Flags were lowered at half-mast on Tuesday as the St Vincent and the Grenadines Government mourned the death of former Prime Minister Sir James Son Mitchell, one of the last remaining Caribbean statesmen of the last half-century.
Sir James, 90, died five days after being discharged from the Intensive Care Unit of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where he had been taken after falling ill at his home in Bequia on October 30.
He was initially diagnosed in Bequia as having a gallstone but was brought to the mainland capital, Kingstown, where doctors said he had developed an infection.
The Ralph Gonsalves administration expressed condolences to the family of Sir James, the country’s second prime minister.
“The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines takes this opportunity to extend sincere condolences to the family of the late Sir James Fitz-Allen Mitchell,” the statement said.
The statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister added that as a mark of respect, all flags will be flown at half-mast until Thursday, and on the day of the funeral.
“Sir James will be accorded a State Funeral, details of which will be provided in a subsequent announcement,” the government said.
Sir James, who represented the Northern Grenadines constituency for more than 33 years, served as prime minister from 1984 to 2000.
A professional agronomist, he became a parliamentarian at age 35 in 1966 by winning a legislative seat on the Saint Vincent Labour Party ticket. He was the Minister of Agriculture from 1967 to 1972 and premier from 1972 to 1974, during the country’s associated statehood.
In 1975, he founded the New Democratic Party (NDP) which became the parliamentary opposition until it won the government in 1984. He became the second Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs of an independent St Vincent and the Grenadines and was re-elected for a fourth successive term when the NDP returned to power with a one-seat majority in the general election of June 1998.
Sir James retired as Prime Minister and NDP President in 2000 but stayed on as Senior Minister until 2001.
A keen sailor, he was a close friend of former prime minister Right Excellent Errol Barrow, weeping openly as he eulogised him at his state funeral in 1987.
In a statement, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said that without a doubt, Sir James has served well the people of his country, as well as the people of this region.
She said: “It ought not to be lost on us today as we reflect on his life, that Sir James was first elected to the Parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1966, the same year that Barbados became independent and very early in a period when West Indians began with earnest to assert their right to sovereignty.
“As Premier from 1972 to 1974, and Prime Minister from 1984 to 2000 Sir James was an integral part of the regional leadership that did so much to shape the Caribbean we know today.”
Mottley said that for all his regional recognition though, Sir James knew well the meaning of the phrase “all politics is local”.
“Just six years after becoming an MP he ran as an independent candidate representing the Grenadines constituency and won in an election that ended in a 6-6 tie,” she noted. “By the time the negotiations were concluded, Sir James was the premier of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Mottley said that even though it has been more than three decades since Sir James contested his last election, he remained a towering figure in the affairs of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean.
The Prime Minister said: “At the personal level, I visited Sir James while he was being treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and was warmed by the fact that, despite his illness, the personality and spirit I have known for so long were still there.
“I have always been fascinated by his ever-present charm and wit, qualities that were equalled only by his knack for storytelling. I will always treasure my many years of travelling to Bequia and the privilege of communicating with him.
“We shared a passion for the Caribbean Sea and together recognised that with the right vision it was more of a cord that bound us together than a gulf that separated us. I will forever cherish the moments we spent together.” (SD/CMC)