Castries, Saint Lucia, Friday November 26, 2021:— Saint Lucians have joined Vincentians and Caribbean people the world over, paying tribute to the late Sir James Mitchell, the former Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
But while many mourn the loss of the veteran Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leader, few are fully aware of how relatively close Sir James was (in real terms) to Saint Lucia – and especially its first Prime Minister, Sir John Compton.
Sir James and Sir John both hail from the Grenadine islands – the former from Bequia and the latter from Canouan – and both played leading roles in their islands’ national development after Independence in February and October 1979, in the case of Saint Lucia and St Vincent respectively.
They were also each Founders of their respective political parties — and the two Grenadine islanders were also avid sailors, both spending as much time at sea as in politics, yachting between Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines for sport and pleasure.
But Sir James also had a very personal connection in Saint Lucia, where his brother and mother were associated with Lafayette’s – one of Saint Lucia’s early retail stores and supermarkets, located on Bridge Street.
Sir James’ mother – popularly referred to as ‘Ma Mitchell’ — also ran the popular Flamingo Restaurant on the William Peter Boulevard in Castries.
The Mitchell family’s Saint Lucian extension is still very much alive, as is Lafayette’s, which is now located on Micoud Street, opposite Derek Walcott Square, where Flamingo also still operates.
The two Prime Ministers were also of the same political and ideological ilk, conservative in outlook but radical in their mobilization of support for their respective parties. Sir James more than once addressed UWP Conventions in Saint Lucia.
Sir James, the second Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, died on November 23 at age 90, closing one chapter in the multi-island nation’s history as the last surviving parliamentarian in office since the island gained political independence from Britain on October 27, 1979.
He was the Founder-Leader of the New Democratic Party (NDC) and served as Prime Minister of from 1984 to 2000 – and before that as Premier of St Vincent and the Grenadines (from 1972 to 1974).
His peers say he led St Vincent and the Grenadines in the right direction, providing economic stability and improving housing.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) once said of his economic leadership: ‘There’s much to please and little to fault.’
The NDC said in a statement: “He was the embodiment of a true statesman and a nation builder, much loved by everybody who knew him…”
According to Barbados’ Nation newspaper, “Sir James, more 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 after falling ill at his home in Bequia, on October 30.”
According to the report, “He was initially diagnosed, in Bequia, as having a gallstone, but was brought to the capital, Kingstown, where doctors said he had an infection.
In Barbados, he was treated for “severe dengue and sepsis, among other complications,” the paper quoted his family as saying.
After being discharged from hospital in Barbados on November 18, Sir James was taken back to his Bequia home where he died.
“Throughout this entire ordeal, Sir James had 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 after his release from hospital.