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Last updated: 10 September, 2007 - Published 20:45 GMT
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Sir John Compton: a life in politics

Sir John Compton
Sir John Compton; born in Canouan, 'Father of the Nation', St Lucia
On September 1st 1939, the day Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, 13 year-old John George Melville Compton also entered another country. But his move was by invitation.

He had left his birthplace on Canouan (in St Vincent and the Grenadines) to begin a new life in neighbouring St Lucia.

It could not have been predicted then that 40 years later John Compton would lead his adopted homeland into independence and be affectionately referred to, in a country where he was not born, as 'Father of the Nation'.

Young John Compton had gone to St Lucia ahead of his mother Ethel, who joined him later. They had been invited by his uncle - and her brother - Mailings Compton, who had also made the short trip from Canouan to Castries.

Mailings' wife had died, and he wanted his sister to come and help him out in Saint Lucia.

It was at the Castries Intermediate School that John Compton would form boyhood friendships which later matured into political alliances: Henry Giraudy, George Mallet and Maurice Mason.

His quest for a sound education took him to Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, then to London where he studied economics and political science at the London School of Economics, and then law at Gray's Inn.

Politics beckoned

A cousin, Jacques Compton, recalls that in his student days, John Compton and two other companions, Claudius Thomas and late Maurice Mason would meet every Sunday afternoon in London, where they would discuss politics.

John Compton returned to St Lucia from London in 1954 and joined the St Lucia Labour Party which was in power at the time.

He had expressed interest in 'contributing tangibly to the development of his adopted home as a politician'.

One of his first battles was fought over the plight of the workers on the sugar plantations which brought him into conflict with the members of the 'propertied class'.

He was branded as a rebel and a communist by many of them, but to the labourers, he was a God-send.

St Vincent and the Grenadines
Canouan in St Vincent and the Grenadines (second from bottom) birthplace of Sir John Compton

John Compton went on to get his first ministerial posting as Trade Minister in the SLP government of Chief Minister George Charles from 1951 to 1963.

But problems developed between John Compton and George Charles.

Compton's detractors claim he'd outfoxed Charles and 'stabbed him in the back'.

Compton quit the Labour Party and established his own National Labour Movement in 1963.

Boyhood friends to political allies

He was soon having talks with a party headed by his boyhood friend George Mallet.

On Easter Sunday of 1964, Compton's National Labour Movement and the People's Progressive Party (PPP) of George Mallet and Wilfred St Clair Daniel consummated their new relationship, with the United Workers Party becoming the product of their union.

The stage was being set for a dramatic twist in the politics of St Lucia.

Taking centre stage in the unfolding drama, would be two brothers, J.M.D Bousquet and Alan Bousquet, at the time both members of the ruling St Lucia Labour Party.

Both had resigned from the party effectively toppling the administration that had governed for thirteen years.

In the general elections that followed in which the Bousquet brothers would contest as Independents, John Compton's United Workers Party won six of the ten seats in the House of Legislature.

The brothers subsequently joined Compton's UWP, strengthening his hand and putting him firmly in the driving seat.

The UWP won the next elections in 1969 and 1974.

During that time Compton guided St Lucia into becoming an Associated State with Britain (March 1st, 1967).

While starting the political process that would eventually lead to a severing of colonial ties with Britain, he had also earlier embarked on a personal journey (more of a mission by his zeal of pursuing his dreams) of wooing one Janice Clarke, daughter of the island's Governor General Sir Frederick Clarke.

It was not quite 'love at first sight'.

Lady Janice Clarke recalls an incident when her father, Sir Frederick, insisted that she pay her respects to the then Premier, one John Compton.

She was not impressed but followed her father's instructions.

John and Janice were married in 1968.


As St Lucia approached the general elections of 1979, John Compton had independence on his mind.

It was felt that the opposition St Lucia Labour Party, which had regrouped after suffering two consecutive election defeats at the hands of their former colleague, was not in favour of independence.

Some SLP stalwarts rejected that, but the pros and cons of completely severing ties with Britain were hotly debated.

Despite the controversy, St Lucia under John Compton attained independence on February 22nd, 1979.

St Lucia
St Lucia, Sir John's adopted homeland

It was undoubtedly the most significant feather in John Compton's cap up to that time, but many years later he would ruefully admit that independence was not his first choice.

More so perhaps, because the 1979 general elections which should, by all accounts, have capped that most significant political achievement for John Compton, ended up with him being relegated to the opposition benches.

The reinvigorated Labour Party had won 12 of the 17 seats at stake.

But there was trouble brewing in paradise.

The SLP was 'reinvigorated' by new blood from the Saint Lucia Labour Action Movement headed by George Odlum (another of Compton's boyhood friends) and Peter Josie.

Splits emerged in the party and government between Odlum and then Prime Minister Allan Louisy. The split widened and the government collapsed three years later.

There are some pundits who maintain that Compton exploited the rift between his boyhood friend and the prime minister to cause the government to break up.

