Robert Milton Cato
First Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Robert Milton Cato (3 June 1915- 10 February 1997) was a socialist political leader in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Early life and education
Born on 3 June 1915, Robert Milton Cato attended the Dorsetshire Hill Government Primary School, where his father was Headmaster. He later won a government scholarship and attended the St. Vincent Grammar School from 1928 to 1933.
On leaving school, Cato worked as a clerical officer in several government offices and later in the law chambers of two of the leading attorneys, the late Newton Nanton and Percy Lewis, QC.
Cato studied law in England. During this period he was elected President of the West Indian Students' Union and Forbes Burnham, who would later become President of Guyana, was elected Secretary of the Students' Union. In 1948, Cato was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in London.
Before going on to the Middle Temple in 1945, however, he joined the First Canadian Army, attained the rank of Sergeant and saw active service in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
On his return home, he went into private practice; at the same time, he identified himself with the civic and political aspirations of Vincentians and made no small contribution to the growth and development of the island even before he emerged as a politician. He was Chairman of the Kingstown Town Board in 1952 and a member thereof from 1955 to 1959. He served also as Chairman of the Labour Advisory Board, and as a member of the Public Service Commission and the Central Housing and Planning Authority. He was an elected representative of St. Vincent in the short lived West Indies Federal Parliament, and Chairman of the Regional Development Agency. A long time supporter of track and field, Mr. Cato was President of the St. Vincent Cricket Association and a member of the Windward Islands and West Indies Crickets Boards of Control.
In 1955 he co-founded the Saint Vincent Labour Party (SVLP), also known as the Unity Labour Party. In 1967, when Saint Vincent and the Grenadines became an associated state, he became chief minister. He was St. Vincent’s first Premier on the island’s entry to Statehood on 27 October 1969. He was out of government during the period 1972 to 1974 following his party’s defeat in the famous 6-6-2 generally elections of 1972 and the opposition leader, James Fitz-Allen Mitchell became Prime Minister.
Cato's party and its coalition partners won elections in 1974 and he quickly set about introducing an upward trend in the economy and ensuring an element of general confidence at home and abroad in the integrity of the state. He served as Prime Minister again from 1974 until 1984, even though his coalition collapsed during the mid 1970s.
In 1978 Mr. Cato invited the general public to submit proposals for incorporation in an Independence Constitution and in September of that year, he led a delegation to London for a Constitutional Conference as preparatory to taking St. Vincent into full independence. When St. Vincent attained political independence on 27 October 1979, Mr. Cato had achieved tow enviable firsts: St. Vincent’s first Premier and its first Prime Minister.
Cato's government did not support other nearby socialist governments such as those in Cuba, Grenada and Guyana as he opposed Marxism. Instead, he allied with like-minded pro-Western governments such as those in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, cooperating with them on economic and defense matters.
The Labour Party lost elections in 1984. It is still one of the two main political parties in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. It returned to power in 2001 under Ralph Gonsalves. Cato died in Kingstown, Saint Vincent.
Cato the long time representative of the West St. George Constituency, retired from active politics following his party’s defeat in the 1984 general elections. He died on February 10 th , 1997. His hope was for unity in Vincentian society and a brighter future for the people. The Kingstown General Hospital was re-named in his honour in October 2000. Robert Milton Cato, the father of independence.
Cato’s long time wife and companion was Lucy-Ann Alexandra who quietly and without much fuss, made her modest but significant contribution to the pursuit of the dream of a better St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Mrs. Cato served on the St. Vincent Infant Welfare Maternity League, the Thompson Home Committee and the St. Vincent Music Council.
Cato died on 10 February 1997, aged 81.