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Pioneers in Nation-Building

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Former Governor, the late Sir Rupert John (1916 – 1996) authored a book, “Pioneers in Nation-Building in a Caribbean mini-state.”

The book was published in 1979, just in time to mark our attainment of independence. The 22 men featured in the book are of Sir Rupert’s father’s generation. Their lives straddled two centuries, the late 19th century and early 20th century. They were all born Vincentians in varied fields of endeavour.

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Included in the now out-of-print volume are life stories of activists and community leaders like George McIntosh, Ebenezer Duncan, teachers such as Darnley Williams, Thomas Webster Clarke, Christopher Wilberforce Prescod, James Robert Augustus William Cato; printers, journalists, legislators like Robert Anderson, Joseph Burns Bonadie and James Elliot Sprott; merchants like O.D. Brisbane and Walter Grant and planters, cabinet makers and entrepreneurs.

The book considers the lives of these Vincentians and the contributions they made during the early part of the 20th century to the political, economic, social or cultural development of our nation.

Sir Rupert told their life stories to illustrate how one individual’s perseverance, hard work and resourcefulness could impact so positively on so many others in a small country. He said he wanted to ensure that records of the contributions of these great men were not completely lost. He also wanted to make sure that their contributions were not “ignored, forgotten or treated with scant regard.”

He noted in the prologue to the book that none was wealthy, none received any formal secondary education, much more any tertiary education at all. Sir Rupert also notes that some of the difficulties that confronted our forefathers in this island “were colossal”. “It is to the eternal credit of many of them that they were able to rise above these difficulties and improve the quality of their lives.”

We are a struggling people. Though struggles of today are different from those of one century ago, books like these should be essential reading for those who aspire to leadership in their communities.

Efforts should be made for the publication of a new edition of this book. Additionally, volumes two and three of the series are long overdue. The importance of being able to read about how men and women just like us triumphed over adversity should not be underestimated. No one reading these accounts can come away without a significant boost to national pride and the inspiration to make a difference.

Sir Rupert’s generation was itself outstanding. The men and women of his time took full grasp of the opportunities fought for by their parents and built on them. They were the first to attend secondary school locally, were our first indigenous professionals, they pioneered our cooperative movement, made education and healthcare more accessible, formed our political parties, fought against religious persecution, changed the face of our civil service, ushered us into statehood and independence.

As a nation, we are at present still reeling in shock over the brutal murder of Glenn Jackson. Former colleagues and friends search for ways to pay tribute to him and to ensure that his significant contribution is never forgotten. We are also in the month of March, a time of the year when we remember our first national hero and debate the merits and demerits of those who have been nominated to be added to the list of national heroes.

Without doubt, Chatoyer’s elevation to national hero status was received here with almost unanimous approval because none of us or our parents or grandparents knew him personally. Had this been the case, many of us may not have been able to focus on his sacrifices and crucial role in defining us as a people. His human limitations might have proved a distraction.

In the epilogue to “Pioneers in Nation-building in a Caribbean mini-state,” Sir Rupert makes allowances for human weakness, and cautions against the almost inevitable dissension which occurs when mere mortals, no matter how well deserving, are recognised for their contribution to national development.

He says, “Yes, they were all men of like passions as we are. Some were at times mean and churlish; some were ostentatious and self-centred; some suffered from the disease of prejudice and cynicism…. Let us not however, fall into the error of interring with their bones the good they accomplished while we forever revive the evil they did. They have passed into the history of our land and by their deeds and actions have shown us the road we may follow and the path we may shun.”

We would do well to heed Sir Rupert’s advice.

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