Sir James Mitchell’s life ended as he lived it, on his terms. He departed with dignity and on Bequia, the island he loved and the place of his birth.
The 90-year-old former Prime Minister who many considered this country’s senior statesman has gone to his eternal rest after a lifetime of service to his country. Whether in power or out of power, whether in the cauldron of an active political life or the calmer waters of a retired life, Mitchell remained committed to the welfare of the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Over the next few weeks, tributes will be paid by world leaders and commonfolk from far flung places and right here at home attesting to the strengths of this giant of a man. Many will be published within the pages of SEARCHLIGHT as we pay full tribute to the man, the leader and the regional integrationist. He was proud of his work with the Inter-Action Council, a grouping of former heads of state or government as the Council provided him the platform from which he could apply his experience and wisdom to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Sir James was by no means perfect, but even those whom he met head on in the heat of political battle would concede in sober moments that he was a popular leader, evidenced by the fact that he was able to lead his party to victory on four consecutive occasions, and who, even after he left office could walk the streets of Kingstown alone without fear of being molested. He was also a man of conviction; totally unafraid to express his opinion or take a course of action even when he knew it would be controversial or unpopular.
Mitchell taught Vincentians how we ought to approach our strongest disagreements in the conduct of Vincentian politics: that this is a disagreement within a family, and not mortal combat between implacable enemies. Hence, in his later years, to the chagrin of his former political allies and the delight of his former political foes, Mitchell at times publicly critiqued his creation, the New Democratic Party. At other times, even in the last months of his life, he spoke out in support of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, an intervention surely frowned upon by some of his supporters but welcomed by the government and health officials. At a time when tribalism has ensnared so much of Vincentian political life, Mitchell’s refusal to compromise his critical thinking was evident even to the end.
In fact, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, this abandonment of tribalism is unusual. Vincentians regularly claim that we should put country before party. But very few do. And fewer still do so as publicly as Mitchell did. It is indeed a lesson every Vincentian ought to learn.
As we mourn the passing of our second Prime Minister, we should recall the words of one of his favorite songs: ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ and see within this song his passion for his country. For Mitchell these words read: “Don’t cry for me St Vincent and the Grenadines, the truth is, I never left you.” Here we will disagree with Sir James and shed a tear for him. And he has left us, at least on this plane of existence. But in the deepest recesses of the Vincentian collective memory, he will never leave us. He entered the stage of Vincentian national life and he sang his song. We heard that song. And we will remember it forever. May he rest in peace. Condolences from SEARCHLIGHT to his daughters, grandchildren and all who mourn his passing.