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National Heroes: Eligibility vs Suitability

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Dr J.P. Eustace standing tall

Editor: In the Midweek Searchlight edition of April 23rd, 2013, an interesting survey was published. The question posed: “Who do you think should be St Vincent and the Grenadines’ next national hero(es) and why?”. There were five respondents, which of course is a very small and some may argue, “unscientific” sample; however, it is an important snapshot that should not be slighted. The first respondent was non-committal, but noted that “…everybody would have made a tremendous contribution to St Vincent and the Grenadines, so I will continue with my own research.”{{more}} The second respondent also did not make a definite commitment to any one person; he made reference to the fact that paramount Chief Chatoyer, E.T. Joshua and George McIntosh were all long-standing probabilities and that more recently he “started to consider for the first time Milton Cato, J.P. Eustace, all of them are worthy of consideration.” The third respondent: “I am still not sure yet, because all of them have good qualities…, so I will still await further debate…, but right now my way is toward J.P. Eustace because of the tender age at which he started.” The fourth respondent, made a definitive choice of Dr J. P. Eustace and also cited as the reason for doing so, as being “… the early age at which he started to contribute towards St Vincent and the Grenadines”. She quite rightly observed, “Most persons at the age of 21 are now thinking about their personal life, they are not thinking about a nation, and his contribution is still ongoing today, and it is untainted.” The fifth respondent also made a definitive choice of Dr J. P. Eustace with the following observation, “… he made a contribution nationally speaking, not just one sector of the society and his legacy is ongoing via the educational institution that he has established…” I do concur that this is not necessarily a scientific representation; however, in my humble opinion it is indicative of the sentiment of a silent or less vocal cross-section of Vincentians on this issue. The attached graph (at top) is predicated on this representative sample.

Therefore, the subtitle: “J.P. Eustace Standing Tall”. I am certainly not by any stretch of the imagination anywhere close to being the most qualified or suitable person to be putting forth the case for J.P. Eustace. There was a newspaper series some years ago by a teacher of the J. P. Eustace Memorial Secondary School, which ably highlighted the life and times of this noble son of the soil. Also, more recently, Rhodes Scholar Mr Luke Browne has made the case with a specific emphasis on Mr Eustace’s eligibility and suitability for National Hero consideration. That is in addition to the case made by others who also promote his ascendency on call-in talk radio shows, including Luke’s father, an attorney-at-law, who, as I recall, taught at the Marriaqua “Doc’s School,” as it was then most commonly called by rural folks.

There is the assertion that much of what is said by individuals who support Dr Eustace’s elevation is “anecdotal”; however, that is precisely of what a biographical history is made, an amalgamation or confluence of achievements, accomplishments, adventure and misadventure; the anecdotal syntheses that comprise the making of the man. English romantic poet and lyricist Percy Bysshe Shelley succinctly defines history as: “A cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of man.” Dr Eustace is most often spoken of as an “educator” and that he was; however, he was much more than that. He was a pioneer in education. Consider a young man at the tender age of twenty-one who founded the Intermediate High School and later the Emmanuel High School. This during the time of colonial rule, when there were only two secondary schools, one, the Grammar School for boys, and the other, the Girls’ High School. There was limited intake at these two schools, at which a sort of “class and caste system” was practiced, based on social standing, ethnicity and other subtle and not-so-subtle practices, which by and large did not lend themselves to a level playing field in terms of admission for all the children of St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is in this context and environment that the maverick, the visionary, the trend-bucker, the philanthropist came along and started two secondary educational institutions. Thanks to the magnanimous intervention of this altruistic man, for the first time in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, children of ordinary people, the proletariat and peasantry, began to be afforded a secondary education in significant numbers. A God-fearing man he was. It is not co-incidental that the last school he founded is named Emmanuel High School, Emmanuel meaning: “God with us”. The founding of the Marriaqua branch coincided with the proliferation of the banana industry, when farmers flourished. The ritual of children of farmers assisted by hired hands, labouring and toiling in the banana fields, before and after school, as they participated in the funding of their education. It was not unusual to see two or in some cases three children from the same home, making their way from the villages and hamlets, heading to “Doc’s School”.

I have heard it being said dismissively that J.P. Eustace founded these schools out of his wealth and affluence and that therefore it does not mean as much. I beg to differ. I do not know that he was a wealthy man, as much as he was a very frugal steward of the means that the beneficence of providence bestowed him. Wealthy or not, he did not have to do it. I remember Doc driving either of his big Humber motor cars. He was legendary for his frugality. When he was coming out of Kingstown and got to where the Belmont Lookout is now located, he would turn off his car engine, put it in neutral and “coast” down the road. If the vehicle did not have enough momentum to bring him across the flat at the Belmont Tank/George Williams’ shop, he would start the engine again to get him over the hump and then switch off and neutral again and ‘coast’ all the way to what was known as the Da Costa’s bridge. Depending on how fast he came down past Green Corner, he may have had to start the engine again around Spring Gutter Gap, until he got just past Cyril Bowman’s (Valley Stop) residence, the Da Costa’s property being now the George’s supermarket and residence adjacent to Doc’s residence and school. Anecdotal maybe, but no doubt the money he saved on fuel by coasting his car was spent on his schools.

Dr Eustace was also an ophthalmologist/optician, humanist, philanthropist and devout Christian. A soft-spoken and mild-mannered gentleman, he was respected by all. Dr J.P. Eustace is neither an anecdotal footnote nor biographical or vermiform appendage in the annals of Vincentian history. A decent human being, whose reputation needs no posthumous rehabilitation. A true patriot who exemplified humility and simplicity; he is both auspiciously eligible and propitiously suitable to be elevated to the status of National Hero. In our quest for candidates worthy of elevation, the benevolent contributions of this gentleman ought not to be short-shrifted or shunted aside. Nonetheless, with or without official recognition, as demonstrated in the SEARCHLIGHT’s snapshot, his felicitous legacy and impeccable legitimacy will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of Vincentians.

Benson Feddows

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