Letters & Opinion

Legacy of a Legendary Loyal Labourite

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

IT’S impossible to say all one would want to about Thomas ‘Tom’ Walcott, the former Chairman of the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), a larger-than-life labourite legend who still looms high in his afterlife.

His life is marked by unparalleled chapters, among them being one of many who opposed independence and lived to enjoy it – and in his case too, to be buried at the end of the island’s first month-long celebration of that event 45 years earlier, that visited significant fortunes and misfortunes on Saint Lucia’s transition from Colonialism to Independence.

Exactly 45 years ago (February 24, 1979), Tom would have been among the many Labour Party supporters celebrating the fact that official independence celebrations – two days earlier – had been dampened by national protests organized by the SLP, on the basis that the unpopular United Workers Party (UWP) government had turned the transition to nationhood into a partisan affair, a campaign promise for elections due that year.

Tom, SLP Leader Allan Louisy, George Odlum, Peter Josie and others were in the leadership of the campaign against the partisan political hijacking of the process of constitutional independence under slogans like ‘Independence Yes, Compton No!’

The opposition being more popular then than the ruling party, the two-party nation was split down the middle over which should lead the nation into independence.

The island made the transition to independence after the UK government refused to grant independence on December 13, 1978 – as requested by the UWP – and instead pulled February 22, 1979 out of a Cork Hat, if only to prevent the naked partisan politicization of independence by the ruling party, months ahead of an election year in which the opposition appeared stronger.

That ‘Tom’ is being buried today – on the 45th anniversary of the first weekend of an independent Saint Lucia is ironic, but at the same time a celebration of his political elasticity: he served as a senator in the Upper House in an independent Saint Lucia, after the SLP’s 1979 victory over the SLP, five months after the island became independent.

Tom would live in an independent Saint Lucia for his last 45 years, his last couple with the satisfaction of seeing the SLP return to office yet again, this time with Castries East MP Philip J. Pierre as Prime Minister and Errol Charles, son of SLP Founding Leader George F.L. Charles occupying the Governor General’s position at Government House.

In one of his last very-public appearances, a joyfully-tearful ‘Tom’ attended PM Pierre’s swearing-in ceremony at Government House on that August Day in 2021, his party’s fourth return to office since it dealt a humiliating 16-1 defeat to the UWP, under Dr. Kenny D. Anthony’s leadership in 1997.

This time the SLP had again trounced the UWP with another record 13-4 victory that quickly metamorphosed into 15-2 after two victorious independent former UWP Cabinet ministers and candidates – including a former UWP Leader and Prime Minister — joined the government side in the House and accepted positions in the new Cabinet, without joining the SLP.

‘Tom’ enjoyed a long and lasting relationship with the island’s oldest political party, having entered its ranks at a decisive phase of its evolution.

Tom was among those who challenged the ‘old’ to bring-in a new and more progressive leadership during the Black Power era of the late-1960s and early-1970s, when Saint Lucian graduates were returning home from universities abroad, including the University of the West Indies (UWI) and top UK universities like Bristol and Cambridge.

Among those were members of The Forum like George Odlum and Peter Josie, Julian Hunte and Calixte George, Hilford ‘Poog’ Deterville and Wilkinson Larcher, Hilary Modeste – and ‘Tom’.

‘Tom’ was disciplined and stubborn, healthy and wise, described by close friends as ‘a teetotaller’ who never drank anything alcoholic and being ‘as close as possible to a vegetarian’ – his choice of meats highly-selective and rare.

An ardent bodybuilder, he was committed to physically exercise and always conscious of how his body looked; and while he didn’t drink, he had no problems spending at rum-shops for ‘the party’.

‘Tom’ was the quintessential loyalist who’d accost and challenge any person, but the engineer in him always weighed the combined factor driving rates of progress and implementation.

While loud in public defiance, he was also among the few who quietly defied the din and warned political partners to walk the new road – still under construction – very cautiously, if only to avoid throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

His words often rubbed against the trend, but he never backed-down from an argument and would be willing to offer or challenge any fierce opponent to fist-cuff his way out, if it ever came to that.

A hardliner in pursuit of change, the debater in him would also agree to disagree, yet still remain ever-ready to defend his positions with facts and figures, history and experience.

But the loyalist in Tom would emerge when his progressive colleagues decided to – by all means – wrest the leadership of the party and state from ex-judge Sir Allan Louisy, who’d led the party into its 12-5 election victory in 1979.

Odlum and Josie would fall-out and the progressive faction of the SLP would follow George into the new Progressive Labour Party (PLP) – and the rest is long and interesting history during which Tom would remain loyal, even though slowing-down, serving for a long time as the party’s Chairman.

His funeral ceremony at the La Clery Church today is not as much a mournful event as it’ll be a commemoration of his lasting legacy as a legendary Labour loyalist who stuck with his party to the very end, leaving with the satisfaction that he left this land in good hands, with a SLP Leader and Prime Minister who rose in the ranks and proved his sustainability by winning six consecutive elections in Castries East.

An today we lay him to rest, happily.

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