"Patrick is best known for what he is not"
Eulogy of the Late Patrick Roland John, Former Premier 1974 – 1978 and First Prime Minister 1978 to 1979, Delivered at the Funeral by Simeon Joseph
In the midst of the historical milieu and significance of the 1930s born to Ada John, a huckster, and John Morson, a port worker was Patrick Roland John, an individual who would go on to overcome all the disadvantages faced by a person of a humble background of the Dominica of his day. It is with this in mind that I wish in this eulogy to present the life of someone who I knew dearly and personally and who afforded myself and my family the opportunity to get to know him as a friend, a mentor, an enigma, and perhaps one of the most judged and misunderstood persons within our historical landscape.
Therefore, I present to you Patrick Roland John, the man, the Myth, his mission, mistakes, lessons, footprints, and legacy.
Patrick, the man
Patrick Roland John was born on 7 January 1938 in New Street, now Kennedy Avenue, Roseau Dominica. The youngest of thirteen children. The Little Prince, as he was called, was educated at the Hyacinth Elwin Pre- School, the St David's School under the tutelage of Marie Davis-Pierre, former Clerk and Speaker of the House, the Roseau Boys School, and the St. Mary's Academy. Patrick often spoke of the embarrassment he felt at being the only one of his siblings to attend secondary school, and although, who like him had the ability, but due to the family's economic condition did not have the opportunity as he had.
However, Patrick felt at a very early age that once given this opportunity you had to make good on what you got. During his sojourn at the SMA, Patrick excelled in academics and sports to include athletics, football, and cricket. His prowess in sports was quite an achievement as he was called during those years to represent Dominica at the regional interschool's tournaments in cricket then football. One of his boyhood and long-time friends and school mates Egbert Germain recalls Patrick as being troublesome and jovial yet very competitive, loquacious and liked sports. Egbert recalls that he took his academics seriously and was a good storyteller to other students.
One vignette is that while a student had impregnated a girl, there was pressure from church and other society people to expel Patrick from school. But the Brothers did not. According to sources they realized that Pat, as he was called, had made a mistake, a costly one, but they would not expel him because they realized that the right thing was to allow Pat to complete his education at the Academy. Such was Pat's agility and depth of educational achievements that Patrick was selected by the Brothers before completion of high school to teach other students.
This, therefore, led to an easy transition into a teaching career at the SMA where he taught Latin, religion, geography, maths, and Spanish; Patrick was also the assistant coach for tumbling and sports masters of the school. Egbert recalls that he was good at what he did; he loved his students and they loved him; however, Mr. Germain recalls that for some reason when a new Brother assumed principalship of the school, that Brother and Patrick could not see eye-to-eye and so he forced Patrick to resign and thus ended his academic teaching career.
Following this Patrick worked as a shipping clerk at H.H.V. Whitchurch & Co. before leaving to organize the Waterfront and Allied Workers Union (WAWU). Patrick's involvement in sports is well documented as an undisputed fact that he was certainly one of Dominica's best sportsmen of his day; needless to say, that his prolific prowess in sports saw him represent Dominica for seventeen years of which ten of these years were on the Windwards Island team. Unfortunately, he had to surrender his representation in cricket in favour of his final high school exams. In 1960 he became involved in trade unionism. He attended courses on industrial relations and trade unionism in Jamaica and Canada and became general secretary of Dominica's Waterfront and Allied Worker Union which he had helped to found.
In 1965 at the age of 28, he was elected to the influential post of mayor of the island's capital, Roseau. The youngest to be elected. This in essence was Patrick's induction into politics and that too is a story to be told. He entered the legislature in 1970 as a member of E.O. LeBlanc's ruling Dominica Labour Party. He subsequently held several ministerial posts to include, education and health, communications, and works, home affairs, agriculture, and finance. When the first premier, Mr. Edward Oliver LeBlanc resigned in 1974, John succeeded him as premier and also assumed the portfolios of finance and agriculture.
Patrick was also a steelpan player, carnival organizer, Calypso songwriter, and lay reader in the Anglican church communion.
In most recent time he served both progressively and tumultuously as president of the Dominica Football Association (DFA), a very progressive stint unmatched by any other individual. Under his leadership, the DFA became a FIFA affiliate in 1994. He served as President until 2006 when he was voted out of office by the local football fraternity. In 2007 he was inducted into the CONCACAF Hall of Fame. The DFA administrative headquarters is named "Patrick John Football House" in honour of John.
