Dilly-dallying with Uncle Willie
Some who saw me in the lobby of Coco Palm Hotel recently must’ve wondered what I might be doing there, added two plus two and come up with six. We tend to do that, I’ve come to realize. While I waited I reflected on my first sister, Serita. That particular day would’ve been her birthday had she not passed in 2015. I’m still not certain what triggered the memory of her but my reverie was interrupted by the appearance of a dapper figure as he stepped out of the hotel elevator in a three-piece suit, and matching tie and felt hat. His dark sunglasses may have been in anticipation of the intense January sun bearing down on the island. Or maybe it was just another bit of his ensemble. He immediately recognized me, and I him: “Dilly-dally with Willie,” I said, recalling his famous tag line when he worked at Radio Caribbean International (RCI).
As far as Willie was concerned he was then king of local radio jingles, especially remarkable for his tag lines, at home and throughout the East Caribbean. His competitor at the time was one Vic ‘Buddy Boy’ Brewster of Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Barbados), land of the flying fish. On the recalled day at Coco Palm I discovered Willie was in Saint Lucia, with his son, to celebrate his 90th birthday. After the usual pleasantries he introduced me to Kells, at whose urging he had travelled from his adopted Canada to his native home. Willie invited me to sit with them as they awaited callers—family members, friends and local TV and radio and television personalities.
Despite his age Willie was still the dapper don, with that inimitable bounce in his step. He looked at least 20 years younger than his real age and I suspect Willie was proudly aware of that. Frankly, I can’t recall ever casting my eyes upon a more youthful looking 90 year old. He shared that he had long ago given up booze and cigarettes. Doubtless a contributory factor to his relatively youthful appearance. That plus selective nutrition and the break from the unforgiving Caribbean sun. Conceivably he enjoyed dilly-dallying a whole lot better than he had at home in Saint Lucia. I recalled the persuasive language in Holy Writ regarding those blessed with long life: obedience to one’s parents.
As I say, throughout the 70s to the 90s he had been our best known radio and television personality, as famous at home as he was in St. Vincent. We reminisced about the good old days when certain friends from Barbados would visit Saint Lucia and later the visit would be returned. Willie volunteered that his visit was a birthday gift from his son Kells.
In his youth Willie had studied radio and television arts (broadcasting and journalism) at Ryerson Institute of Technology in Toronto, Canada, later to become Ryerson University. In 1964-65 he further studied at the National Institute of Broadcasting also in Toronto.
“When I returned to Saint Lucia in 1967,” he recalled, “my first assignment was as a disc jockey with Radio Caribbean International. There, I developed the tag line ‘Dillydally with Swinging Willie.’ I worked at RCI for two years. After John Compton won the general elections of 1969, he invited me to become his Public Relations Officer. I switched from RCI to Radio St. Lucia where I modified the tag line to ‘Dilly-dally with Uncle Willie.’ I also developed the jingle: ‘The St. Lucia government is on the go,’ followed by ‘this is St. Lucia where we are happy.’ ”
In 1972 Willie become editor of the Voice newspaper, where he worked until 1974.
Afterwards, Willie returned to Canada for two more years. It was from there that he learned Rick Wayne had taken the job of Personal Assistant to the premier John Compton. “I was really surprised,” he chuckled, “as Rick had previously been editor at the Voice and a thorn in John Compton’s side.” A Barbadian journalist replaced him at the Voice.
Willie added: “At the end of my two-year stint in Canada, I was contacted by George Mallet, a minister in the Compton government and deputy political leader of the United Workers Party. He invited me to return to Saint Lucia to assist the party and the new government in the PRO department. I worked with Compton until 1997. Afterwards, I established a business in Saint Lucia called Willie’s Advertising and Radio Production Agency. The Syrian community was very supportive. I did most of their advertising work. I sold advertising material to Radio St. Lucia. I also published a weekly magazine called the Weekly Teller.”
After the magazine folded Willie relocated to St. Vincent where he did radio broadcasting for two years before packing up and returning to Saint Lucia. Soon afterwards he was off again to Canada. “I write and publish over there,” he told me.
Willie’s most impressive work with the Compton government was encouraging young people to save. The savings programme was facilitated by a popular bank. But the contradiction between savings and spending in capitalist economics took its toll. Whereas the system encouraged children to save, it also advocated spending to keep the economy buoyant. It is a dilemma worthy of debate. Hopefully Willie will go into that in his new book!
Willie James (centre) and son (left) with Peter Josie.