I smiled when I heard Rick Wayne on TALK last Thursday evening. As usual, he was lambasting politicians (not politics), and with such passion that I promised myself I’d write about it. I called the show that evening to add my own two cents to the dilemma the host had presented. In the process of lambasting politicians Rick referred to a memorial lecture by Mc Donald Dixon, to mark the anniversary of the passing of George Odlum. Rick was critical of the lecture because it dealt only with Odlum, the man who loved English literature; not Odlum, the politician. Odlum entered elective politics in his mid-forties. The man had a life before politics. Rick would not buy it. Instead, he praised Odlum the politician, whom he said had changed the course of the island’s politics. That, in the middle of his attack on politicians!
No sooner had I ended my contribution than Calixte George called the show to agree with what I had said in relation to Odlum. I had not spoken to Calixte or to anyone else prior to my call. Calixte and I could not convince Rick he was wrong to say that George’s life had been about politics. True, he had a tremendous impact on politics and he made a difference. But the secret which no one has disclosed before now is that English literature was the foundation and basis of all of George Odlum’s politics. Philosophy and Economics were the supporting cast he picked up at Oxford.
In a word, literature was George’s politics! Literature infused and informed every aspect of it. From the St. Lucia Forum at Columbus Square to the St. Lucia Labour Party at the Castries market steps, Odlum used literature to embellish his speeches. He used it for tone, and imported gestures from plays he had studied to accentuate his performance on a political platform. The man did not deliver speeches; he performed them! When the famous Education Bill was debated in parliament, Odlum mourned in public, that ‘the little children marched to their doom,’ as they demonstrated against the new Bill. Odlum neglected to quote the passage correctly but anyone who had dabbled in English literature knew exactly what he meant. Some intellectuals may hanker after precision but the more perceptive knew that what mattered then was the politics of the moment; not literature.
Much later when he shouted from the Castries market steps that ‘I am as constant as the northern star of whose true fixed and resting quality . . .’ precision mattered little. He was the only one with a microphone that evening that would have turned his mind to literature to define the moment (and his place), in the St. Lucia Labour Party. The man often prepared his speeches with suitable quotes in mind; then acted them before a large and adoring crowd. His political podium became his Shakespearian stage, and they were interchangeable.
When the politics turned ugly and there was need for public demonstrations, it was from the performances of famous literary figures that Odlum found role models. He could thunder like a thousand waterfalls, and drop a pebble in the pool, holding his adoring crowd spellbound as the dropped pebble rippled through the crowd. It was political theatre at its best. It held its audience transfixed. It was also high class literature, whether they knew it or not. So yes, George Odlum was known for his politics but a few including Mc Donald Dixon, Calixte George and me, knew him before his political life began. In a word literature was the driving force of his politics; but there was something greater than literature in politics.
When a man gets into elective politics in his mid-forties one must ask what he did before politics. Interestingly, Rick is one who has been most critical of persons who come to politics with no track record of service. Not so with George Odlum. His immediate pre-political life had been nurtured by the St. Lucia Forum. This was a group of young Saint Lucians, including Calixte George, Hilford Deterville, Eldon Mathurin, Wilkie Larcher, Primrose Bledman, Leo ‘Spar’ St. Helen and me whose mission was political education and empowerment.
The St. Lucia Forum may well have changed the thinking of those St. Lucians who heard them speak although there are still persons who accused the group of unleashing the empowerment of the common man without clear directions for economic growth. That is a false and unfair observation. The strength of the group can be felt in the politics of the island to this day. It built confidence, empowered people and gave them wings to fly. There has been nothing like the St. Lucia Forum since it was forced to fold up under political pressure.
George Odlum was therefore much more than politics. In this regard it was perfectly in order for Mc. Donald Dixon to choose to speak to the man’s earlier life. By so doing Dixon helped shed new light in which the whole man emerged. It bears repetition that there is more to politics than literature. Herein Odlum’s shortcomings as a politician can be more critically examined.
Yes there was another side to Odlum, as there is to every man and woman, including Rick. The question may be asked: Which Rick Wayne would someone who knew him eons ago choose to speak or write about, if asked. Is it the Rick before he left Saint Lucia for England? Or should it the man who began a singing career in England and took his body building efforts a notch up? Or should one write instead about the Rick Wayne who transferred from London to Los Angeles and found his writing pen in LA, working for Joe Weirder’s body building magazines? Or should it be about the returned prodigal who was a pain in Compton’s neck and later joined him? Or is it the newer version of a journalist?
The idea of transformation takes me to that maiden UN speech delivered by the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia to the General Assembly a fortnight ago. I contend that there are only two former politicians who could have delivered a similar speech. Hint: Neither was a Prime Minister, and both addressed the UN in the late nineteen seventies and early eighties as Ministers of Foreign Affairs. The record of these UN speeches should be available in the government and UN archives for those who care to judge for themselves.
To properly appreciate the Prime Minister’s speech one should enquired which local politician had coached him in the eighties, by holding private tutorials with the young novice. Discover the man who coached the island’s Prime Minister thirty or so years ago and be enlightened. I was at such classes a decade or so before Chastanet the younger.