Former St Vincent prime minister Sir James Mitchell dies

Sir James

Sir James Mitchell, the second prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, died on Tuesday, his family has confirmed. He was 90 years old.

His death has brought to an end an era in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, since he had been last surviving parliamentarian at the time when the island gained political independence from Britain on October 27, 1979.

“We are saddened to hear the news that the founder of the New Democratic Party (NDC) Sir James Mitchell has passed away. He was one of the founding fathers of our nation and served as the second Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines from 1984 to 2000, as well as premier to St. Vincent and the Grenadines from 1972 to 1974,” the NDC said in a statement following the announcement of his death.

“During his time serving our nation, he achieved huge amounts in steering St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the right direction, by providing economic stability and improving housing across our islands. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) once said of his economic leadership ‘there’s much to please and little to fault’.

“Sir James is undoubtedly to be credited for numerous developments in our country. He was the embodiment of a true statesman and a nation builder.  Sir James was much loved by everybody that knew him and we pray for his family during this difficult time. May he rest in peace,” the party added in the statement.

Sir James, who was 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 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 capital, Kingstown, where doctors said he had an infection

“I have never hid my condition from the people of St. Vincent and as you know, I have always been reporting how I am feeling well and swimming and all of that,” Sir James told CMC in a telephone conversation from his hospital bed in Kingstown, on October 31.

He said then that he had taken a fall in his kitchen about four months ago and while he suffered no broken bones, he had been experiencing some health challenges since then.

Doctors later decided to transfer Sir James to Barbados, where he was treated for severe dengue and sepsis, among other complications, his family said.

After being discharged from hospital in Barbados last Thursday, Sir James was taken back to “his beloved home Bequia” where he died.

“Throughout this entire ordeal, Sir James has 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 last Thursday after his release from hospital.

“We appreciate the outpouring of concern from every segment of the Vincentian populace for Sir James. We also thank his friends and colleagues from across the world who have reached out. The family is truly humbled by the tremendous solicitude and support at this time,” said the statement issued by his daught4ers, Sabrina, Gretel, Louise and Gabija.

The government, which financed the cost of Sir James’ medical treatment in Barbados, has not yet made any statement regarding his death.

Sir James, an agronomist, was born in Bequia on May 15, 1931. He was premier of St. Vincent from 1972 to 1974 and then prime minister from 1984 to October 2001. He remained NDP president until 2000, when he retired from electoral politics.

At the time of his death, he was a member of the Interaction Council of former presidents and prime ministers.

After his retirement from electoral politics, Sir James campaigned with the NDP in the general elections of 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2020, as well as the constitutional referendum of 2009, when the NDP persuaded the electorate to reject proposed changes to the 1979 constitution that would have allowed the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to be the island’s highest court.

He also focused on his family’s hotel businesses and writing and commented intermittently on national issues. His most recent comments on national issues focused on trying to convince residents of SVG, where there are pockets of deep-rooted coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine hesitancy, to get inoculated against the virus.

In September, he proposed that the government create a one million dollar (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents)  fund to finance EC$50 meal vouchers to an estimated  20,000 people taking the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Some might call it bribery. But we’re not foreign to bribery here in this country anyway,” said Sir James who reasoned that “vaccination is the safest and fastest way out of the pandemic”.

He also lauded the Ralph Gonsalves government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, which saw vaccines becoming mandatory for a large section of public sector workers from November 19.

He had also been critical of politicians who he said were “lukewarm about vaccination”, an apparent reference to the position adopted by the NDP.

“I regret to say that everybody is entitled to their view but as a scientist, as a person who has spent a lot of time 50 years of my life, helping and looking after the people of St. Vincent, if you think you owe me one, the one thing that I say Vincentians owe me is to get vaccinate. Please, go and get vaccinated,” Sir James said then.

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