Political battleground

The crisis forced early elections in 1982.

John Compton's United Workers Party won the poll 14-3.

It however could not maintain that margin in the next elections in 1987. Compton's UWP barely managed to hang on to power by a one seat majority in a 9-8 split.

The majesty of the Pitons was a natural counterpoint to the political turmoil that had engulfed St Lucia

Not satisfied with the outcome Compton took the country back to the polls only to reprise the previous results: 9-8.

But while the opposition SLP seemed just short of power, internal wrangling would push them further away from it culminating with then political leader Neville Cenac making way for Julian Hunte to head the Labour Party.

Mr. Cenac would later cross the floor, giving John Compton the fairly comfortable majority he craved; 10 seats to 7 for the SLP.

The 1992 elections would be bitter-sweet for John Compton.

He won the poll but might have lost some of the public trust he'd held dearly.

A local newspaper accused him of having an affair with a teenager whom he had misrepresented as his niece in official correspondence.

One year later in October 1993, another crisis.

Banana farmers rioted. Police opened fire. Two demonstrators were killed.

The opposition Labour Party blamed the government calling the response of the John Compton administration heavy-handed.

Prior to the 1997 election John Compton announced that he was stepping down as Prime Minister and passed the mantle of leadership to a hand-picked successor, Dr Vaughan Lewis, the former Director General of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Many questioned the decision, and felt they were vindicated when the ruling UWP, with Vaughan Lewis at the helm, suffered its most humiliating defeat ever at the polls in 1997.

It lost all but one seat when the St Lucia Labour Party, also with a new leader in the person of Dr Kenny Anthony, routed it 16-1 at the polls.

Critics of Sir John Compton said he saw the crushing defeat staring him in the face, and set up Vaughan Lewis to face the fire.

But later came rumblings of discontent from within the SLP government.

John Compton, having bowed out of elective politics, watched, waited ...and pounced.

He formed a new alliance with his old UWP (by then with a new leader) and George Odlum (Compton's boyhood friend) who had by then been booted out of the SLP, called - The National Alliance.

But as the island moved into general elections of December 2001, the Alliance crumbled under the weight of irreconcilable differences over who would lead the newly formed group into the general elections.

The UWP contested alone and lost, again.

Labour remained in power.

The comeback 'old-timer'?

But John Compton had not yet run out of options.

He would make a political comeback - his last, and perhaps, his most dramatic.

Sir john Compton
Sir John at age 82, came out of retirement and won the 2006 elections.

In political retirement since the United Workers Party lost the 2001 general elections, Sir John Compton would re-emerge on the political scene to wrest control of the party he founded from Dr Vaughan Lewis, at an historic party convention on March 13th 2005.

He literally went into the party's convention on a 'wave of cheering supporters' much to the chagrin of the Vaughan Lewis camp.

At 82 years old, John Compton (now Sir John) swept the UWP back into office with a handsome 11-6 win over the SLP in December 2006.

He was once again St Lucia's Prime Minister, albeit with a relatively young and inexperienced cabinet.

There was hardly time to settle into office, when trouble began to brew.

China or Taiwan?

At issue was whether the new administration would continue the diplomatic relations with China established under the SLP government, or whether it should re-establish ties with Taiwan.

The Chinese had insisted that on the basis of commitments made by the new administration of Sir John Compton, it was inappropriate for the government to countenance official visits to the island by Taiwanese government officials.

In April 2007, when Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy arrived in parliament to deliver the throne speech, there was an air of expectation.

Sir John Compton had earlier in the week announced that the decision as to whether to go with China or Taiwan would be made then.

But on the eagerly anticipated day, no announcement was made to parliament. And on April 30th 2007, Saint Lucia and Taiwan signed a joint communiqué officially establishing diplomatic relations.

However there was word that Sir John might not have been in favour.

Media reports told of a cabinet rebellion against Sir John over the issue, with a so-called super-eight on one side in favour of Taiwan, while Sir John, his trusted ally Stephenson King and another minister, Leonard Montoute, on the other.

Ill health

Shortly after it emerged that Sir John Compton had suffered a series of mild strokes when he went for his regular medical check-up in the United States.

Sir John Compton
Sir John Compton suffered a series of strokes earlier this year

A government statement issued on May 10th 2007 said Sir John's check-up had been delayed by the hectic campaign for the 2006 general elections, followed by the swearing in of his new administration and the presentation of the national budget.

Sir John had travelled to the United States on May 1st 2007, with the intention of spending five days overseas, but his doctors advised that he remain for another three days to get the results.

Speculation was rife and the internal and opposition political manoeuvrings began in earnest.

Sir John returned home from the United States clearly weakened by his illness.

After initially responding well to medical treatment, he took a turn for the worse.

On the evening of Sunday 26th August, Sir John was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties.

When his condition did not improve, he was taken to Martinique for more comprehensive medical care.

There was still no improvement and he was returned to St Lucia the following Wednesday.

Sir John remained on a ventilator until he passed away last Friday night, September 7th.

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