| Sir George Frederick Lawrence Charles
National Heroand former Chief Minister of Saint Lucia
George Frederick Lawrence Charles was a Saint Lucia politician and former Chief Minister.
Early life and education
Born on 7 June 1916 and educated at St. Mary’s College, George Charles could have lived a life of personal comfort with such a privileged education. Like many young West Indians of his time, he emigrated to Aruba and worked there for one year with the Largo Oil and Transport Company. It was in Aruba that he was exposed to trade union activity and on his return to St. Lucia in 1945, he supported the cause of the workers at the Vigie Airport Renovation Project where he was employed as a timekeeper. His solidarity on that occasion propelled him to assume the General Secretaryship of the St. Lucia Workers Cooperative Union.
Sir George played an increasingly active role in trade unionism in St. Lucia and by 1948 he was elected the then Castries Town Board as trade union representative. He stepped up the effort to secure a more democratic representational role and in 1950, he was one of the key personalities involved in the organization of the St. Lucia Labour Party. That party immediately became the dominant party on Saint Lucia. He and his party had a moderate socialist agenda, emphasizing workers' rights and more autonomy or independence for Saint Lucia, which was then being ruled by the United Kingdom.
In the 1951 General Elections, the first held under universal adult suffrage, the St. Lucia Labour Party under his leadership won five of the eight seats against the middle class-oriented Peoples Progressive Party. Sir George’s first resolution as an elected member was for legal recognition of the right to paid leave which was rejected by the Colonial Authorities.
The struggle that Sir George led resulted in a series of constitutional reforms that ultimately brought into being the system of ministerial government. In 1954, the Labour Party was again victorious at general elections and Sir George was elected as the first Minister for Education and Social Affairs; with full ministerial government he was appointed our first Chief Minister.
Charles was chief minister until April 1964, when the government fell, and SLP lost the elections for the first time. From then on, Charles played a much less active role in politics.
After Charles' time as chief minister, the SLP spent most of the next three decades in opposition. The SLP returned to power from 1979 to 1982 and again from 1997 to 2006.
Honours and awards
Charles, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, had received his country's second-highest honour, the St. Lucia Cross in 1987.
On 22 February 2015, Sir George was accorded the honour of National Hero of Saint Lucia.
Death and legacy
Sir George Frederick Lawrence Charles died on 26 June 2004 at age 88 after a short illness.
In September 1992 the Sir Ira Simmons Secondary School was renamed as the George Charles Secondary School.
On 4 August 1997, the Vigie Airport was renamed the George F. L. Charles Airport in Sir George's honour.