March 8, 2007
A conversation with Sir Sydney

After one time is another

In tribute to Former Governor and Governor General of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sir Sydney Gun-Munro,a much-loved son of the soil, we reprint an interview done with Sir Sydney which was published in November 2003.

Sometimes when people make birthday wishes, they often yearn for things that money can buy. But for one outstanding senior citizen the wish is “that as many friends as possible drop by to see me.”

Sir Sydney Gun-Munro, this country’s first Governor General marks his 87th birthday tomorrow. But material gifts are hardly on his mind as he rests in the comfort of his home in Bequia. It was the simplicity and humility of his only wish that left an indelible impression on the writer. {{more}}

For the last three months, the former Governor General and physician has been bedridden at his Belmont, Friendship Bay home on Bequia. His resolve remains undaunted however, and in good spirits he shared his life and optimisim with my Editor Dexter Rose and me when we visited on Tuesday.

“I’m going to walk again. During the last few weeks my legs have been getting stronger and whenever I walk again I’ll call you all and let you know.”

Sir Sydney was born in Grenada, November 29, 1916, the 8th of 10 children born to Marie Josephine and Barclay Gun-Munro. At the age of seven his father died and from there on the youngster took the advice of his teachers very seriously and concentrated on his academics.

In 1936, Sir Sydney won the Grenada Island Scholarship and used the opportunity to study medicine in the United Kingdom. He returned to Grenada after qualifying as a medical practitioner and worked for a few years in his homeland.

His coming here was not of choice, but of fate. He relates that it was in 1949 when he was informed that there was an urgent need for a surgeon at the hospital in St. Vincent.

“I did not want to go because I wanted to work in Grenada,” Sir Sydney sighed. “The Administrator said, “well unfortunately the Surgeon was ill and it’s an emergency business.” So I said “ok I’ll go but how long I will have to stay?” And he said for about five months.”

Setting his foot on Vincentian soil he would later learn that he had been lured to St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

“As I got off the boat the first person I saw was Dr. Murray, who was the surgeon that they told me was ill. I said “Bill I’m sorry you are here since you have not been well” and he said ‘I’ve never been fitter in my life'”

Sir Sydney’s stay has since stretched from an initial five months to span a period of almost 60 years. His stint as a surgeon in active practice here though, lasted from 1949 until 1971 when he retired.

And, although he was reluctant to come to St.Vincent and the Grenadines, he immediately felt at home working with a medical staff who were mostly Grenadians with the exception of one doctor.

For quite a while Sir Sydney served as the only surgeon at the hospital

and sometimes as the only doctor living on a meagre salary.

“People today are trying to think about money, wealth and so on but there is nothing in this world that is more important than human beings. It makes all the difference to life.”

As our hour and a half-long conversation progressed, his lovely wife, Joan, Lady Gun-Munro, who shared the recollections often joined Sir Sydney. The couple, who celebrated 60 years of holy matrimony on May 1, this year has produced three children, Rodney, Sandra and Michael.

Reflecting on Sir Sydney’s life today one can say it was of providence that this individual was destined to reach the zenith of achievement that any ambitious person from a small Caribbean state can hope for in this life.

On two occasions Sir Sydney escaped death’s jaws.

During World War two, he survived the bombing of his brother’s home in England, but suffered several broken bones and facial injuries as a result. Then in May 1997 he came close to death when a verandah rail at his Friendship Bay, Bequia home broke, plunging him some 15 feet below. It was sheer luck he survived. He had parked his car directly below the area where the rail broke. He suffered broken ribs and damage to his spine. He has been bed-ridden ever since.

The elderly former Governor General sees life as the most precious gift on earth and expressed the wish that he had the power to erase all the wars taking place on earth.

“What I think is so terrible is that 2000 years after the birth of Christ, they are still talking of war and implements of destruction which will kill thousands of people. I just cannot understand what is happening to the world.”

Having witnessed the transition of this country through the periods of colonial rule, associated statehood and independence, Sir Sydney remains adamant that St.Vincent and the Grenadines was not ready for independence in 1979.

Sir Sydney however told us it was an honour when he was called upon to serve the state as Governor in 1977 and as the first Governor General in 1979. His tenure ended in 1985.

“But my job was really as a physician. I think the best contribution that I’ve made to my fellow people was as a surgeon. Even after I became Governor and Governor General I continued to give my services as a doctor to the entire population free of charge.”

He spoke at length, but very calmly throughout the interview and showed evident amusement on only one occasion: when he asked if he saw any advantages of St.Vincent and the Grenadines becoming an independent state.

“To be honest no,” Sir Sydney responded, “independence brought a lot of additional expenses which we didn’t have the means of meeting. If all the Caribbean states had joined together or even the Windward Islands remaining together as a union and the Leeward Islands as a union, I believe more could have been accomplished.”

Just before our visit concluded, the forthright and outspoken elder statesman opined that, in an age when the United States of America claims it is fighting terrorism he shares the belief that America committed the biggest act of terrorism when it bombed Japan and killed over 200,000 civilians.

“They were not soldiers, they were innocent people. That to my mind was the worst act of terrorism ever committed. I don’t care what people think of me that’s how I think of that!”

The former Governor General also shared his views on issues such as HIV/AIDS, crime and violence, politics (he contested the 1974 General Elections for the St. Vincent Labour Party and lost to Sir James Mitchell), children’s involvement in sports to foster better lives and tourism.

Sir Sydney paused at one point and with a broad smile across his face quipped: “After one time is another”.