Granddaughter to complete Sir James’ final project
Being tasked with putting together her grandfather’s final book is the “most full circle moment and the true epitome of the bond and relationship” Ella Mitchell-Sutton shared with him.
Mitchell-Sutton, the granddaughter of the late Sir James FitzAllen Mitchell broke down in tears last Saturday, December 18 while sharing the last moments she shared with the former prime minister before he passed away in late November.
“I am forever grateful that I went to see Grandpa in the Bequia Hospital, the night before he passed. It was, perhaps, the most important conversation we ever had, and yet, at the time, I hadn’t any idea that it would be,” she told the congregation sitting inside and outside of the St Mary’s Anglican Church in Port Elizabeth, Bequia.
“He had been back in Bequia only a few days. In our time together, he did not talk much about the book until his final night. He asked for me, so I came closer. He spoke repeatedly about the dedications, the foreword, the poem at the end, the title, the cover art, the photos inside, the contact for the publishers. I told him, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this.”
And he repeated, “You’ve got this. Okay, good”.”
This was Sir James’ last conversation with Mitchell-Sutton, the daughter of his eldest daughter, Sabrina Mitchell.
She became emotional as she spoke of the bond she shared with her grandfather — one that was forged by their mutual love for literature as early as when she was a little girl, and strengthened over the years when she pursued a degree in literature and lasted up until he died.
“I feel confident in myself in the instructions he gave me over the past few months, and I look forward to my family and I piecing this book together. But I kick myself for not finishing it when he was still alive,” she shared.
In his final year of life, the former prime minister and founder of the New Democratic Party took on the task of writing his final book; something his granddaughter said surprised no one because of how sharp his mind was even at the age of 90.
Mitchell-Sutton recalled receiving snippets of his writing progress while finishing up the last year of her undergraduate degree in Canada.
And when she returned to Bequia in the summer, she sat with Sir James most mornings to assist in typing out the remaining chapters of the book as he read them aloud to her,.
“With my degree in English, he often asked for my help in rewording and restructuring his sentences. At some moments, when he felt as though his writing would not suffice, grandpa would just talk. And I would just type. Some chapters wrote themselves, straight from his mind. Others needed more polishing. He asked me to do the first round of editing when we finished writing. I agreed. In those last few months, I felt as though I was his confidante in this: his passion project,” she said.
Sir James’ granddaughter described it as “an absolute honour to type up those stories for him”.
“We completed his final chapter – a beautiful piece on the failed potential of Haiti – the week before he fell ill. He was working on a deadline, to which I was ignorant of how unprecedented it was. You might say the timing was perfect. He was ready to succumb to his illnesses only when he had finished his final, last task,” she said.
Mitchell-Sutton noted that her grandfather lived by the words “Always have an agenda” and she believes wholeheartedly “that when he finally finished writing this book, his life agenda was over. He was ready to go”.
The distinguished statesman was buried in the early evening of December 18 at his family cemetery at Mt Pleasant, Bequia.