Patrick John was bestowed with Venezuela's highest honour, The Order of Francisco de Miranda. Patrick was married to Desiree John nee Kentish and had six children: Rennick, Patrick Junior, Patricia, Hephelia, Paula, Nyree, or MAN John and Ishah. He is survived by grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Aside from this biographical chronology of his public achievements, who was this short diminutive person who was so reserved is persona only for those close to him. Patrick was a witty individual, he loved telling jokes, he was a very spiritual man, deep in prayer and discernment. I do recall the many times that Patrick could be seen going to the cross at Morne Bruce and overlook the city which he once governed to offer up some prayers at the foot of the cross, as he would say. His children all attest to the fact that he was a great dad and a family man, who bonded with his children. He was a good listener, willing to offer advice, and counsel on the choices in life.
Patrick was a very generous person who made a lot of sacrifices not only for his family but for anyone who came to him. He was an avid reader of numerous books, he loved cooking and that of his children particularly Nyerere. He enjoyed good food and junk food had a keen interest in colognes, and a passion for shoes, and popcorn and of course that good old Jonny Walker Black. Patrick was always good at providing people with methods and techniques to navigate out of their situations and consoled everyone often that the darkest hour always comes before the brightest day. Patrick was ever-present and willing to instil faith and hope in anyone who had the fortune to just sit and chat with him.
The was always something very striking about Patrick John whenever he spoke about himself; he always emphasized being his own man. For Patrick, being a man was a unique and solemn responsibility that made him want to elevate the lives of his fellowmen.
It is a sad reality that for anyone born after 1980 the caption to which Patrick was referred is that he went to prison for treason, or that he was power-hungry and corrupt. To me, these proverbial references of PJ is a sad and embarrassing scandal that seeks to overshadow any good that Patrick may have done and in fact who he really was.
John Wooden once said that your reputation is made by others but your character by yourself.
Patrick is best known for what he is not. It is widely believed that Patrick is someone who was consumed by power, and this is a myth, a myth created by the sector of those who wish to write history from the lens of their own periscope, very much, like the Europeans who fooled us into thinking that the Caribs or Kalinago were war-like and of which we believed for centuries. So too were those who took advantage of Patrick's silence to create a paradigm of a personality riddled with prejudice, bias, and hate. Patrick was accused of owning a hotel in Barbados, a bank in England, and several houses in Dominica and the Caribbean and bank accounts in Switzerland. To this day none has been proven.
In exchange for these myths, one can say that Patrick was a humble man who held on to no earthly goods or possessions who knew that the power that he assumed was not held by him but granted to him for a while. On many occasions Patrick was sternly aware of the many attempts to remove him from office from that famous DLP convention in Salybia in 1976 to that infamous meeting of April 4th, 1979 by some of his very own cabinet colleagues and former ministers with opposition politicians at the home of one of his serving ministers at Morne Bruce just a stone throw of his own home.
On the many behests to fire these ministers and call a snap election, Patrick refused. In fact, had he done so he would have won with an even more resounding victory than the 16- 5 which he enjoyed. It has also been postulated in some sectors, that he edged out R.O.P Armour- the favourite candidate of the Roseau bourgeois and Portsmouth elite for the leadership of the party. I state here today Leblanc never wanted R.O.P since in his own words Patrick was his guy whom he prepared in four ministries to assume the premiership and even so Amours' victory in Roseau South in 1970 was not as a clear margin as that of Patrick in Roseau North. That's just one myth created by the social elite to substantiate a false narrative. Patrick in reality was consumed by his everlasting love for people, and he used, or some say misuse, power, the power of the office of Premier and Prime Minister of Dominica to try and defend his people and his country.
It is believed and even recorded in the pages of history that Patrick tried to overthrow the government of Dominica when instead it is the Patrick John-led government that was overthrown. When that story will be finally told that so-called history will be turned on its head. While John and others were arrested for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government. In court cases that followed the trial judge found that John had no case to answer and he was released, but the State appealed and the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial to take place.
In October 1985 during a trial in which he was denied his overseas lawyer, and the funds raised by his own party for his defence along with a jury loaded with Freedomites, John was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the government. Snippet, how does someone in prison in Dominica in 1980 communicate with the Klu Klux Clan, and foreign mercenaries, and whoever? Something must have been terribly wrong with the prison securities and police intelligence at the time. Much more to follow.
