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Sir Eric in the development of Grenada

“Uncle Gairy” was officially recognised as the Father of Independence by Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell on Independence Day 1996. But, prior to that, not much was said about him in official Independence activities through the years. Today we are happy to see at Saint George’s University (SGU) a hall named in his honour since it was Sir Eric who established the international medical school as one of his educational goals.  In achieving this, local writers have documented how he had to show tenacity in order to fend off detractors in his quest.

It would be good to focus on some of his accomplishments which seem to be elusive to the consciousness of many people or are simply removed from Grenada’s history.

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.” 

There are developments 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, according to former Civil Servant – Gloria Payne- Banfield who was in a committee for the planning of independence. Sir Eric’s contribution to general education saw 18 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 and continued with scholarships for the blind to attend school in Trinidad. He kept the school-book programme in place, which loaned students books while in class. It was also then that females were considered in achieving scholarships in general, according to a book written on the life of another Civil Servant -Gert Protain who headed the committee for designing the Independence flag.

Sir Eric introduced the School Leaving Examination for senior primary school students as some parents were not financially equipped to send them to secondary schools; it became a requirement for some jobs. With the notion that not all students are academically inclined, it was the GULP that started the Technical and Vocational Institute and Domestic Centres with a focus on skills training. The building which today is the TA Marryshow Community College was constructed in his time and was quite handy for the Anglican High School students after that school was destroyed by fire in 1972.  It was also there the agricultural exhibition –Operation Boot String was held in 1976. The great interest in culture again was started with the GULP with names like Pansy Rowly, Gloria Payne, Crafton Mc Guire who penned some folk songs, Shirley Robinson and Loraine Ramdhanny. Sir Eric was also the first to go against the accepted norm and crowned an Afro Carnival Queen – Meryl Otley. 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.

In boosting the economy, GULP hosted Expo 69 at True Blue with Carifta Cottages at Rouge pasture; Easter Water Parades which brought many visitors to our shores; soap, clothes and soft drink factories. A Geodesic Dome was also constructed on Grand Anse Beach to accommodate the 7th regular session of the OAS which made Grenada the first Caribbean country to do so. It disappeared during the time of the US intervention.

As a trade unionist, Gairy never lost sight of workers’ plight. In 1970 GULP government established the Agricultural Workers Provident Fund, precursor to the National Insurance Scheme. The Farm Training School was established at Mirabeau and a new Produce Chemist Laboratory was constructed at Tanteen and Land for the landless was introduced. Older Civil Servants may remember being on the job on Saturdays, it was the GULP that introduced the five day work-week for public servants. More research has shown that it was that same government that introduced the establishment of Coast Guard Service to Grenada. Gairy introduced pre-primary schools for children between two and five years; they were operated mostly by women and known then as Private Schools. 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 converted the traditional Government Band to the RGPF Band.

The last time Sir Eric participated in general elections was in 1995.

He failed to win his St George’s South constituency, despite the fact that an opinion poll conducted by Dr Selwyn Ryan of UWI 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 and his health began to deteriorate. He died 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, is no more after attempts to revive it failed. The trade union that was headed by Sir Eric – the Grenada Manual, Maritime and Intellectual Workers Union – is hardly heard of today.

As governments continue to build on Sir Eric’s ideas, we must remember him for the roundabouts and the Sleeping policemen to help control the traffic. We look ahead to more Independence celebrations, and some may even think it’s appropriate to apologise posthumously to him for the overthrow by the opposition forces through an illegal coup d’état which went against our democratic process.  

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