By R. T. Luke V. Browne. Updated 11:52 p.m., Sunday, March 7, 2021, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
We have entered National Heroes Month. I am using this opportunity to lend further support to the call for Dr. John Parmenas Eustace (J. P. Eustace) to be named the next National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Dr. Eustace would be most deserving of this honour. I would state my reasons.
J. P. Eustace had an outstanding career during the course of which he made a towering and unparalleled contribution to the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He established 3 major secondary schools – the Intermediate School (now the Intermediate High School) in 1926, the Emmanuel High School Kingstown/EHSK (now known as the Dr. J. P. Eustace Memorial Secondary School) in April 1952 and the Emmanuel High School Mesopotamia/EHSM on May 6, 1963.
Amazingly, Mr. Eustace (as he was then) was only 20 years old when he started his first secondary school. He did it at the height of colonialism. The only other secondary schools which existed at the time were the elitist Boys Grammar School and Girls High School. He originally named the school “Intermediate” School as distinct from “High” School to circumvent a colonial policy against the provision of full blown secondary school education to the general population. He nonetheless proceeded to deliver a High School curriculum.
Mr. Eustace broke down barriers that restricted a secondary school education to the children of plantation owners, Kingstown merchants and high ranking colonial civil servants. Incidentally, he left a comfortable job in the civil service to embark on his independent education mission. He had the benefit of an excellent and trailblazing academic track record from his own school days.
The Intermediate School was the first private secondary school in SVG (then known as St. Vincent). I should say that it was a private school with a very public character – it was the first secondary school to open its doors to students of every colour, class, creed and race. It was also the first co-educational secondary school. Obviously, Dr. Eustace was a pioneer in education. On the contrary, the only “public” schools which existed then served intensely private interests.
The EHSK was at one point the largest secondary school in our nation. It introduced volley-ball to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The EHSM was the first rural secondary school without entrance restrictions. To my mind, Dr. J. P. Eustace was the Father of the Education Revolution. He was way ahead of the government and his time.
Dr. Eustace also started several primary schools and carried out Christian missionary services in places like Simon and Sandy Bay. He established many churches. In fact, Dr. Eustace may have seen his work in education as an outgrowth of his Christian Ministry.
Additionally, J. P. Dr. Eustace was the first Vincentian to become a qualified eye-specialist/eye-doctor (Optometrist/Optician). In that capacity, he often provided glasses free-of-charge to poor and disadvantaged Vincentians who were suffering from sight defects. Symbolically, Dr. Eustace helped with the physical, mental and spiritual vision of Vincentians in what was a thoroughly holistic approach.
The Order of National Heroes Act 2002 at Section 10 says that in order for someone to be named a National Hero he or she must have:
i) “given outstanding service to St. Vincent and the Grenadines” and made a contribution that “altered positively the course of the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”
ii) “given service to St. Vincent and the Grenadines which has been exemplified by visionary and pioneering leadership, extraordinary achievement and the attainment of highest excellence which has redound to the honour of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”
iii) through heroic exploits and sacrifice, contributed to the improvement of the economic, social or political conditions of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Vincentians in general
I submit to you that it is a foregone conclusion based on the evidence presented above that Dr. J. P. Eustace jointly and severally more than amply satisfies the criteria laid down in the Act. He was a pioneer in the field of education. He started a secondary school as a 20 year old private citizen at the height of colonialism when the only other schools on the island were the elitist High School and Grammar School, and he succeeded. This shows outstanding service and was an extraordinary achievement. What could be more visionary and pioneering than that? He democratised education in this country and were it not for him, thousands of Vincentians would have been deprived of an opportunity to attend secondary school.
Doc, as he was popularly and fondly called, was a champion of universal access to secondary school education and co-education in secondary schools. It is patently obvious that J. P. Eustace altered positively the course of the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Education is Liberation. He liberated many persons from ignorance and illiteracy. He loosed them from their shackles and released them to make a meaningful contribution to nation-building. He helped to create a knowledge culture or a culture of education and enlightenment that surely redounded to the honour of SVG. Dr. Eustace gave 64 years of dedicated selfless service and personal sacrifice to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was not easy to do what he did, especially at the time he lived. It was heroic. I do not think Doc has an equivalent anywhere in the world.
It goes without saying that Dr. Eustace contributed to the improvement of the economic, social or political conditions of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Vincentians in general by his work in education, healthcare and religion. He attained the highest excellence and in all likelihood the Prize of the High Calling of God.
I learnt some time ago that as a matter of an interesting coincidence Pamenos Ballantyne was named after Dr. John Parmenas Eustace (there was a slight variation in spelling). Pamenos’s recently deceased mother described Doc as the greatest Vincentian to have ever lived. Pamenos was told about the reason for his name and this gave him a sense of confidence. It may have even spurred him on to the heights of athletic achievement. This seemingly casual observation might take on some significance in light of the fact that I once heard renowned Vincentian historian Dr. Michael Dennie bemoan the fact that it seems as if no one has really seen it fit to name any of their children after Chatoyer.
I am a politician. However, I would be the first to say that we must disabuse our minds of any notion that a National Hero has to be a political figure. Carlton “CP” Hall when he was Principal of the Dr. J. P. Eustace Memorial Secondary School concluded a series of articles by saying that it “is a widely held view” that Dr. John Parmenas Eustace should be “awarded the highest national honour” for his contribution to national development. I agree with him. It may be fitting for Dr. Eustace to be named a National Hero as we commemorate the 95th anniversary of the founding of his first school.