A GREAT SON HAS MOVED ON:
Channing, suitably adjusted, put it best when he said; “The greatest man is he who chooses the right with invincible resolution; who resists the sorest temptations from within and without; who bears the heaviest burdens cheerfully; who is calmest in storms and fearless under menace and frowns; and whose reliance on truth, on virtue,…. is most unfaltering.”
These words were spoken nearly two centuries ago, yet each one is pregnant with resonance and relevance when spoken about our very own son, Hunter J. Francois. With a mind approaching genius, Hunter could possibly have been anything he wished to be: poet, novelist; musician; teacher or mentor.
That said, considering his life’s work, his impact on our country and the reverence with which he was held by all and sundry, he was actually all of the above and much more. He was philosopher, lawyer, politician, and servant of the people.
I believe that there is much in the life of Hunter which mirrors Abraham Lincoln’s. Both were lawyers; they both were men of honesty and integrity; and both had disastrous starts to their political careers. Still, neither allowed the early setbacks to determine their destiny. They could have been master but instead chose to be servant.
I was just three years old when Hunter ventured into local politics. As fate would have it, he chose to contest the constituency of my birth, Choiseul. That he contested as an “independent” was no accident as events throughout his life would reveal a man bound only to principle and love of country. Truth be told, he was fiercely independent in thought, word and deed.
In hindsight, it is perhaps surprising that he commenced his political career by joining the People’s Progressive Party, a party widely regarded as an emanation of the then establishment. That party subsequently merged with John Compton’s National Labour Movement and Hunter contested the East Castries seat in the 1964 General Elections.
He was successful and was appointed the country’s Education, Health and Social Services Minister, a post he held for ten years. After the grant of Associated Statehood, he was named Deputy Premier.
It is significant to note that forty years after he demitted office, thirty-five years following the island’s independence, it is he who remains revered as the country’s education pioneer; the corner stone upon whose ideas and vision that our education system was built.
Among the greatest testaments to his vision is what we now know as the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. It was he who first gave thought to such an institution. Its precursor was conceived and commenced during his tenure. In honour of his vision, the Library Wing of that institution now bears his name.
His tenure was not without controversy. In 1974, at the height of a bitter spat with his Premier, he resigned his position within the government. A man of impeccable grammar his description of Premier Compton as a “pathological liar” still makes for fascinating discourse. This phrase, years later, would be used to describe others.
When one reflects on the history and spirit of the times, it is easy to understand that Hunter could not cohabitate indefinitely with the party of his choosing. He was an intellectual giant and gave no quarter in this thoughts and ideas. His ideas were ahead of his time, unconventional, radical but inspiring. In his presence, one hungered for knowledge. Such was his impact.
He would contest one last General Election in 1974, this time in Castries Central, on behalf of the Saint Lucia Labour Party. He was unsuccessful. Thereafter, he would emerge an even more radicalised Hunter who spent the next few years speaking on the ills of the two-party system. He favoured its abolition and championed a “no party” state system.
Still, he would not turn a blind eye to service of country. Following stints as Parliamentary Commissioner and Chairman of state-owned Radio Saint Lucia, he would retire from public view. Thereafter, he gave no interviews and spent his last years with his beloved family and piano. The Government of Saint Lucia, earlier this year, honoured him by naming the street where he resided in his name.
Hunter had not been well recently and upon being told of his hospitalisation, I attended at his bedside. Sad as were the circumstances that led to that visit, I was grateful to be in the presence of this icon, albeit for the last time. He was frail, yes, but his mind was still alert. I was touched when he reached out to hold my hand, despite his discomfort and distress. I knew he was in preparation for the inevitable end.
Here was a man who had done his duty to country, family and self; a man whose contribution was immense; a man who had sought no personal reward but simply asked that the right things be done. He more than any other, had shaped the education that I received in preparation for my later life. I thank him, immeasurably. So too will many others.
There is a theory that a great man is merely the product of his age. I reject this. I believe that the genius of the man is one part and the opportunity he seizes, of his own accord and volition, is another. Clearly then, Hunter J. Francois was a great man. His genius is indisputable.
Our country has lost a great son who, based on the timing of his entry in the political arena, can rightly be referred to as the “Last of the Great Politicians.”
I wish, on behalf of a grateful government and people, to say thank you to a great and iconic son. This was a son who always placed country above self; right ahead of wrong; integrity above riches or reward.
I, too, have lost a friend and an inspiration.
I thank his wife and children for having shared this treasure with us. We mourn with you. We take comfort that Hunter shared his many gifts with his children. We will cherish his memory and his works for eternity. May his example of dedicated service continue to inspire generations of our daughters and sons.
Farewell Hunter J. Francois! May you rest in eternal peace.