The grandest of all myths, however, would be the slightest notion that Patrick was corrupt – because he was not and to this day none of these allegations has been proven or evidence brought forward. In fact, he was a very charitable man, sometimes dipping his hand into his own pockets to support many of the people who would come to him for assistance. There is no family member or child or in-law who can lay claim to the fact that Patrick even pulled strings for them. He left power with less than what he entered with. And to use the phrase of the late Thomas Baptiste- "clean I come, clean I go". Clean Patrick came, clean Patrick went.
I was once informed by reliable sources of Ross University coming to Dominica – under Patrick, by the way, when after negotiations with ROSS University the investors said to Patrick two things, 1. We want your wife and then the second question- "How much". Patrick inquired what does "How much" mean, the investor responded well in the US that is how it is, you get something for yourself.
Patrick's reply was: "This is not the US; this is Dominica and he proceeded to tear up the contract.
Following this short debacle, his fellow ministers and some Labour Party stalwarts rose on Patrick that he should have behaved so stupidly to turn down the investment of Ross and under pressure, Patrick sent the minister of finance and the attorney general along with himself to resign the contract. Patrick is certainly not his mistake and his mistakes do not represent his mission.
Patrick was on what he believed to be a one-man mission against the system.
According to Patrick, he wanted for the little man what the little man did not even realize he was fighting for on their behalf: self-sustenance, a dignified life, true independence to provide for themselves, and love and respect for one another. Patrick's mission can be summarized in four words: love, compassion, care, and service. Patrick did not know how to hate; he even showed love to his greatest political adversaries and those who, according to him, had betrayed him, the Labour Party, and Dominica. Patrick wanted good for Dominicans, and he manifested this in several ways.
P.J. believed in serving people in various capacities. As a matter-of-fact Patrick is known to have said on several occasions: "Anyhow you can serve your country whether in politics, sports, government, culture you must give it your best shot". He had a heart for the poor and a strong sense of justice. He saw the plight of the workers on the port and decided to champion the cause of workers, bearing in mind what his father went through when he was a port worker. He sought proper representation for people and the improvement in working conditions and the livelihood and living conditions of people. Patrick believed in rocking the boat in order to get things done; he did it at SMA; he did it at HHVW, at WAWU, and in Government and he had no hesitation in challenging the mercantile elite of his day on behalf of the poor working class.
He championed the cause of the labourer from mendicancy and second-class status to a working-class of self-reliance and productivity, to elevate the common man and to ensure that the poor people of Dominica got a better chance in life.
Patrick's mission was based not only on his childhood and upbringing but on a promise to his mother who on the eve of her death summoned Patrick to her bedside. She had not spoken to him for four years because she did not approve of him being in politics. On enquiring of her intent in summoning his presence, she informed him that she heard that he was going to be nominated as party leader and said to him: "I want you to accept it, on conference day come for me to take me to the conference". Once elected she summoned him a second time and uttered the following words:" You have taken up the job as leader of this country, promise me one thing: not to victimize anybody, not to press anybody, remember where you come from, and always help the poor people of this country." She passed one week later.
Though his attempts ended in political tragedy, Patrick believed that it is because of his mission for the ordinary man that he paid the ultimate political penalty. The socially stratified and phoney elite Dominica of his day could not stomach he had come to end once and for all the era of the "Massa" and the verbiage of "country bookie" and "malaway".
The reality of human nature is that we are imperfect human beings and far from wanting to canonize Patrick John I am reminded of Act 4 scene one in the Merchant of Venice. "The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the rain from heaven upon the place beneath, it is twice blest. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. Tis mightiest in the mightiest, it becomes the throne monarch better than the crown."
Yet, one cannot be mindful of the fact that it seems Patrick's mistakes were the only unforgivable ones. There were even those who postulated that he should be cast aside, ignored, friendless, not spoken to, and sent on the ash heap of history and made insignificant and forgotten.
Patrick was stubborn or hardened and he was too trusting. He said so himself and he also confessed that this was the deadly combination that led to his downfall. PJ's most prominent mistakes would be in the political sphere whereas many would attest, he allowed himself to be manipulated and used by some political opportunists and depended on advice from those who would take advantage of his position for their personal and political gain.
