Choosing a STAR Person of the Year recipient was never a walk in the park. It has always been difficult determining who among our citizens is most deserving of the accolade. It had been as difficult settling for Dr. King (twice!), John Compton and Dunstan St. Omer as it was deciding on two or three rogues chosen largely because they had dominated the media year round, not necessarily for selfless deeds.
As I say, the difficulty we confront today is different. While in times past we often had the luxury of too many exemplary candidates to choose from, today the situation is the exact reverse. Time has stripped naked too many potential winners, exposing them for what they had always been: masked sell-outs-in-waiting—dogs itching for their turn to root for favors at the public trough.
It says something of our desperation this time around that we actually went looking among the dead, perchance to happen upon the bones of someone who had been interred without due recognition of his or her unique contributions to our society. There was Brother George, for one . . . but then much had already been written about him and his exploits, even about his “Were You There?” eulogy at the funeral of his close friend and fellow warrior Tim Hector of Antigua. Sad that low-rent politics and myopic leaders continue to deny our young full knowledge about the talented enigma that was George Odlum, educator, radical activist, tell-it-like-it-is observer of life as lived in Saint Lucia, and other things too numerous to mention.
We thought for a time that Suzie d’Auvergne might fit the bill. She had spent all of her adult life in the service of her people, the deprived especially. As a court prosecutor she was the rapist’s worst nightmare. To the abusers of girls not yet reached the age of consent, she was Judge Dread. She it was who, as Director of Public Prosecutions, had convinced a local court to send a pervert in police uniform up the river for misusing his gun and his penis on a mentally challenged child entrusted in the care of his wife—the unfortunate girl’s “Auntie.” It emerged the STAR had twice acknowleged Suzie’s contributions to Saint Lucian society when she still walked among the living.
Suzie died with her boots on, so to speak. In ailing retirement, she had shouldered the burden of discovering how Saint Lucians feel about our Constitution, whether they were happy with it as is. Under-funded though they were, Suzie and her team of committed commissioners traversed the length and breadth of the country, participated in countless TV and radio programs, engaged concerned Saint Lucians in Europe and the United States, before finally settling down to the enormous task of putting on paper the all-important she had uncovered. Nearly five years after accepting her assignment, Suzie went to her final resting place.
She was not present to hear what turned out to be fulsome praise posthumously showered on her memory by Janus-faced government and opposition politicians. The same mouths that had rhapsodized about her “job well done” soon were dismissing the proposals contained in what is now referred to as “The Suzie d’Auvergne Report.” Among the people’s wishes that bit the dust that unforgettable day in 2015 were: more public involvement in state decisions; a reduction of the prime minister’s power and the people’s right to recall uncaring and incompetent parliamentary representatives. Following a relatively short debate, the prime minister declared Suzie’s herculean accomplishment “not representative of the will of the people . . . obsessed with the power of the prime minister” and consigned it to one of the overloaded dusty shelves in the national catacomb, visitors denied.
We could legitimately have posthumously declared Suzie STAR Person of the Year 2015, if only to keep hope alive. But then we were reminded of another wonder woman who is still very much alive and embodies nearly all of Suzie’s best qualities. An uncommonly intelligent, ballsy, out-of-the-box thinker, she has served her country as a talented lawyer with a social conscience (the rarest of birds!) as well as in the post of attorney general and as a magistrate. A committed defender of women’s rights, she is a single mother with a son to be proud of. She also served with distinction and unwavering dedication in Ottawa (as High Commissioner of the OECS) and in Rome (as Assistant Director General of the United Nation’s FAO). But what made her—keeping in mind our perilous times—the perfect candidate for Person of the Year 2015 was not so much her undeniable contributions on home ground, nor even her enviable overseas service record.
Witness: In late 2013, at the end of her stint overseas, she had returned home, a little uncertain where her immediate future might lie. Should she consider the oh-so-subtle invitations to enter the political arena in earnest? Should she reopen her law office? She decided to take a short break from all professional pursuits. Which is not to say she protected herself from the Saint Lucian atmosphere, polluted as it is by increasingly violent crime; arrogant public officials; egregious abuses of citizens not in a position to fight for their denied constitutional rights.
She didn’t have to wait long for the offer she could not refuse. In early 2014 she had good reason to pack her bags once more, this time to take up a new position in St. Kitts-Nevis as a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Within months she was back in the headlines, and for the best of reasons.
Throughout the region it had long been the common perception that lawyers lived above the law—at great expense to justice generally and to their trusting clients in particular. That was about to change—abruptly. All thanks to a long-established St. Kitts-based Trinidadian lawyer: Geoffrey Romany who stood before her charged with money laundering and fraudulent conversion. The last-mentioned charge involved millions of dollars entrusted to Romany by clients connected with the Citizenship Investment Program in St. Kitts. The first charge having been withdrawn, the accused had pleaded guilty to the second. Still, that did not mean everyone at the day’s Assizes anticipated he would receive more than the usual slap on the wrist. And history was on the side of the skeptics.
Little did they know that history was about to be turned on its head. Eyes locked on her law colleague, the judge pronounced as follows: “Your conduct has been disgraceful and reprehensible. It has further eroded public confidence in the legal profession, especially in the attorneys who practice law with the utmost commitment and integrity.” Moreover, that while the disgraced lawyer had made no restitution to the victims of his “heinous crime,” she would not only serve them justice but also “send a strong message to other attorneys that those who breach their fiduciary duties to their clients and abuse their patrons’ trust” would feel the full weight of the law.
Romany was given the full sentence allowed by St. Kitts-Nevis law: seven years. A first for the Caribbean. Additionally, the judge openly invited the legislature to reconsider and increase the penalty for fraudulent conversion. Doubtless, lawyers in Saint Lucia—many notorious for how they treated their clients—took note.
A short time earlier, countless victims of rape in Saint Lucia—where unresolved rape is commonplace and condoned—had received the equivalent early Christmas gift courtesy the St. Kitts high court judge. She had sentenced to 30 years behind bars a remorseless rapist that a jury had declared guilty as charged, despite his contrary plea. Yes, 30 years! Hopefully the judge’s sentence afforded some small comfort to scores of her fellow Saint Lucian women who continue to be ravaged in the worst way imaginable, with no price paid by their attackers.
Doubtless, they will agree with us that for her consistent demonstrations of courage in the line of duty Justice Lorraine Williams is most deserving of the STAR Person of the Year 2015 award!