The Spirit of Sir George
Hello St. Lucia,
Three Major Events
In the past two weeks, we have celebrated two world class achievements. First,
there was the news, two Monday mornings ago, all the way from China, that we had
won our bid to have our famous Pitons declared a World Heritage Site. Then, last
Monday morning came the other good news that St. Lucia was selected by the
International Cricket Council as a venue for the Cricket World Cup in 2007. And
in the midst of it all, we said our final goodbye to one of our greatest sons,
Sir George F.L. Charles.
The past fortnight has allowed us much time to reflect on the significance of
these three major events. The discussions around the selection of the Beausejour
Cricket Ground as a venue for world class cricket, is a timely reminder of the
enormous responsibilities that lie ahead. It’s the same with the Pitons, which
are now firmly placed on the world map, virtually adopted by mankind as a part
of the world’s heritage. The Pitons will not only belong to us, but to the whole
So, amidst the joy, we had to contend with the sorrow of the passing of Sir
“The Small Axe”
I grew up hearing about George Charles. The more I learned about him, the more I
was fascinated by what people said about his simplicity and his humility. I
heard stories of feats by this little man, who was called everything from “Ti
Jesi” to “Ti Hache” – everything from “Little Jesus” to “The Small Axe”. Indeed,
Sir George F.L. Charles was the small axe that began the process of cutting down
the big tree that colonialism represented in his time.
There are times I think about him in a more personal way. On several occasions,
I have indicated that I am a product of the Vieux Fort Senior Secondary School.
That school opened its doors in 1964. It was funded by USAID and constructed by
the government led by George Charles. In those days, there were only two
secondary schools in St. Lucia – St Mary’s College and St. Joseph’s Convent.
George Charles brought secondary education to the South of the island and made
it possible for hundreds of young people to receive a secondary education.
Indeed, I owe my secondary school education to the establishment of that school.
Too Many Still Don’t Know Enough…
The period following the death of Sir George has revealed that many of our young
people still do not know enough about who George Charles was, and what he did
for St. Lucia to enable us to enjoy the rights and freedoms now enshrined in our
Father of Decolonialisation
It was Sir George who started and led our struggle against colonialism. It was
he who began the fight to make St. Lucia a nation. It was he who led the
struggle for us to get the right to vote for the government of our choice. He
was elected as our first Chief Minister. He led the first political party in St.
Lucia. And he it was, who led the introduction of the ministerial system of
government in St. Lucia.
Faith in History
In all of the things I have heard from those who struggled with him, Sir George
never behaved as if he was destined to lead. He never pretended that he was
chosen by God to lead St. Lucia forever. He was never attracted to the trappings
of office. Nor was he fazed by losses or betrayals. He toiled without rest,
laboured without reward and remained steadfast through thick and thin. He never
beat his own chest. Nor did he pound against those who sought to minimize his
contribution. He had faith in history.
Sir George F.L. Charles left a legacy worthy of emulation. He distinguished
between the Economic Struggle for better wages and working conditions and the
Political Struggle to end colonization. He was truly the Father of
There will always be efforts to diminish Sir George’s contribution. But it is
our collective duty to always strive to keep his memory alive, to never let this
and succeeding generations forget the huge contribution of that quiet, little
Let us not forget that the banana industry, introduced under his leadership,
changed the economic landscape of this country forever. Bananas consolidated the
formation of a viable class of farmers and workers from which so many have
Let us not forget that it was under his banner that St. Lucia first experienced
Universal Adult Suffrage and that his earliest assaults on the colonial
apparatus included a resolution for the legal recognition of paid leave for
workers. With that brave charge began the legacy he would bequeath to
generations of working-class people in this country. Many pieces of labour
legislation, enacted during his tenure, are still subsisting laws on our statute
Besides the right to paid holidays, these laws protected wages, legitimized
trade unions and provided for the settlement of trade disputes. Such was his
abiding concern for the rights of the poor and the dispossessed. No government
since then has enacted such a wide platform of labour legislation. So, it is not
by accident that we have arrived here. It is not by private wisdom or singular
good fortune, but by the sacrifice and selflessness of good men in the mould of
Sir George left us his memoirs. It is our duty to fill the gaps and complete the
story of his life. Much has been written and much has been said. While he lived,
tribute was paid through the naming of a community, a school and one of our
airports after him. More recently, a foundation, the George Charles Foundation,
was established in his name. This foundation, among other things, will document
the formation, emergence and contribution of the labour movement to our
His Spirit Lives On…
Despite all these accomplishments, it is unbelievable that there would be among
us those who would not see the significance of a minute of silence for Sir
George, who would say they didn’t know him or who would dare to suggest that his
achievements were myths built around him by political admirers.
Sir George was a man loved and admired in his time. As was seen in the days
before his burial, people of all walks of life turned out to pay their last
respects to him. They saluted him on the Market Steps and they paid tribute to
him in the House of Assembly. People of all walks of life attended his funeral:
labourers, clerks, public servants, merchants, Government and Opposition
supporters, trade unionists, workers -- and supporters of both the UWP and the
SLP. They came to see him off because, as Monsignor Anthony said at his State
Funeral service, he was among the great men of Caribbean history who made his
contribution to the development of our region.
When we buried Sir George last Wednesday afternoon, we laid a body to rest. But
the spirit of this indomitable little man should live on in our hearts, in our
minds and in our memories.
Many of our young people are being told that there’s no honour in politics and
that all politicians are thieves and should not be trusted. I can only hope that
the example of George Charles will be emulated by those who wish to make genuine
contributions to the continuing struggle for the development of our country and
the upliftment of our people.
Indeed, I know I speak on your behalf when I say: May the spirit of Sir George
F.L. Charles rest in peace.
Until next Monday, do have a pleasant week.
By the way, remember: Tuesday, July 13 – that is, tomorrow – will be a special
day. That’s when we will know the Cricket World Cup matches we will host. Stay