In the historical account of the Dominica story by Lennox Honychurch page 181 in what can be termed as a "historical presage" stated and I quote: "The greatest threat to power is the corrupting influence which it has on those who hold it. Soon the assured power of the DLP was attracting a circle of hangers-on seeking to benefit from the spin-offs of political patronage. Several key civil servants, members of statutory boards, and a growing number of businessmen including important figures in the Syrian and Lebanese sector were increasingly using their influence to entrench the party's power and thereby secure their own – interest of the party took over decisions of state."
Patrick's biggest mistake, however, was his ignorance of the determination of his political opponents. He believed that the widespread support and popularity which he enjoyed would be sufficient, but when that support was successfully spun against him, it was too late. Patrick also mixed with the wrong groups and questionable characters, and a couple of his administrative moves were a bit heavy-handed. In short, Patrick's mistakes can be credited to his misreading of the prevailing politics at the time.
Caribbean and global politics were highly ideological, and Patrick found himself on the wrong side of the political-ideological spectrum. Like everyone else, Patrick's faults and human frailties were his shortcomings. Patrick once expressed that when one examines his mistakes and compare them to others who make even more egregious ones, it is clear that mistakes are given different values based on who created them and how the mistake-makers are viewed in society.
Patrick also once stated that his shortcomings are what society decided they were; he, however, confided that he was too trusting. So, if trust in humanity is a shortcoming, Patrick had a lot of flaws.
Still, the epitome of his mistakes was to assume that the Dominica of the '70s, that was not yet ready for a creole Leblanc from Vielle case in the midst of the social elites of the bourgeois from Roseau and the "gwo bourge Gwatance" would be willing to accept that a little boy born in Lagoon to a labourer and a stevedore, could ever be the leader of this country. That was his biggest mistake.
His legacy in an interview with one former prime minister of Dominica the question was asked what good or name some achievements for Patrick John that he could be admired for? The response of that lady was "I can name not one good thing that Patrick John did. Not one."
However, the current prime minister in paying tribute to his fallen predecessor echoed the following sentiments: "One can say whatever they want about Patrick John but we cannot erase the fact that he made a tremendous contribution to Dominica's development. There are a number of interventions that he would have done in his tenure as premier and the Prime Minister of Dominica," Hon. Skerrit stated.
Patrick has several line items which can be listed as legacy-defining achievements: During the premiership and Prime-Ministership of The Man Patrick Roland John, Dominica saw a number of significant developments in almost every national sphere.
He saw as his pre-eminent achievement the establishment of the Dominica Social Security and The External Trade Bureau as two of his most significant achievements since they took care of the needs of the poor man and relieved them from the oppression and mercies of the controlling mercantile class. Under Patrick's leadership, Dominica also saw the establishment of the National Bank of Dominica, the expansion of AID Bank, the establishment of Dominica Broadcasting Corporation, the construction of the Deepwater Harbour, the Canefield Airport, and some two thousand low-cost houses at Bath Estate, Canefield, Pointe Michel and Calibishie, expansion of the Dominica State College, the beginning of primary health care, the establishment of the Housing Development Corporation, the upgrading of the local government department to the self-help scheme which began the construction of many feeder roads, community centres, cooperatives, and health clinics built by people of the communities for people of the communities and also the establishment of the Cultural Division and the Old Mill Cultural Centre.
The Dominica Labour Party manifesto of 1975 can be perhaps be credited as the only manifesto to have accomplished over 90 per cent of its promises i.e. nineteen of the twenty-five items in the manifesto were realized, to include development in agriculture, women's rights, youth development, social welfare, health, land reform, fisheries, communication, energy and power, tourism, sports recreation and culture, and constitutional advancement- the latter, of course, referring to the attainment of Independence for Dominica. For the rest, I refer you to page 160 of the ever-revealing book, "Gate-crashing into the Unknown" by former education minister H.L. Christian. A must-read for any Labourite.
It is interesting to note that all this was achieved in the face of much opposition and interference in these pursuits, frustrations from the British Government, dissuasive former public servants at regional and international institutions, disloyal public servants as well as a very cunning trade union sector who without a doubt was nothing but a tool of opposition forces which repeatedly sought to derail almost every project of the LeBlanc and John administrations, and, again, Mr. Christian in his book refers to these two examples on pages 123 to 124 as "sabotage". Controversy preceded and followed every bold and brave move of Patrick; he believed in rocking the boat and other times letting the smooth waters flow. But his main objective was to improve the living conditions of Dominicans.
