GONE BUT NOT FOR­GOT­TEN!

SIR JOHN MELVIN COMP­TON

The Star (St. Lucia) - - SEE CENTER -

there are those who in­sist “the Fa­ther of the na­tion” can never be re­placed, that when he passed in 2007 much that made Saint lu­cia great died with him. His po­lit­i­cal de­trac­tors, on the other hand, blame him for ev­ery con­ceiv­able na­tional short­com­ing. For cer­tain, the de­ceased prime min­is­ter will long be in the mem­o­ries of Saint lu­cians!

Imay in­ad­ver­tently have done the mem­ory of Sir John a dis­ser­vice. Over the last sev­eral days I have been un­der­scor­ing his sin­cer­ity and the fact that he had al­ways known the dif­fer­ence be­tween ad­ver­saries and en­e­mies. As proof of that I cited Sir John’s gen­er­ous treat­ment of pro­fes­sional tor­men­tors as Ge­orge Od­lum and Peter Josie, to say noth­ing of this writer. I seem to have left the im­pres­sion in so do­ing that de­spite our leg­endary bat­tles Sir John and I had re­mained ab­so­lutely re­spect­ful of each other, never mind the con­trary pub­lic per­cep­tion, but only from the late 80s. But what about the pe­riod be­fore 1987? The whole truth is that I had been on John Comp­ton’s case long be­fore the Jes­sica and UN scan­dals.

Al­most as soon as I took over the edi­tor’s chair at the Voice in the very early 70s I had made my­self a prime tar­get for United Work­ers Party mug­gers. Even my then boss at the pa­per had been moved to sum­mon me to his of­fice and warn me that my ar­ti­cles were hav­ing a less than won­der­ful ef­fect on his cher­ished re­la­tion­ship with the day’s in­cum­bents, that if I in­sisted on jour­nal­ism as usual I would have to con­sider al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment else­where—at which point I re­signed. But even be­fore I’d served my no­tice I was vis­ited by a John Comp­ton emis­sary. The big man wished to talk with me about my im­me­di­ate fu­ture.

“Ur­gently!” I was ad­vised.

A meet­ing was sched­uled, from which I emerged as the pre­mier’s per­sonal as­sis­tant, an­swer­able only to the pre­mier him­self. It was at that par­tic­u­lar meet­ing that I agreed to pro­duce a party or­gan that would have all the ap­pear­ances of a reg­u­lar news weekly. We called it the Van­guard. Much later, af­ter the United Work­ers Party had been mirac­u­lously re­turned to of­fice, Ge­orge Od­lum as­sured a seething au­di­ence out­side the Cas­tries mar­ket that Comp­ton owed his re­elec­tion to the pa­per.

Of course Ge­orge did not of­fer that as praise for the party or­gan that many St Lu­cians, re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal stripe, had pur­chased as a reg­u­lar news­pa­per. But that’s for an­other show, as they say. My pur­pose here is to un­der­score the fact that while so many had re­garded me as “the scourge of John Comp­ton” and ab­so­lutely de­serv­ing of the prover­bial fate worse than death, the tar­get him­self had re­tained a wholly dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude to my weekly as­saults on his poli­cies. As far back as that, he had known the dif­fer­ence be­tween en­emy and ad­ver­sary—to the ex­tent that he had ac­tu­ally en­trusted his po­lit­i­cal life in my care, if only where one par­tic­u­lar elec­tion cam­paign was con­cerned.

I well re­call his telling me dur­ing our ear­lier cited first meet­ing that quite apart from my ac­tual writ­ing style what he most ad­mired about my jour­nal­ism was the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that ob­vi­ously pre­ceded what I fi­nally put into print.

“One of the rea­sons why I don’t en­joy prac­tic­ing law,” the pre­mier said, “is that it re­quires so much re­search. And boy, it’s clear that’s what you most en­joy about your work.” To my sur­prise I would learn in time that few lawyers ac­tu­ally do their own re­search. At any rate, in the real world, where ap­pro­pri­ate help is both avail­able and af­ford­able.

Even those who knew the man well, were taken aback when he chose as his Cabi­net sec­re­tary a staunch Labour Party sym­pa­thizer. Not just once but twice, first in the per­son of Gra­ham Louisy, brother of the for­mer prime min­is­ter Al­lan, and then Vic­tor Gi­rard. St Lu­cians are un­likely to see again a rep­e­ti­tion of such trust, bear­ing in mind what cur­rently passes for pol­i­tics. As long as his staff did what was ex­pected of them, Comp­ton fig­ured, why not al­low them the op­por­tu­nity to serve their coun­try? Es­pe­cially re­mark­able is the fact that Gra­ham was Comp­ton’s Cab sec while his brother was lead­ing the op­po­si­tion party that in­cluded then “rad­i­cals” Ge­orge Od­lum, Peter Josie and Mikey

Pil­grim. (Men­tion of the last named re­minds me yet again of that ad­ver­sary-en­emy line. Stu­dents of St Lu­cia’s po­lit­i­cal his­tory will know that Mikey had once been ready in par­lia­ment “to shoot from the hip.” That the last thing any­one imag­ined pos­si­ble was his agree­ing to be led by John Comp­ton. As I write, Mikey is the chair­man of a plan­ning com­mit­tee re­spon­si­ble for Sir John’s fu­neral ar­range­ments. Nuff said?)

