedicated himself totally to his ministerial duties and after leaving office, to his law practice. When he became Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, he had invited Kenneth John and me to prepare background material for use of the Commission. Kenneth wrote on the politics of the constitution while my paper was on the history of the constitution, a paper which I still intend to redo and publish.
In his last years he remained totally committed to his law practice and did not appear to socialise very much. We did not necessarily see eye to eye politically and did not communicate as we once did, but we remained friends and would often meet on the street and chat. I would occasionally get a call from him over some specific matter. When I published my book FROM SHAKERS TO SPIRITUAL BAPTIST, as a practising Spiritual Baptist, he bought a few books to give to friends. At the launching of the book from the audience he alerted me to the presence of Bing Oliver our primary and secondary school friend. Bing had been living in the US but had returned home.
I had heard that PR was hospitalised and about a week before his death met one of his brothers at the Supermarket who confirmed it and seemed to think that he was pulling through. The news of his death on Monday, April 19 naturally stunned me. PR got married on December 15, 1973 to Julie Peters whom I knew quite well. Kenneth John always joked about this with PR and Julie telling her that PR first fell in love with her when he saw her climbing her parents plum tree. My deepest condolences to Julie, her children and PR’s family especially his brothers whom I knew quite well. Unfortunately, Kenneth who knew him quite well as they frequently discussed political issues is unable to do an obituary.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian