Saint Lucia
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Ode to Charlo The Philosopher!

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

IT’S been bitter and sweet paying tribute to my lifelong friend ‘Charlo’ – bitter-sweet because of the unique set of circumstances that have led to penning this ode to a fellow Comrade-in-Arms in the endless struggle for change, for better for Humankind.

An unrepentant trade unionist steeled in creative Caribbean adaptation and application working class theory and practice in same and different circumstances, Chalo’s  life story transcends boundaries and barriers he always successfully overcame over time – never a straight and paved road, but always reaching his chosen destination and destiny.

He served actively in the public eye as General Secretary of the Civil Service Association (CSA) and later as General Manager of the National Conservation Authority (NCA).

But Henry was also comparatively quietly active on the mobilization front, organizing workers and youth around industrial, cultural, sporting and progressive community-based political activities.

We attended St. Mary’s College, where he was a younger member of the short-lived Students Revolutionary Organization (SRO) — and many years later as members of the Workers Revolutionary Movement (WRM).

The latter was the island’s most-enduring and effective, yet least attention-grabbing national political entity in Saint Lucia’s modern political history.

WRM was a popular name, but its membership was almost invisible, members adopting short African names of significance to protect their identities due to the sensitive nature of their jobs.

Not that we were ‘Up To No Good’, but we formed cells in communities across the island that would meet at night or on weekends or holidays to discuss national political issues while everybody else did everything else.

The WRM had its own independent public presence, but in accordance with its progressive political, philosophical and ideological leanings, we supported the SLP at various levels, from leadership to membership to branch and constituency groups.

Charlo developed a particular liking for explaining the philosophical differences between the WRM and the traditional parties, always finding ways to smile his way through arguments most others got migraine headaches trying to explain, offering local examples to connect to world history and current developments elsewhere.

He would easily explain — in Kweyol and English depending on his audience — why there will always be different classes in Capitalist societies, starting with ‘Rich and Poor’, ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-nots’.

He read and understood all the classic texts we sourced from the Socialist countries, parties and publications, learning from history to avoid repeating old mistakes, without automatically trying to apply concepts alien to local and Caribbean history and culture, politics and religion.

It was also that sense of appropriate selectivity and identification with people’s causes everywhere in Saint Lucia that earned him his sterling reputation as, undoubtedly, the most-effective General Manager of the NCA – bar none.

Henry knew how and when to cut through the bureaucratic Public Service red tape to bring opportunities for people to earn an honest living and put bread on empty tables – and that would be appreciated for his life, everlasting.

I remember a young lady from Hospital Road in Castries (who I knew as a child) calling me at the Vigie Beach one day to happily say:

“Today is exactly 20 years since Mister Charles gave me a job at NCA and I am still here. I have my home and my children living with me, by the Grace of God — and Mister Henry Charles…”

Not too-long after, a former well-known sex worker stopped me at Constitution Park in Castries to say: 

“I met Mister Charles by The Market one Saturday and I told him I was tired of selling my body for sex. He tell me to come to his office Monday and he make me sign a paper – and 18 years later, I still working… If it wasn’t for Mister Charles, I would still be selling my body to live…”

It’s real-life stories like that – providing opportunities for the most-needy – that endeared Henry in the minds of all who worked with him at the NCA.

He was officially prosecuted out of the job that helped him to help those most in need of short-term employment, but Charlo was always found ‘not guilty’ in the global public square and the court of public opinion.

His good deeds simply outweighed and outlived any of the allegations proffered.

He was, however, embraced regionally and internationally in areas of trade unionism and youth development, working within realms of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and The Commonwealth, eventually given responsibility for Commonwealth youth affairs in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Rejected at home, Henry was fully-accepted by 55-member international grouping of former British colonies — and on all continents.

He would later marry Dr Madgerie Jameson, Coordinator, Master of Arts in Leadership in TVET (Technical, Vocational and Education Training) and Workforce Development at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) — and eventually full-time residence at Sunrise Park in nearby Trincity.

Dr Charles and Dr Jameson-Charles would be regarded as the perfect example of a well-grounded couple that found the essential ingredients to combine and complement their common academic and community engagements.

Henry would graduate in the Class of 2021 from the Faculty of Social Sciences at The UWI’s St. Augustine Campus, as a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy.

Dr Charles was invited by the George Charles Foundation to deliver the 2023 May Day address on the theme: ‘Conversations on a Shared Development Agenda for Saint Lucia, while optimizing the role of the Labour Movement’.

That session was well-attended by the crème-de-la-crème of the local political directorate, trade union movement, youth and student, public and Civil Society entities.

The organizer and planner in Henry promised him he “will get married at 70”, but he exchanged vows long before exiting at 65.

It’s timely that Henry would take his last flights to and from Saint Lucia – back home for his final one-way flight – and his funeral service on the day after the SLP’s 2nd anniversary of the election victory of the party he loyally supported by faith, from near and far, never mind his own personal experiences.

Tributes to Dr Charles lasted longer than the funeral service, with larger-than-life final accolades coming from representatives of Caribbean and international entities, including The UWI, the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) and the Commonwealth Youth Program (CYP), among others.

It was also significant that his Last Rites were delivered by Rev. Fr. Jason Boatswain of the Parish of the Incarnation in in Maloney (Port of Spain), where he and Mrs Charles had so intertwined with their neighborhood community and church.

Father Boatswain’s homily, on behalf of both the Maloney church and the Sunrise Park community where Mr and Mrs Charles resided, please all who knew him well-enough would have expected – except his disclosure that man and wife both also served as a Lay Ministers.

That Charlo was such a Man-of-the-Cloth was surprising to most, including Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre, who had earlier delivered his own personal reflections of “growing-up with Charlo next door” at Water Works, in Castries.

The Prime Minister would also recall Henry’s firm encouragement that he “Organize, Organize and Organize” after losing his first run as a SLP candidate for Castries North against the hitherto-indomitable Romanus Lansiquot.

Father Boatswain said Charlo “always had time for God” – and his deep engagements, offering the same advice — to “Organize, Organize and Organize”, whether for a church activity, or to start a new community project.

I watched and listened carefully before delivering my own remarks on why Charlo was regarded as ‘The Godfather of Youth Development’ regionally and internationally, positing that it was because he grew and nurtured a futuristic philosophical and internationalist outlook on life and ‘The Struggle’ from his early days in the WRM.

He forever linked the struggle at home with other similar and different historical and contemporary events in the Caribbean, Latin America and the world and would, in his latter-years, became a globetrotter four youth causes that saw him pack suitcases more often than most fellow Time Travelers.

Dr Henry Charles left Planet Earth happier than most, as he simply went to sleep and didn’t wake-up, wasting no time to collect his pre-paid one-way ticket to there from where none has ever returned.

Charlo answered his Final Boarding Call, heartily produced his Boarding Pass at the designated Gate for the Flight to the Unknown over the River of No Return.

Dr Jameson-Charles, family, friends and comrades saw him off at the Babonneau church and in keeping with my own philosophy of never allowing my last impression of a true friend and comrade being in a box, I did not go anywhere near the coffin bearing his heavenly-bound earthly remains.

As Mrs Charles told me yesterday, “He served Humanity very well and his legacy lives on.”

And as we always say when a comrade moves on to then next leg of the Final Journey that we all must also take:

Long Live Charlo!