Letters & Opinion

Immortalize Venner on E.C. Dollar

Image of Sir Dwight Venner
By Earl Bousquet

I GREW-UP in the Faux-a-Chaud part of Hospital Road in Castries seeing Dwight Venner walking up and down the main road, to and from his family’s home, to town and from school (Saint Mary’s College). Much younger than him, I attended the Methodist Primary and RC (Roman Catholic) Boys schools in Castries — and knew more about his father than about the usually lone but friendly young ‘College Boy’ with all those thick school books.

I had learned from ‘The VOICE’ that his quiet dad, Mr Noel Venner, was the Financial Secretary of the then group of British West Indian colonies that made up the West Indies Associated States, Saint Lucia included. He was effectively in charge of the Eastern Caribbean (EC) Dollars and Cents that eventually replaced the British Pounds, Shillings and Pence.

Mr. Venner lived half-way up the hill between Hospital Road and the Blue Danube (now George Cooper) Road and we would notice that (especially on weekends and holidays) he would head up toward the St. Rose family home (just before Victoria Hospital). We would eventually find out from ‘Shabine’ (the hefty household ‘servant’) that he had both eyes firmly planted on “one of Mr St Rose’s daughters”.

The College Boys and (St. Joseph) Convent girls were the common pride of their families and communities at the time. The lesser schooled among us sitting along the wall to watch as they passed by every afternoon after school would not dare call them (Mr St Rose had a gun…) Instead, (somewhat jealously, but quietly) we’d remark about “how lucky” the likes of Dwight were to be “liming the brightest girls” in our neighbourhood.

Dwight then disappeared for a long while, only to reappear at Christmas and other holidays from his studies at UWI Mona, in Jamaica.

It was only after the much radicalized Dwight returned to Saint Lucia in the late 70s with his bushy Afro hairstyle and a whole briefcase of degrees in Finance that the likes of us on the block started to understand who he really was.

He became Saint Lucia’s Director of Finance (circa 1982) and was now no longer walking to work. But after that, those of us who knew his roots often made the rarely observed connection between him and his father – one that went way beyond father and son.

As it turned out, Dwight would later take over his father’s earlier job after the smaller Leeward and Windward Islands – the former British colonies – got their own currency.

More than that, ‘K. Dwight Venner’, the bright boy from Faux-a-Chaud, started having his signature printed on every EC Dollar.

Image of Sir Dwight Venner
Sir Dwight Venner

And even more, the Hospital Road boy would spend 26 years on the job, becoming who I daresay (and not subject to challenge) has the global distinction of having the record of the longest-serving regional central bank governor in the modern world.

During his over two-and-a-half decades at the helm of the ECCB, the Saint Lucian Governor also had the other worthy distinction of keeping the EC Dollar stable in its exchange rate as pegged to the US Dollar, remaining (almost forever) at EC $2.7169 to US $1.00.

I last saw Dwight (along with Saint Lucia-born world-famous, US-based neurologist and pain scientist Dr Winston Parris) in the Castries Market one Saturday morning.

While most vendors he exchanged pleasantries with felt they may have seen him somewhere, none imagined the man whose signature is on every dollar they had would be “buying food by the market”. Nor did any expect the other man to be the Dean of a prestigious universal medical facility in the USA (Vanderbilt).

I’m told it was the same at the crowded and noisy Gros Islet Friday Night food-and-drink festival, where vendors dishing his local orders would inquisitively peer at his back all the way after leaving, before asking the nearest person whether he was who they (very doubtfully) thought he might have been.

As ECCB Governor, in and out of office, the junior Venner, like his dad, was largely seen as the most unassuming holder of that most powerful post.

I happen to know that after retirement, the ex-Central Bank Governor bore all his bodily pain with all the quiet dignity he always showed on his feet. Mere hours before being hospitalized, he’d been on the phone negotiating medical treatment from home, with the same quiet zeal he was always known for; and minutes before his eyes closed finally, he’d been talking to hospital staff — like normal, smiling as ever.

Venner’s death hit the region as hard as that of Fidel Castro and his fitting funeral on January 4 in Castries was carried live across the region through all available traditional and social, old and new media.

I didn’t follow the funeral or read the numerous obituaries between the morning he died and the afternoon he was buried. He didn’t see Christmas, dying three days before – and that hurt!

Most Saint Lucians thought the younger Venner was a born-and-bred Saint Lucian — until Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves announced his knighthood.

But where he was born never diminished any part of the fact that Venner was a full-grown Castries boy, who went to school here, got married here, lived and worked here, climbed the world’s ladder from these here shores – and died here.

Fact is, Governor Venner served every OECS, ECCB and ECCU member-state with equal dignity, passion and compassion. His signature will eventually disappear from the EC dollar, but his indelible fingerprints on the region’s currency and his large footprints in the sands of Caribbean time will never be erased.

That’s why, in his eternal memory, I think the region should call (from now) for the OECS, ECCB, ECCU, the related banking institutions – and indeed all who agree that his services to the region merit it – to take immediate steps to ensure that the face of the legendary Governor eventually replaces that of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II on every denomination of the sovereign Eastern Caribbean’s EC dollar.

I rest my case – and in Dwight Venner’s honour, I humbly submit!

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