My first encounter, long association with Sir James
by JOSEPH BURNS BONADIE
IN 1967 when Sir James and the Labour Party formed the Government in St Vincent, I was in the United Kingdom with another Caribbean Trade Union colleague from Jamaica, Wesley Wainright. We had a scholarship through the British Government attached to the Department of Employment and Productivity.
Upon returning home, there was an Industrial dispute sent to the Minister of Labour Sir James; I took over the negotiation from Union president Cyril Roberts as the lead person and got an agreement to the satisfaction of the members.
After the mediation exercise, we left feeling in good spirits. Sir James inquired from the Permanent Secretary (PS) who was this young fellow the PS told him that the youngster was Milton Cato’s nephew, that was my first encounter with Sir James.
I left our shores for Georgetown University in Washington DC USA, a few years later. In 1972 I was elected Secretary- Treasurer of the Caribbean Congress of Labour and first moved to Trinidad & Tobago for a few years until the Headquarters moved to Barbados.
I was in St Vincent when there was a falling out between Sir James and the Premier Cato; the Minister of Education J.L. Eustace had been sacked by Cato. One evening, I met the Premier and close advisers at The Cobblestone Inn and appealed to him to patch up things with Mitchell; before he could say anything, one of his advisers said to let him go back to Bequia and catch fish.
The rest is history now. In those days, I supported the Labour party and was a founding member of the Education forum. The Union that I ran owned a public address system, and it was put at their disposal of the forum for public meetings.
We met weekly at Kerwin Morris’s home in Edinboro and sometimes at the Botanic Gardens. Denis “Prick” London distributed Granma the Cuban Paper, which was prohibited deemed subversive.
The majority of members of the forum were returning students from Canadian universities. I was also deemed subversive in police reports sent to the premier at the time.
During my time at the CCL, I frequently met Sir James at regional meetings. I would often run into him whenever he was in Barbados; Phillip Greaves and Sir James always ate at Pelican Village. The Prime Minister, the late Milton Cato, invited me to return and I resigned my position with the CCL and in 1983, I did just that.
I was appointed a Senator in the Labour Administration. I was eventually given responsibility for the Fisheries and Chairmanship of the St Vincent Arrowroot Association. I was Parliamentary Secretary to Sir Vincent Beache. I remember when we introduced Fisherman’s Day at Canash, the last fishing boat to land their catch one hour after the time allotted was the fisherman from Bequia with his catch.
Following the defeat of the then Labour Party in 1984, I returned to the Union. At that time, Sir James and other OECS leaders started the movement for an OECS union and established a broad-based committee led by Henry Williams as Chairman in St Vincent & The Grenadines.
The only political entity not represented then was the Labour Party.
The committee nominated Sir James and me to do a radio callin program with Noel Venner as the moderator on 705. I was asked by callers who I knew were Labour supporters what I was doing on the radio with Mitchell.
Before the call-in program, Ralph Gonsalves gave me a copy of the original meeting in Jamaica dealing with Caribbean Unification long before federal days. Unknown to me, he had given Sir James a copy.
To my surprise, after the callin program, I was summoned to a meeting of the party’s executive to explain participation, knowing that the party was not in support of this initiative. I informed the meeting that I was not representing the party on the radio but as a trade unionist and former secretary-treasurer of the oldest Regional Caribbean Organization after the University of the West Indies. I said that I was entitled to my views and the Union and was not expressing or representing the party that distanced itself from the committee.
The political leader, the late Sir Vincent Beache, tried to calm things down, but the member who raised the issue continued to press on.
At that point, I proceeded to leave the meeting, and on my way out, Ken Scott intervened and was told: “you can also leave because you are making plans to return to the United States.”
I tendered my resignation the next day to the General Secretary of the party, Hendrick Alexander. After that, I gave politics a rest.
In July of 1988, I received a call from the then Prime Minister now the late Sir James. He indicated that Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica called him and said the OECS High Commissioner to Canada, Dr Bernard Yankey had recommended that I be sent to Canada to head the ‘Seasonal Agricultural- Farm Program.’ I was at the time married and had started a family. I told the Prime Minister I would discuss the offer with my wife, Jose` Jules. I called him back two days later, accepting the offer. The next day I got a call from my uncle Milton who said that Son Mitchell had called him on my appointment as the chief liaison officer in Canada. The Prime Minister said the Government is also appointing me as Consul General to Canada. I left for Canada in 1988.
While in Canada, to my surprise Sir James called me one morning from Washington DC inquiring why I was not in Washington, informing me that he had named me as Deptuty Governor of the World Bank meeting. I called Dr. Yankey, my then High Commissioner, who ordered me to leave immediately for Washington DC to meet Sir James. Mr. Karl John, Director of Planning, was appointed Governor. I arrived in time to get my credentials to get into the meeting.
At the end of the contract in Canada, I returned to St Vincent and the Grenadines and was told by Sir James that the Canouan Resort had severe problems. I accompanied him on a visit; that visit began my association with Canouan. I became involved with the Planning of the Heads of Government Conference in Canouan. I learned a lot and met my own family in Canouan due to Sir James.
Sir James took me to the World Trade Organization meeting in Brussels as his accompanying delegate. Brussels was familiar territory for me since I had visited Brussels, where the Headquarters of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions was located, and the Caribbean Congress was affiliated with the (ICFTU).
For ten (10) straight years, I visited Brussels; on this occasion, I met Renwick Rose and Ken Boyea. Our visits coincided with Labour Day celebrations, so I invited them to meet with my old friends who could help us with the banana struggle there is where we got great support for our bananas from Europeans trade unions.
On one Friday afternoon, I had just finished the “Shake up” program that I co-hosted with the late Glen Jackson and carried on following his death; Sir James said to meet him at the Bequia wharf. He told me to stand by for an announcement on Monday. He summoned me to the Prime Minister’s Office and informed me that he sent my name to the Governor-General as the new Minister of Health and the Environment and the newly appointed senator. This began my second stint as a senator but this time in the NDP administration. I had been made a senator under the Labour Party Administration and Junior Minister to Sir Vincent Beache.
Outside of the Grenada Grand Beach Accord, Sir James had decided to leave the political stage for several reasons.
1 The death of his brother in St Lucia, he told me, he started to think that he may not have much time left and that he had done his best to expose those around him as they could grow.
2 The Union Island Retreat with his Cabinet met much opposition on the extension of the then ET Joshua Airport into the sea. He said to me Burns it is time to go when your soldiers no longer see your vision.
Twenty years after the SVG’s Independence, Sir James at the celebration reiterated the appreciation he gave to Rt. Hon. Milton Cato (deceased), SVG’s then prime minister, for changing the country name from St Vincent to St Vincent and the Grenadines. He also told the nation that he tried to get the late founding father to have something named after him but he consistently declined.
He said then that his goal was not abandoned he was in touch with Cato’s family, seeking a suitable decision. However Cato’s wife decided to honor her husband’s wish and would not agree. On hearing this I made sure that such a decision was made, by securing agreement from his widow and my mother, his only sister. Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves fulfilled Sir James’ wish by name our now hospital after Cato.
Sir James, on the occasion of my mother’s 100th birthday celebration, on November 1, wished her a belated birthday and presented her with her baptism certificate that indicated she was not born in November but rather she was born on August 28, 1916. He obtained this important document from his grandmother, my mother’s godmother. The document indicated that my mother was born in Bequia in the house where her father as head teacher in those time lived, which is now the Frangipani Hotel.
Over the years Sir James and I forged a great friendship which will remain with me.
May he Rest in Peace