Dilly-dal­ly­ing with Un­cle Wil­lie

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Peter Josie

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.

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