Sir James Mitchell, the second prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, died today (Tuesday), his daughter Louise Mitchell has confirmed to iWitness News.
He was 90 years old.
Sir James’ death brought to an end an era in the history of SVG, as he was the last surviving Parliamentarian at the time of Independence on Oct. 27, 1979.
In an immediate reaction to his death, the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which Sir James founded in 1979, said:
“We are saddened to hear the news that the founder of the New Democratic Party Sir James Mitchell has passed away. He was one of the founding fathers of our nation and served as the second Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines from 1984 to 2000, as well as premier to St. Vincent and the Grenadines from 1972 to 1974.
“During his time serving our nation, he achieved huge amounts in steering St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the right direction, by providing economic stability and improving housing across our islands. The IMF once said of his economic leadership ‘there’s much to please and little to fault’.
“Sir James is undoubtedly to be credited for numerous developments in our country. He was the embodiment of a true statesman and a nation builder. Sir James was much loved by everybody that knew him and we pray for his family during this difficult time. May he rest in peace.”
Sir James, who was popularly known as Son Mitchell, died five days after being discharged from the Intensive Care Unit of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Barbados, where he had been taken after falling ill at his home in Bequia, on Oct. 30.
He was initially diagnosed, in Bequia, as having a gallstone, but was medevaced to Kingstown, where doctors said he had an infection
“I have never hid my condition from the people of St. Vincent and as you know, I have always been reporting how I am feeling well and swimming and all of that,” Sir James told iWitness News in a telephone conversation from his hospital bed in Kingstown, on Oct. 31.
He said that he took a fall in his kitchen about four months ago and while he suffered no broken bones, he had been experiencing some health challenges since then.
Doctors later decided to transfer Sir James to Barbados, where he was treated for severe dengue and sepsis, among other complications, his family said.
After being discharged from hospital in Barbados last Thursday, Sir James was taken aback to “his beloved home Bequia”, where he died.
“Throughout this entire ordeal, Sir James has been comforted by the support and love expressed on a daily basis by his former cabinet ministers, colleagues, constituents and his cherished NDP family,” the family said in a statement last Thursday after his release from hospital.
“We appreciate the outpouring of concern from every segment of the Vincentian populace for Sir James. We also thank his friends and colleagues from across the world who have reached out. The family is truly humbled by the tremendous solicitude and support at this time,” said the statement by Sir James’ daughters, Sabrina, Gretel, Louise and Gabija.
The government of SVG financed the cost of Sir James’ medical treatment in Barbados.
There was no immediate response from the government to the death of Sir James.
Sir James, an agronomist, was born in Bequia on May 15, 1931. He was premier of St. Vincent from 1972 to 1974 and then prime minister from 1984 to October 2001.
He remained its president the NDP until 2000, when he retired from electoral politics.
At the time of his death, he was a member of the Interaction Council of former presidents and prime ministers.
After his retirement from electoral politics in 2000, Sir James campaigned with the NDP in the general election of 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2020, as well as the constitution referendum of 2009, when the NDP persuaded the electorate to reject proposed changes to the 1979 constitution.
He also focused on his family’s hotel businesses and writing and commented intermittently on national issues.
His most recent comments on national issues focused on trying to convince residents of SVG, where there are pockets of deep-rooted COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, to get inoculated against the virus.
Those comments were accompanied by the controversy that dogged many of his public statements.
In September, he proposed that the government create a fund of EC$1 million and use it to give an EC$50 meal voucher to each of 20,000 people taking the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Some might call it bribery. But we’re not foreign to bribery here in this country anyway,” said Sir James who reasoned that vaccination is the safest and fastest way out of the pandemic,” Sir James said.
He also lauded the Ralph Gonsalves government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, which saw vaccines becoming mandatory for a large section of public sector workers last Friday, Nov. 19.
In his comments in September, Sir James called out politicians who are “lukewarm about vaccination”, comments that some observers say are yet another swipe at The NDP.
“I regret to say that everybody is entitled to their view but as a scientist, as a person who has spent a lot of time 50 years of my life, helping and looking after the people of St. Vincent, if you think you owe me one, the one thing that I say Vincentians owe me is to get vaccinate. Please, go and get vaccinated,” he said.