News
February 25, 2014
Canouan-born Prime Minister memorialised with statue in heart of St Lucia capital

Former Vincentian Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell was among close associates invited to witness the unveiling, in the St Lucia capital Castries last Friday, of a statue of St Lucia’s longest serving Prime Minister, the late Sir John Compton – a native of the Grenadine Island of Canouan.{{more}}

Sir James was joined by current Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell and former St Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr Sir Kennedy Simmonds, both of whom had also served their respective countries during the reign of Sir John.

Sir James said he used the occasion to drive home the integration theme which Sir John’s life represented.

“The important message I stressed to the St Lucian people was Caribbean unity,” Sir James said. “Here was a man who was born in Canouan and rose to become the Prime Minister of St Lucia and took charge of the development of St Lucia.

“Not only that; I also pointed out that the current St Lucia Prime Minister Dr (Kenny) Anthony grew up as a boy in St Vincent – living in Barrouallie and going to school in Kingstown.

“I, too, had to travel quite often to St Lucia as a young man for family connections.

“So, the question I want to ask this generation is ‘when are we going to bring these islands together?’ Is it going to take us another 50, another 100 years?”

Sir James thinks the current generation has an easier chance of deepening regional integration than his and Sir John’s generation, given the available modern communication technologies today, including teleconference facilities for regular dialogue, and for reducing expensive travel.

Sir John Compton was born in Canouan on 29 April 1925. He received his early education at the Canouan Government School, before migrating to St Lucia in Sepember 1939, where he completed his secondary education. He went on to Curacao, before heading to Britain, where he studied Law and Economics and later returned to St Lucia in the 1950s and almost immediately became embroiled in the country’s politics.

He guided St Lucia into Statehood on 1st March 1967, becoming the country’s first premier. Then, on February 22nd 1979, he became St Lucia’s first Prime Minister when the island gained independence from Britain.

Following his death in 2009, a memorial service was held in his honour at the Anglican Church at Carenage, Canouan, where he was baptised and served as a boy. His widow and children were present and said Sir John credited much of his personality to his early upbringing on Canouan.

Speaking at Friday’s statue unveiling ceremony, current Prime Minister Kenny Anthony said:

“St Lucians are cognizant that this monument does not indemnify or repay the untiring, unyielding will that this soul from Canouan carved into the landscape of St Lucia and in the psyche of its people.

“John Compton is the Father of Independence. His achievement in heading St Lucia from a colonial backwater to a developing state speaks of a man who was resolute, committed and relentless in his efforts,” Dr Anthony said.

A resident of Sir John’s Micoud constituency reminded the gathering that his representation involved struggle, especially in the early years, and she told of an incident in the volatile 1950s when, as an opposition politician, his supporters had to dress him up in a sheet like a pregnant woman to get him past would-be attackers who had come to the constituency to silence him.

Sir James, in recalling this incident, said it is important that the struggles and difficulties of the region’s heroes are highlighted, so people will better understand their true contribution.

He pointed to his own early experiences in the Market Square in Kingstown in the 1960s when he tried to start a political party and “on two occasions persons in the crowd came to the stage and shake my hand with their own hand full of (faeces).” He also recalled having to be hidden under an old lady’s shop counter in Hadley’s Village during the 1979 election campaign, and then sleeping the same night at a hideout in Greiggs to escape from armed men his supporters said were looking for him.

Sir James is recommending that retired leaders take their experiences on-line via the Internet, as opposed to just printed documents, to appeal especially to the younger members of the population. He, however, hopes that if the Bequia Museum expands its heritage focus, he can make some of his documents available for display there.

Asked to comment on the inclusion of two other former Vincentian leaders – Ebenezer Joshua and Milton Cato – among names being proposed for the next set of National Heroes, Sir James said he had no problem with that recognition being given to the two of them, although some controversies, such as the handling of the Union Island uprising during the Cato administration may still be fresh in the minds of some people.