The erection of the Sir Eric Matthew Gairy Statue last week Friday at the entrance of the Botanical Gardens at Tanteen now renamed Sir Eric Gairy Gardens, has generated a high level of criticism and debate among Grenadians.
The monument and plaque now bears Sir Eric’s name, the man who is affectionately referred to as the “Father of Our Independence.”
The renaming of the Botanical Gardens was an initiative of the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government to honour the late Prime Minister who led the country to independence from Britain in 1974.
Many persons took to social media and other mediums to express their concerns.
Some held the view that the statue, which is silver and plataniumin colour and made out of stainless steel and metal, is not a true representation of the former leader, who was a lover of white and cream suits and shoes.
One individual commented on facebook: “After having scrutinised the statue erected at the Botanical Gardens in honour of Sir (Eric) Matthew Gairy, it is no secret that we have missed the mark – a major disconnect. The statue does not look like Sir Eric, not even slightly. So, let’s not trivialise it. Resemblance is very necessary, lest the purpose is defeated. If we are doing it the onus is on us to do it right”.
Former Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the NNP, Terrence Forrester, who would be running as an independent candidate for South St. George in the upcoming general elections added his voice to the debate.
Forrester felt that the statue is not a true representation of Gairy.
“Sir Eric would be best remembered in the minds of Grenadians as an individual who had a love for his white or cream suits and therefore some care and attention should have been given to this,” he said.
The former NNP executive member expressed the hope that this could be rectified in the near future while voicing concerns about the location of the statue.
He said: “Usually when statues are erected it is in a location where the general public has very easy access to view it, in a square or a very public area. Where it is presently, I am of the view that it should be elevated sufficiently enough so if you are driving you would have very easy sight.”
The former NNP activist stated that since Sir Eric is regarded as the Father of Independence the unveiling ceremony should have been done as an activity to commemorate the country’s Independence.
“It is my opinion that the unveiling of such an important figure in the history of Grenada should have been synonymous with what he represented which was independence of Grenada,” he said.
Addressing last Friday’s ceremony, the son of Sir Eric, Alexis Gairy, who travelled from California to witness the historic occasion, said he “loves” the sculpture and expressed the view that “it embodies the soul and the spirit of Sir Eric.”
“I love it (the sculpture), I think it embodies the soul and spirit of Sir Eric,” he said as he thanked the sculptor, known as ‘Maria’ for the love that she put into its creation.
“I am fascinated by the words ‘the great Sir Eric’ and not “the perfect Sir Eric,” Alexis Gairy said, adding: “I don’t believe that one can be great without loving something more than him/her self. And I think greatness demands that you love something more than yourself.
“So if you have to look at Sir Eric from the lens of his ego, the man, you will see a brilliant, passionate man with many imperfections, a man of many tastes who was once referred to as the John F. Kennedy of the Caribbean.
“But if you look at my father through the lens of his soul there is a different feel, a different engagement with Eric Gairy, when you see him through his soul. Land for the landless, that’s soulful. This man singularly loved Grenada, unyielding. Passions came, passions went but the one thing that was always singular about my father was his passion for Grenada.
Prime Minister Mitchell told the gathering that, “the thing about Sir Eric that I admire the most, (was that) even if you are not supporting him but he respected you, you will see him always wanting to have a relationship (and) that is something I always felt”.
He stressed that Sir Eric “was just a fun person (to be around). Forget the politics, you may not have like some of his policies, especially during the later part of his life but you could not help liking the person, to be around the person”.
“In fact, I believe a lot of us in politics today could take a page from Uncle’s book, in the sense that whether you are with him or not, I did not see him habouring (negative feelings). He would do certain things that you don’t like, but on a personal level, he would always want to have a social event or a drink with you. That has been my experience with all the years of politics against him I have never found him to be vicious against me personally.
Dr Mitchell also said of Gairy: “He always said it’s time to join, time to join, time to join. So, my friends I think this is a fitting tribute, what we are doing here today to a man who has sacrificed a lot, coming from the countryside without a formal education and to challenge the status quo as Gairy did took a lot of courage (and) bravery. It was not easy.
“The colonial masters were not easy to deal with in the context of challenging their power and he did it and clearly he did it having the plantocracy solidly against him and therefore he has to be given a tremendous amount of credit for that revolution that he led…it tells you how he motivated his supporters and brought people to act,” he added.
Dr. Mitchell regarded Sir Eric as being an “extremely bright and talented individual,” and suggested that a lack of formal education to some extent may have been one of the problems Sir Eric had”.
“It may have affected some of his decisions in the sense that he felt he had to be proving all the time, proving that he was there with the rest of persons in the society at a certain level. But I honestly believe that he was one of the persons in the country that if he had the opportunity educationally, getting a PHD would have been a joke for Sir Eric Mathew Gairy,” Dr. Mitchell declared.
“I believe that we owe him this (the monument and the renaming of the Botanical Gardens). Sometime, to some extent we can say maybe we could have honoured him more when he was alive, but that’s life. I think it’s more important though that we are here despite the weather to honour this man who has given so much to our country,” he said.
A short documentary featuring some excerpts from speeches made by the former Prime Minister also formed part of the unveiling ceremony for the statue.
The ceremony was also attended by former Minister within Gairy’s Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) government, Nadia Benjamin, a former Member of Parliament for St. Andrew North-west.
“It is a really great pleasure and an honour to be here…I am here for two purposes to be a part of this dedication to the late Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, the Father of Independence and to recognise the many lasting services that are the work of the great man”.
Benjamin recalled some of the initiatives undertaken by Sir Eric while in office including, the building of several primary, secondary and pre-primary schools, the establishment of St. George’s University School of Medicine, erection of the National Zoo, Independence in 1974, as well as lowering of the voting age from 21 to18 years, introduction of women into the Royal Grenada Police Force, introduction of pre-primary schools, Youth Venture 1971 and Youth Week 1976, and Land for the Landless among others.
She listed other achievements of Sir Eric as the establishment of the national museum, national Zoo, Botanical Gardens, housing schemes, round-a-bouts, Grenada Agriculture Development project, EXPO 69, the opening of the Cadrona Home, the first home for the aged in Grenada, community centers and self-help projects.
August 23, 2017 marked 20 years since the death of the late Sir. Eric who served as Prime Minister from 1974-79 when he was ousted from power in a coup d’etat staged by the leftwing New Jewel Movement (NJM) of Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard.
Gairy who was born on February 18, 1922, died on August 23, 1997.