Herilton Celestin. . . a long road well travelled. (Part Two)
Said Celestin, “During 1970 and following, my popularity grew among the people at Babonneau and my work was showing positive results. Banonneau Estate began to outperform the rest of Marquis Estate. I think that I succeeded in bringing a new culture of respect and civility to the workers who lived on the periphery of these estates and others in the nearby community. I respected the ordinary man and woman and they in turn respected me. That would explain my popularity amongst them.
“By then the government planned to establish a rural community council in Babonneau and the people there were allowed to vote and select ten persons to head and manage that council. I was among the ten nominated and elected. Mr. Peter Joseph, a former headmaster at the Babonneau Primary School who was well loved and respected, was selected as Chairperson of the Council. Soon afterwards I was also elected on the Board of Management of the Babonneau Primary School. The parish priest Fr. Vrigneau and Mr. Peter Joseph were the other members.
“Jealousy soon raised its ugly head and I was fired from my job as Assistant Manager of Marquis Estate in 1974. The Manager thought that I was putting him in the shade, so to speak, while others thought I had political ambitions. I therefore left Marquis Estate at the end of 1974. Before I departed I produced documentary evidence to prove that Babonneau Estate was outproducing Marquis Estate. As for the political side, I allowed people to think whatever they wished.
“From my Marquis Estate job I worked at Morne Fortune with the Bilharzia Eradication Programme. This had three components: it aimed to kill the worms in infected persons around Marquis Estate; at Culde-Sac it aimed to poison the snails in the streams and river, but this also killed fish which the people used as protein; the third was to change the habits of the people in the Dennery valley who used rivers and streams for bathing.
“The Dennery programme needed an educator who would convince the inhabitants to stop using rivers and streams to bathe and do their laundry. They had done this all their lives and it was no easy task stopping them. Luckily, I had studied the life cycle of the blood fluke in cattle during my earlier course in England which had basically the same sort of life cycle as the Bilharzia vector. I had to educate the people to change their habits of using the river for all their water needs. I showed films, held classes, spoke to leaders in the community, and convinced as many persons as possible to do a stool test twice a year.”
Celestin was just getting into his stride. “I was employed on the job of Bilharzia control for two years, after which time the programme ended. What contributed to the success of my work in the Mabouya Valley was the availability of pipeborne treated water which was supplied by the government using a very large reservoir tank.
“I was impressed by the premier. Compton put his sweat and effort into getting pipeborne water to the people of the east coast villages from the Dennery Valley all the way down to Desruisseaux. His effort struck my attention. I therefore decided to join Mr. Compton and help him continue the work of helping the people of the east coast of the island. I became a member of the United Workers Party (UWP). After my successful spell aiding with Bilharzia eradication in the Mabouya Valley and seeing what Mr. Compton had done to assist in that regard, I became fully involved helping bring piped-water to the people.”
Celestin disclosed that prior to all this he had attended public political meetings of both the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and of the UWP. He had met and known Henry Giraudy, the chairman of the UWP, who, like him, was from Vieux Fort. He also met and spoke to leaders of the SLP. “I repeat that it was the work of party leader John Compton which finally got me into party politics,” he declared.
Celestin contested the Vieux Fort North constituency on a UWP ticket in 1974, against a well-known son of Vieux Fort, Boswell Williams. Boswell was from the popular Williams family of Vieux Fort. Soon after the 1974 general elections, which were won by the UWP, Celestin was elected General Secretary of the party, even though he lost his bid for a seat in parliament.
“At that time I was employed at the Roseau Model Farms which were small tenacre plots of land dismembered from the Roseau Estate which was formerly owned by John Van Geest of Geest Industries Ltd. My job entailed the supervision of systems of banana production which led to greater efficiency of fertilizer use and proper farming practices, and fruit quality control by these new banana famers.”
He continued: “In the mid-1980s I was accidentally struck by a stone thrown recklessly by someone whilst I was driving home from work. I was struck in the left eye and blood came streaming down the side of my face. I immediately stopped my vehicle, pulled out my handkerchief, applied it to my left eye and drove myself to hospital which was a mere fifteen to twenty minutes away. I was treated and discharged but over the years I have continued to lose sight in the left eye and now the right eye is following rather quickly.
“By 1997, when a new government took office in Saint Lucia under Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony, I had lost much of my sight and so I decided to throw in the towel, calling it quits on my political and working life.”
It was plain to see that at the time of this interview (11th April, 2015), at Celestin’s residence, his sight was a challenge. He was proud to say that his memory had not failed him and even more proud of his vision that one day Saint Lucia will be self-sustaining in food production particularly in milk, beef and other animal proteins.
A week or two before we sat for this interview Celestin had attended a gala fundraising dinner organized by new UWP party boss Allen Chastanet and wife Raquel Du Boulay, at the Jefferson Clinton ballroom of the Sandals Grande Resort. That evening Celestin was immaculately dressed in white and, perhaps fittingly, received a prize for best-dressed male at the dinner.
Celestin recalls that he is from the Voltaire family on his maternal side. Voltaire was a white Frenchman of suspected Jewish antecedents who at one time owned most of the lands in the central part of Grace, north of the town of Vieux Fort. He had three daughters and no sons. One daughter became Mrs. Durant Beausoliel by marriage. A second became Mrs. William, again by marriage, and the eldest helped her father manage the family business and later became associated with the Clotide family, from that part of the island.
Mrs. Durant Beausoliel became the mother of Josephine Beausoliel (Josephat Josie’s mother), and Abella Beausoliel became Mrs. Mathurin Celestin by marriage, and the grandmother of Hedwick and Herilton Celestin. Herilton Celestin’s mother, Doxina, was born to one Louisa Hunte of Barbados. Louisa came to Vieux Fort to work on the rehabilitation of the sugar industry in that part of the island.
Mrs. William later moved to Augier, west of the town of Vieux Fort, where she had three daughters, one of whom married a William (no relation). From the younger William family was born a son named Charles Peter Isaac (CPI), who became a popular businessman in Vieux Fort.
CPI travelled regularly to the USA and returned with savings which he invested in his thriving nightclub business. It was a popular hangout for US soldiers at the US Air Base in Vieux Fort in the 1940s.
Voltaire’s third daughter became Mrs. Fontenelle by marriage. She was also known as Ma. Cloton. Mrs. Fontenelle gave birth to two daughters, one of whom left for work on the Panama Canal while the son migrated to Cayenne. The other daughter became the mother of one Eness and Nenn-Audie.
Growing up in Vieux Fort, the writer noticed the close connection between CPI, Nenn-Audie, and Eness and his father, Josephat Josie. As a youngster, Josephat Josie lived in the town of Vieux Fort with Nenn-Audie after his mother, Josephine, left for work in Panama. Josephine was accompanied by her sister Abella, Herilton Celestin’s grandmother.
A search of the birth and baptismal records at Vieux Fort may reveal much more about Herilton Celestin and his family tree, including Mr. Voltaire, than this brief account could accomplish.