On the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Grenada’s Father of Independence The Grenadian Voice pays tribute to the man, Sir Eric Matthew Gairy as the man who stood up to the colonial powers in the 1950s in pursuing a new vision for Grenada. “Uncle Gairy” was officially recognised as the Father of Independence by Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell on Independence Day in 1996. Prior to that, not much was said about him in official Independence activities. However, this did not deter his political party, the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP), from celebrating traditionally at the now long-gone Cotbam on Grand Anse Beach. Since being officially recognised by Prime Minister Mitchell on that Independence day 26 years ago, Gairy’s name is now spoken more often especially during the days leading up to Independence. Reference is also made to him when there is a significant development at Saint George’s University (SGU) where a hall is named in his honour since he stablished the international medical school as one of his educational goals. In achieving this, Sir Eric had to show tenacity to fend off detractors in his quest for an international post-secondary institution in Grenada.
This week we focus on some of his accomplishments since they seem to be elusive to the consciousness of many people or are simply lost in history and forgotten as we pay tribute to a man born 100 years ago today in Dunfermline, Saint Andrew.
As Premier, on the occasion of the country’s first National Day in August 1967, his words remain relevant and applicable today. “At this time we recall and reconstruct our history from discovery to the present, in terms of our trials throughout the centuries and our achievements. We have come a long but successful route.”
History has recorded some achievements connected to our first prime minister that we enjoy even today. The National Museum, the central location for preserving artifacts and having historic displays, became a reality in 1976 as an independence gift to Grenadians. His contribution to general education saw dozens of new schools being built while existing ones were upgraded between 1967 and 1979, including a new Teacher’s Training College and a School for the Deaf. It was also then that females were considered in achieving scholarships. With the notion that not all students are academically inclined, and may not achieve the qualifications necessary for jobs, it was the GULP that started the Technical and Vocational Institute with a focus on skills training. How many of us remember the Dodge which no longer exists. Delinquent young people were placed there where they were encouraged to change to positive behaviour. In reference to the international airport, it was 1969 when Premier Gairy sought support from friendly governments for a survey to determine if Point Salines was a suitable location for an international airport.
As a trade unionist to the core, Uncle Gairy never lost sight of workers and, in particular, farm workers. In 1970 the GULP government established the Agricultural Workers Provident Fund, the precursor to the National Insurance Scheme. The Farm Training School was established at Mirabeau and a new Produce Chemist Laboratory was constructed. The older Civil Servants may remember being on the job on Saturdays, well it was the GULP that introduced the five day work-week. More research has shown us that it was that same government that introduced the establishment of Coast Guard Service to Grenada. As Opposition Leader between 1962 and 1967, Gairy introduced the idea of pre-primary schools for children between two and five years; they were operated mostly by women and known then as private schools with a small fee of fifty cents per week for each child in some cases. These schools have since become an integral part of our education system with the name pre-school or kindergarten. From the first female governor in the Commonwealth, to women elected in the House of Representatives and becoming Cabinet ministers, to women being welcomed into the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) are other examples of his foresight. As premier, in 1967, he decided the traditional Government Band should become the RGPF Band.
The last time Sir Eric participated in a general election campaign was in 1995. He failed to win his St George’s South constituency despite the fact that an opinion poll after the demise of the Revolution showed him as the most popular politician in Grenada. After losing the constituency to Phinsley St Louis, his political career began a downward spiral as the GULP broke into splinter groups. The party has failed to recover, particularly since his passing on August 23, 1997, almost 30 years to the day when he first became Premier on August 25, 1967. Today the party that Sir Eric formed in 1950, which set the stage for party politics to eventually replace colonial rule in Grenada, seems to be struggling. The steadfast link between the political party and the trade union that was headed by Sir Eric – the Grenada Manual, Maritime and Intellectual Workers Union – is hardly heard of now.
As governments continue to build on his achievements and we look ahead to more Independence celebrations and continue to develop as a sovereign state, wouldn’t it be nice to say “thank you Uncle Gairy for your contributions to where we are today?”