Only last week I was asked by a friend whether I had for­given Sir John af­ter our well chron­i­cled wars. I was taken aback, for I had never given any thought to the mat­ter of for­give­ness; some­thing about the sound of that word dis­turbs me. It pre­sumes too much. In any event, I as­sured my friend that I had dished out at least as much as I had taken dur­ing my some­times tu­mul­tuous re­la­tion­ship with “the fa­ther of our na­tion.”

Truth be told, I have al­ways en­joyed the cut and thrust of pol­i­tics (even when I’ve been deeply wounded!). So what if I lost a round here and there? It just made me more de­ter­mined to be more care­ful next time. As it was with John Comp­ton, as it was with Ge­orge Od­lum, so it is with Kenny An­thony and Stephen­son King. At the end of the day there re­ally was noth­ing to for­give. Af­ter all, do you need to for­give the win­ner of a sports event who had forced you into sec­ond place?

I will miss John Comp­ton: among other rea­sons for his hu­mor, his salty sailor’s tongue; his in­cred­i­ble lapses, his con­ve­nient mem­ory. I will miss the di­nosaur that he could be one minute and the cool dude that he could be the next. Sev­eral weeks af­ter he had wiped a con­ven­tion hall floor with Vaughan Lewis, Sir John was in­vited to speak at Rod­ney Heights be­fore a gath­er­ing of young peo­ple. After­ward, a STAR re­porter asked why he had cho­sen at his age to re­turn to the po­lit­i­cal arena. His eyes nar­rowed down to mere slits, he smiled that smile that spelled mis­chief in cap­i­tal­ized ital­ics, be­fore de­liv­er­ing his riv­et­ing re­sponse.

Upon read­ing it from the re­porter’s copy I called her to my of­fice.

“Are you sure Sir John spoke those words?” I asked.

For a mo­ment she was stunned. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “do you know where that line came from?”

And she said, “It came from Sir John.”

“Are you sure you didn’t put the words in his mouth?”

When I was cer­tain the young re­porter had not en­hanced Sir John’s re­sponse, I let her out of her mis­ery. “The words are from Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia,” I in­formed her, “by the Ea­gles.”

Her eyes went blank, as if I’d spo­ken a lan­guage al­to­gether alien to her. “The Ea­gles?”

Time to move on. I let it go at that, re­as­sured that I had not un­know­ingly hired a closet UWP hack de­ter­mined to make the oc­to­ge­nar­ian politi­cian ap­pear more hip than he re­ally was.

The line that was sup­posed to an­swer the re­porter’s query about Sir John’s re­turn to pol­i­tics? You can check-out any­time you like/

But you can never leave. Much later I would dis­cover that, like me, John Comp­ton was the con­sum­mate Ea­gles fan. We also shared a love for black & white pho­tog­ra­phy, es­pe­cially by Yussef Karsh.

And cam­eras. I re­mem­ber at­tend­ing an of­fi­cial cer­e­mony at the prime min­is­ter’s Vigie res­i­dence. There we were, sur­rounded by dig­ni­taries for­eign and lo­cal, but Comp­ton chose to talk cam­eras the minute he set eyes on my gear.

“Hey,” he said, “so that’s Has­sel­blad’s an­niver­sary ver­sion?” By which he re­ferred to the cam­era put out in recog­ni­tion of the first moon land­ing, recorded by the as­tro­nauts with an ELM Has­sel­blad.

I’ve still not got­ten over his re­sponse when Ni­cole McDon­ald asked him to ex­plain his fa­mous toutes Layba say

voleurs line. While a lesser politi­cian might out­right have re­fused to en­ter­tain the rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced re­porter—or sim­ply hung up on her—Comp­ton chuck­led, play­fully served Ni­cole some typ­i­cally Comp­ton dou­ble en­ten­dres, then di­rected her as fol­lows: “Your boss is the best per­son to ask that ques­tion. He in­vented that whole story.” Ah, well.

Then there was the morn­ing, sev­eral months af­ter the 2001 gen­eral elec­tions, when he called me at the gym to ask a shock­ing ques­tion about Morella Joseph. I tell you, I al­most dropped a dumb­bell on my foot. Then again, point­less go­ing there at this par­tic­u­lar time. It’ll hold. The pre­ced­ing first ap­peared in a spe­cial STAR sup­ple­ment pub­lished in Septem­ber 2007, fol­low­ing the pass­ing of Sir John.

This pic­ture was taken at the launch of a video com­pany owned by David Sa­muels, at which the PM point­edly in­formed me that he was no or­di­nary mor­tal, that he was cre­ated, with­out a reg­u­lar fa­ther.

Jan­ice Comp­ton sign­ing the vis­i­tors’ book dur­ing a state visit with her hus­band to Caldera’s Venezuela circa 1973. Rec­og­nize the Afro-ed char­ac­ter at the ex­treme right?

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