When official news came that Saint Lucia’s longest serving governor general was leaving office, reactions were mixed. It was safe to say that some saw it coming; others thought it was long overdue. For most of the younger generation, she was the only governor general they had ever known, or at least the only one they remembered. It was hard to picture another person in the place of Dame Calliopa Pearlette Louisy, and even harder to imagine a man (albeit that she was the first female GG). It was then that speculation became rife as to who could possibly fill such well-worn shoes. Some were adamant that it would be the father of our present Prime Minister. Others, in seeking to banish such thoughts, suggested that it might be the ex-wife of local literary icon John Robert Lee. One person, however, did suggest that the new head of state would be one to ruffle the feathers of some older Saint Lucians and, at the same time, be an unfamiliar name to most of the younger generation.
It would be the latter prediction that would be formally announced on January 4, 2018. Emmanuel Neville Cenac had truly stirred up a fair bit of tension and controversy in his time as a local politician. The former foreign minister, who twice held the SLP seat in the Labour Party stronghold of Laborie, broke the cardinal rule of politics and crossed over to the other side. Cenac’s defection to the United Workers Party was said to be the result of his discontent. Yet, amidst all this, the young people of Saint Lucia seem truly impartial to his appointment as governor general. In fact, many young people may have never heard of Cenac before last week’s announcement. However, with old sepia and black and white pictures of a light-haired and light-eyed Cenac plastered all over the media in the last few days, at least the youth would know the face of the new governor general, although being generally ignorant of his tumultuous political history.
With Cenac, almost a decade Dame Pearlette’s senior, moving into Government House, new queries arise, like what is the next step for the Dame? What about the hats? Despite her myriad of accomplishments, including many years dedicated to education, Dame Calliopa Pearlette Louisy was most well known for her hats. After her appointment to the post of governor general in 1997, the hats were not yet anything to shout about; simple hats which were the norm for the time. With passing years, the hats became more intricate, more colourful and, of course, much larger. They became combinations of tulle, mesh, ribbon, and always matched the outfit below. In fact, she was known to proudly sport hats crafted in national colours when the occasion deemed it fitting.
It became normal to anticipate the arrival of the former governor general at various public occasions, not just to be graced by her presence, but to marvel at her choice of adornment. Dame Pearlette’s hats easily became attached to her as a person. Was she really herself without the hats? Such accessories were always shrouded in some sort of mystery. Did she have a room in Government House just to store them? Did she wear a hat twice? Did she throw them away?
The present location of Dame Pearlette’s hats is not common knowledge but, by all authoritative accounts, the hats are in Laborie. Then, it wouldn’t be odd to see little, old ladies in Laborie sporting her hats to Easter Mass, as Dame Pearlette’s niece hosts a collection of the hats, and allows community members to borrow them in the event that they want to look extraordinary at church. Just last year, at a church bazaar in Choiseul, a fashion show included models tastefully accessorized in her famous hats. The idea of a physical and interactive exhibit for the Lucian version of the crown jewels is a great way of celebrating a woman of the people. According to residents of Laborie, Dame Pearlette would always be at special church services in the community; she attended events of her own free will and not just because it was her responsibility.
For some, it is consoling to know that although Dame Pearlette Louisy’s tenure as governor general has ended, the legacy of her hats is upheld. To completely rid a twenty-year fashionable streak would almost equate to great shame to the country. With the peace of mind of knowing that Dame Pearlette’s beloved hats will not fade into oblivion, some focus can be placed on what unique accessory the new governor general will make ‘his’.
Perhaps it will be a patterned tie, a coloured jacket, or even a hat!