Former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, who died on Tuesday, November 23, aged 90 will be accorded a state funeral.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in a preliminary statement on the National Broadcasting Corporation(NBC) on Tuesday, shortly after news broke of the death of the former head of government and founder of the New Democratic Party(NDP).
“I want to express on behalf of the Government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines our sincerest condolences to the immediate family and friends of Sir James Mitchell,” he said.
“Sir James will be accorded a state funeral, as befits someone who served this country with distinction. The arrangements for the funeral would be made between the family and a team which I have appointed, headed by the Cabinet Secretary,(Kattian Barnwell)” the Prime Minister announced.
Permanent Secretary Angie Williams-Jackson and Senior Assistant Secretary Angela Mercury “who was Sir James’ secretary here at the office of the Prime Minister for 12 years or so”, will also be on the team.
Mitchell was born in Bequia on May 15, 1931, and he also died on that Grenadine island which he called home.
He had returned there last week Thursday November 18, and was placed under 24-hour nursing care, after spending some time in the Intensive Care Unit(ICU) of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados.
Earlier on Tuesday, November 23 the medical staff in Bequia had alerted the Chief Medical Officer(CMO) that Sir James was getting very low and Gonsalves said this was conveyed to him. It was 8:28a.m when the CMO called with the news of Mitchell’s death.
In his address Gonsalves also said he had requested that as a sign of respect all flags in the state be flown at half-mast throughout the country for three days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; and the same will be done on the day of Mitchell’s funeral.
On October 30, the late premier and prime minister was transferred to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital(MCMH), having been treated prior at the Port Elizabeth Hospital on Bequia when he came down with a severe bout of vomiting.
He had been experiencing a number of health challenges including infection, kidney failure, gallstones and an enlarged prostate, and at the MCMH, was diagnosed with Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. The late former prime minister was taken to Barbados for further treatment on November 3.
The learned politician, agronomist, economist and patriarch is said to have remained sharp in mind, and “resilient in spirit” during the entire period of his illness.
He was closely supported by his daughters, Sabrina, Gretel, Louise and Gabija, grandchildren and other family members, and was also comforted by constant messages and prayers from members of the public and friends.
Mitchell served as this country’s second Prime Minister when the New Democratic Party, which he founded in 1975, swept to power having defeated the St Vincent Labour Party(SVLP)in the 1984 general election. His political career began in 1966 with the SVLP when he was elected as the Parliamentary Representative for the Constituency of the Grenadines.
Gonsalves recounted that Mitchell “was Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines since July 1984 until he demitted office in October 2000, and before that between April 1972 and December 1974 he served a short period as Premier, and before that he was a member of the Labour Party Administration under Milton Cato, between 1967 to 1972 as Minister of Agriculture,Trade and Production.”
He also remembered Sir James as a “very staunch regionalist”.
“At an appropriate time more will be said but at the moment we thank God that he gave us Sir James “Son” Mitchell to help us in the building of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves concluded.
About one hour later NDP, President Dr Godwin Friday began a scheduled virtual press conference of the party with a tribute.
“Sir James died this morning at the Port Elisabeth hospital in his beloved home island of Bequia. His passing leaves a hole in our hearts,” the NDP leader said.
He described Sir James as “a great nation builder.”
A number of tributes have already been received from regional governments and organisations in recognition of the life and memory of the late Vincentian leader.