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Who are my national heroes? – Pt 1


Tue, May 20, 2014

by Oswald Fereira

Joseph Chatoyer was named our first National Hero and there was much debate recently in naming new National Heroes to join the rank of Chatoyer. Despite the fact that Chatoyer may be “lonely,” let us not rush to name new National Heroes simply to provide him with companionship. Perhaps we should consider a category of ‘Notable Vincentians,’ where they can be placed before they graduate to the rank of Chatoyer.{{more}}

I also note that some of the names under consideration are politicians, among them Milton Cato and Ebenezer Joshua. I have reservations about naming political figures as National Heroes simply because the profession of politician thrusts people into the limelight on a constant basis and that could influence the decision to name them as National Heroes without necessarily having achieved, in my view, National Hero status. On the other hand, there are Vincentians who have toiled in silence and have achieved much without any fanfare, so they are often overlooked.

Milton Cato and Ebenezer Joshua are politicians from the same era and they were fierce rivals. Their accomplishments are similar, with one exception: Milton Cato was our first Prime Minister. But is being the first Prime Minister so heroic? As I mentioned in an earlier debate being the first Prime Minister was merely an accident of history. It was an era when Britain was eager to shed its colonies and get rid of its responsibilities and Britain would have offered independence to any politician who was willing to accept it. If Milton Cato had delayed independence and Ebenezer Joshua had won a subsequent election, there is no doubt that Ebenezer Joshua would have been the first Prime Minister. So, where is the heroism?

Milton Cato and Ebenezer Joshua presided over one of the most divisive periods in our political history. Looking back, I recall just blind adherence to one or the other gentleman, creating deep rifts in families, villages and Vincentian society as a whole. It was an era of divide and rule, of brother against brother, son against father, village against village. I grew up in Park Hill, the only village in the Central Windward constituency that supported the Labour Party of Milton Cato. Ebenezer Joshua had a stranglehold on the constituency at a time when he was Chief Minister and Park Hill was constantly neglected. I clearly remember one election when the Peoples’ Political Party of Ebenezer Joshua got six votes in all of Park Hill and without the Park Hill support, the Labour Party candidate would lose his deposit. During election campaigns those six PPP voters in Park Hill were taunted and residents of Park Hill were taunted when they ventured into South Rivers, a PPP stronghold. Election campaign meetings were just a time for merriment, no discussion of issues, just generally running down personalities from the opposing parties to get a laugh. As a young child, I heard adults declaring “if Pappie Joshua dress up a broomstick and run it against Cato, I will vote for the broomstick”. Inevitably, the staunch support for one or the other party and the great hatred for the other often led to quarrels that were eventually settled with the cutlass and people were seriously hurt. Thus is the politics that these two gentlemen presided over and whatever their achievements, there will always be that cloud hanging over it.

So, who are my heroes? I will now name a few and explain the effects they had on me and perhaps many other Vincentians may share my views or have similar persons that they can declare as heroes.

I contend that Michael Findlay is a hero. Mikey was a senior when I started at the Boys Grammar School in 1960. He was a quiet and, in my view, unpretentious young man, someone I looked up to. He took his game of cricket seriously at a time when all the members of the West Indies cricket team were from the big four – Jamaica, Trinidad, Guiana and Barbados, and a small islander had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the West Indies team. It was a time when people like Frank Mason, Irving Shillingford, Mindou Phillips and Alfie Roberts were constantly overlooked by the selectors. Yet, Mikey persisted and in the end he was selected to the West Indies team. There may have been hopes that he would fail so that the selectors could declare that small islanders were not worthy cricketers, but Mikey played his heart out and made a mark on the team and the rest is history; small islanders now have a chance of being selected. Thank you, Mikey! I guess we could also consider Frankie Lucas, who won our first medal, a bronze in weightlifting at the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand in 1974 and Natasha Mayers who won our first gold medal in track at the Commonwealth Games in India in 2010 – they are first achievers, like the first Prime Minister.

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To be continued in Weekend Searchlight – May 23.