Though attempts have been made to wipe PJ's footprints and legacy clean from the sands of time, not all prints can be erased. Patrick's legacy represents his indelible footprints: his idea of empowerment for the little man, his philosophy of thriving and true independence, his idea about the advancement of knowledge, a belief in God, and the preservation of peace and tranquillity among people. Patrick was one of the last true Labour stalwarts who passionately believe in the union and labour movements, and as long as human and workers' rights exist in Dominica, Patrick's footprints will forever be present. Dominica and the poor people of the Commonwealth of Dominica did in fact miss a chance of a lifetime when we were denied the opportunity of having him usher us into the first years of nationhood. Dominica would certainly be better off. It's an amazing observation that while we have the E.O. Leblanc Highway, Dame Eugenia Charles Boulevard, Roosevelt Douglas Primary school, Pierre Charles Secondary School and soon to be Ed Registe Primary School, there is no national edifice named after our first Prime Minister of Dominica, Patrick Roland John.
If the system decides that it does not want you, you will not be. No politician or man should ever again be treated like Patrick. Power is vested in the people, but the same can be manipulated to work against the people. Power is never permanent, and it can – like the kiss of death – be taken away or disappear in the blink of an eye. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson that one can take away from Patrick's life.
But if he were to speak to us today, he might begin with these words from his independence speech on 3rd November 1978.
"Therefore, let us stop wounding and slandering ourselves, and, appear before the world as we really are, as friends, not masters, as apostles of principle, not of power, inhumanity, not arrogance, as champions of peace, and not as harbingers of war, for our strength is, not as divided, but united as a people."
Patrick knew that the end game of everything was the long term process that we have to dial back at seeing each other as not belonging, and polarization that has the effect of letting people doubt the system, of seeing each other as having some form of legitimacy and finding a way to share the system is the essence of democracy, and that we remove the cancel culture where people become victims of an anonymous bureaucracy that punishes and ostracizes, and instead creates a more empathetic and tolerant Dominica with a sense of community.
That in the face of injustice and hate and even racism, we don't get angry lest we give others a reason to turn against us because we have to earn and obtain that power to affect the lives of the people we want to change. So, the lesson is to be more about positioning to bring along the people. Let's return to that spirit of empathy being able to reach out to who may have a different point of view from us or may have a different affiliation.
That your world view should not assume that it's going to be everyone else, that we listen to someone else for a change and recognize that the art of trying to listen to another's point of view doesn't just give you empathy for others actually teaches you about yourself.
That the world is filled with people, no matter what you do or what you try, they simply will not like you, but the world is also filled with people who will love you fiercely. The ones who love you are your people. If Patrick could be heard now, he would say: what have we done to the promise of independence, respect, rule of law, and liberty for all? Patrick would also ask about the promise for the youth, and implore us to forgive each other.
He would say of COVID-19, that masks and vaccines are not just about medical science. They don't just stop germs, the act of putting on a mask each day is a psychological prompt to remind you to change your behaviour, and is also a cultural sign to uphold the values of the community and have some sense of responsibility.
Patrick went to rest carrying no load. He left it all at the foot of the cross, and probably some of us present or in the hearing of my voice today should say a little penance. Patrick would wish that his death would spark new life in Dominica's electoral politics and that people of virtue would rise up for our blessed land.
Today, Patrick, PJ, friend, mentor, chief, ironically, by some fact of coincidence, you have come back to the house of your baptism as a Catholic, next to a school that nurtured you, on this 29th of September the feast of St Michael the archangels, when evil is stamped out under the feet of the angels, among them those who loved, supported, admired, loathed, and fought you, but most of all cherished and appreciated you for who you were. We will significantly journey with you facing that statue of our liberated forefathers to your last resting place as the father of our great nation-state, the Commonwealth of Dominica. You were a man of your own seasons, a treasured myth that only your dear ones really knew, a man on a mission, not without mistakes but with a sterling legacy and lessons of endearment.
This is the Patrick that Desiree, his children, family, friends, and supporters knew, and this is the Patrick that I had come to know, support, and admired. Sadly, not many more besides a handful of us got to know Patrick for who he was and what his mission was all about.
Rest well, PJ.