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Earle Kirby Reminiscences

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by Sir James Mitchell

Earle and I were neighbours between 1958 and 1961, when I was in charge of the Campden Park Experiment Station and he was the veterinary officer responsible for the health of our animals on the station – cattle, donkeys, goats – and animal health throughout the island. We each had a Morris Minor for travelling on our duties throughout the island.

The other two professionals in the Department of Agriculture were the boss, Hugh McConnie, and Con De Freitas in charge of agricultural extension. Apart from responsibility for the Campden Park operation, the Lowmans Bay coconut plantation and the Ottley Hall Prison Farm, my substantive duties were agricultural research throughout the island, supervising the propagating stations and various stud centres.

I decided to demonstrate the methods of range management of poultry for broilers and individual pens for egg production and had the facilities built. One day I spent the entire morning and afternoon in the poultry sheds, but could hardly breathe that night. There was no doctor around. Earle decided that I had developed an allergic reaction to feathers, and prescribed antihistamine pills, which probably saved my life. He was my sounding-board on the research I was doing in the countryside, whether it was identifying potassium deficiency in bananas, nutrient requirements in sugar cane, or assessment of the performance of the various clones of cocoa.

Whenever we deemed that a young calf was not suited to be selected for the stud centres, we had it killed, sold the meat to the workers, and kept the liver for ourselves. Earle suggested too that we should take on cleaning out some grugru trees in Lowmans Bay. So many afternoons we exercised with axes felling the palms, a feat he thought good for our waistlines.

These were the early days of his growing interest in Carib pottery. We would go to the Arnos Vale river some afternoons, plunge into the water beside the bank and dig away. I was pleased, later as Minister, to facilitate the house for his collection in the Botanic Gardens.

When I became Premier and Minister of Agriculture, having spent five years in England and Europe, I was very cautious in keeping my own professional judgement out of the way of the officials. My job was policy. But a conflict arose with Earle. The dynamic Dr Eckstrom had gone to Scandinavia to buy the MV Seimstrand, which was to become a ferry boat. He cabled me, requesting permission to bring back a consignment of pedigree pigs from Denmark, and I requested Earle to provide the import licence. He refused. He would not accept any health certificate from the Danish Ministry of Health. My experience in Denmark, and the advertising claim in Europe that “Good bacon has

– 2 – Danish written all over it”, did not impress Earle. He said that I would have to take responsibility for any hog diseases introduced into St Vincent. I accepted. He refused again. I signed.

We appointed him in the NDP government to be Chairman of the Planning Committee. Only once did I have to forward his ruling to the appeals tribunal.

We climbed the Soufrière together several times, and after eruptions would assess the impact of volcanic activity on the flora and fauna. We had fun discussing the evolution of our country’s landscape. With my background in soils and his in biology, no facet escaped us.

Earle loved to explore the boundaries of knowledge. Our friendship and mutual respect survived even my political career. He was a great Vincentian.

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