Another tribute to a prominent man who ended his journey on the highway of life recently.
John Compton, prime minister of St. Lucia, dies at 82
“In politics, as in other fields, there are early bloomers and late bloomers, some who never bloom and some, like Sir John, who seem to bloom for a lifetime.” The New Black Magazine
CASTRIES, St. Lucia (AP) – Prime Minister John Compton, the three-time leader of St. Lucia who guided the tiny Caribbean island to independence from Britain and infuriated China by restoring ties with Taiwan, has died, a member of his Cabinet said. He was 82.
Compton, who became prime minister most recently in December, did not resume leadership duties after suffering a series of mild strokes in late April. He died Friday at the private Tapion Hospital in Castries, Commerce Minister Guy Mayers said.
The farmer and attorney became chief minister of the then-colony in 1964, negotiated for more autonomy from Britain three years later and became the first prime minister upon independence in 1979.
Voted out of power later that year, he returned to govern the verdant, mountainous island from 1982 to 1996.
Many on the island, with a population today of 168,000, knew him affectionately as “Daddy Compton,” particularly in the eastern villages where he won his first election in 1954.
He gained a reputation for fearlessness three years later as a union leader directing a strike against the sugar-growing elite for better labor conditions, getting arrested after a confrontation in which he dared a white planter to run him over with a tractor. Like roughly 90 percent of islanders, Compton was black.
On the issue of sovereignty, Compton was uncompromising. At the 1967 London conference that resulted in self-government, he dropped a diplomatic bombshell in criticizing Britain for refusing to include issues of aid, trade and migration in the talks.
“The color of our skins is against us,” Compton told a room full of several British officials, “and a government, even one that professes democracy, is pleased to legislate and propound the doctrine of second-class citizenship for people of another color.”
Compton governed as a pro-Western conservative and took heat for welcoming U.S. military training exercises during the Cold War. He told critics the Caribbean needed Washington to fight drug trafficking and communism.
But he also prided himself as a regionalist. In a farewell address in 1996, he described the failure of his proposals for closer ties among Eastern Caribbean states as a key frustration of his career.
“It is a disappointment that I may not see ourselves entering the 21st century as one people, one nation, with one destiny, but rather as a divided people scattered over the Caribbean Sea,” he said.
Upon his latest return to office, Compton restored previous ties with Taiwan, prompting an angry rebuke and diplomatic break from the world’s most populous nation, China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province.
At home beginning in the 1960s, Compton oversaw the development of highways, airports, industrial complexes and housing projects on the 240-square-mile (620 square-kilometer) island.
Some called him a dreamer for proposals such as the dredging of mosquito-infested swampland in northern St. Lucia. Today, the same area, Rodney Bay, hosts a modern shopping area, several of the island’s finest hotels and a yacht marina.
Born in 1925 on the nearby island of Canouan, St. Vincent, Compton attended high school in St. Lucia and worked in oil refineries in Curacao for two years before studying in the United Kingdom, where he qualified as a lawyer at the University of Wales. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
Compton, who founded his United Workers Party 43 years ago, resigned as its leader in 1996 but came out of retirement nine years later after his successor lost general elections. Last year, he defeated Prime Minister Kenny Anthony’s bid for a third five-year term at the polls.
On Saturday, thousands of St. Lucians paid homage to Compton in a shared minute of silent mourning. Church bells tolled as islanders, some with their eyes brimming with tears, greeted each other somberly as flags were lowered to half-staff at public buildings.
In the coming days, elected officials in the lower House of Parliament will start the process to replace Compton. Acting Prime Minister Stephenson King, who has led the government since April, is widely expected to win the majority of votes to continue leadership.
Compton is survived by his wife, Lady Janice Compton, and five children.-AP
Sadly, his return to politics did not last more than 6 months, I’m sure he’d have wanted to do so much more before passing on.
As we take a moment of silence for this great man who has ended his journey, I hope we can also reflect on what we want to achieve before we end our journey on this highway of life.