Despite their political differences and public spats, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says there was mutual respect between him and his predecessor, Sir James Mitchell, who died on Tuesday, age 90.
“… we clashed many a times in public, on the platforms, in Parliament, but both of us had great respect for each other,” Gonsalves said Wednesday on his weekly show on the state-owned NBC Radio.
He said he had spoken on Tuesday about Sir James’ work and life. “And we will have more opportunities to say more as we go by and I have written about it on more than one occasion. But in reflection, in personal ways, he and I, for instance, shared books and we talked about books which we were reading all the time whilst he was prime minister and when after he demitted office in Oct. 27, 2000.”
Sir James, an agronomist, was the second prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an office he held from July 1984 to Oct. 27, 2000.
“And we had a love for reading, and, of course, researching and writing and you could see that we are two of the few prime ministers who have actually written,” Gonsalves said, adding that he has written about 10 books since 2010.
He said he knows that Sir James was writing a book at the time of his death.
“He wrote his memoirs. I have done so partially, my autobiography, up to 2010. There are few leaders in the region who have written about their experiences.”
Among them he mentioned Eric Williams, Michael Manley, PJ Patterson.
“Several of us have this or that compilation of speeches. But I think in terms of actually writing away from the speeches, which are very important, an important part of the record and having them together, I think you would look at Eric Williams and Michael Manley and Sir James, myself … Kenny Anthony has written about many things — because he is a lawyer, scholar — apart from his speeches.”
Gonsalves said he did not know what stage Sir James’ latest book was at the time of his death.
“But … when I saw him at the hospital he was telling me in the presence of Dr. Thomas, he said, ‘Since I am inside of the ICU here, I finished another chapter.’ Meaning he had written it in his head, which is the way I also do. I write something in my head before I put it down on paper. You put it in the hard drive. And then you take it out and you polish it…”
Sir James fell ill in Bequia on Oct. 11, and was warded at the Intensive Care Unit at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, in Kingstown, mainly for privacy reasons.
However, his condition deteriorated and he was flown to Barbados, where he was an ICU patient for some time before he was flown back to Bequia last week Friday, Nov. 19, under 24-hour nursing care.
He died at the Port Elizabeth Hospital, shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday.
“Up to the end, Sir James’ mind was alert and Louise confirmed that to me yesterday,” Gonsalves said, referring to the second of Sir James’ four daughters.
He said that when Sir James left office, they would telephone each other from time to time and Sir James would offer advice.
“Sometimes I accepted the advice, sometimes I amended it, sometimes, I would say to him, ‘I don’t think that would work.’ But always, I gave serious consideration to whatever he said.
“We had a different political outlook on several things and he is of a different generation than I am. He died at 90. I’m 75. Fifteen years. It’s a new generation,” he said.
He said it’s the same way that his son, Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves, and Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar are different generations from him.
“And they will have different perspectives and emphases as the times roll on.
“It’s not that what you were saying is out-of-date, but clearly he would bring his experience and his knowledge to events as they unfold and always had very interesting perspectives, even as I say, I didn’t always agree. But that is the nature of that kind of conversation.
“There are things, jokingly, when we are talking. Once, he said to me, ‘You know we are a club of two?’
“I said, ‘How do you arrive at that?’
“He said, ‘We are the only two persons alive in St. Vincent who are prime ministers who won elections.’
“Well, I said, ‘We are really a club of three, because there is Arnhim [Eustace].’ But he made that minor distinction.”
Eustace, who succeeded Sir James as prime minister in October 2000, went on to lead the New Democratic Party, which Sir James founded in 1975, to four electoral defeats before quitting politics in 2020.
“And now he is gone. I wouldn’t hear from him again except when I read what he has to say. But I’ll remember him from way back when, when he was Minister of Agriculture between 1967 to 1972 in the Milton Cato government.
“A lot of people don’t know that Sir James ran first on the ticket of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Labour Party, served under Milton Cato, and depending on which story you get, he either resigned or he was fired. It really doesn’t matter. In any event, that gave rise in 1972 after the elections the famous, 6-6-1 and he became premier.”
Gonsalves said that in 1970, he interviewed and had a long conversation with Sir James when he (Gonsalves) was doing research for his master’s degree, addressing the issue of the role of the labour movement in the political process in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the modern period — from 1935 onward.”
Gonsalves said that Sir James became more conservative as he grew older, “but every now and again, he surprises you with something quite iconoclastic. And I think it had to do with the nature of his upbringing and his scientific mind. And, of course, he had a sharp tongue and wit.”
He said that the late Sir Vincent Beache, a former opposition leader, and national security minister under Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party administration, though a strong opponent of Sir James, had a lot of respect for him.
“Look you don’t survive the jungle, as he did from 1966 to 2001 and being elected repeatedly and performing and don’t have quality. And Vincent realised that.”
Sir James represented the Grenadines, first as a single constituency and then the Northern Grenadines, for a total of 33 years, a record that Gonsalves said would stand for a while.
Gonsalves said that former premier E.T. Joshua served for 28 and former prime minister R. Milton Cato served a similar number of years. Gonsalves, who is 74, is into his 27th year as a parliamentary representative.
“All told, he had a very rich, colourful career and he loved his daughters. And he was a man moved easily to tears. He was fond of literature. One of his favourite poems was Kipling’s ‘If’. He quoted it on more than one occasion.”
Asked about his most memorable moment with Sir James, Gonsalves said:
“There were several individuals acts of real friendship … but I would say the most dramatic of our political acts together is when we went on the beach in the end of April 2000 in Grenada at the Grand Beache when we hammered out the agreement which brought his government, prematurely to an end, consequent upon the protest, which they called the Roadblock Revolution. I never called it that. So whenever I refer to it, it is so-called. So what took place was far more than a roadblock.”