George William Odlum
Former Deputy Prime Minister of Saint Lucia
George William Odlum (24 June 1934 – 28 September 2003) was a Saint Lucian left-wing politician who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.
Early life and education
George William Odlum was born on 24 June 1934 in Castries, Saint Lucia the son of a barber. He studied economics at Bristol University, becoming the first Afro-Caribbean head of the University of Bristol Union before moving to Magdalen College, Oxford in 1959, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics and was one of the few Afro-Caribbean students to attend. At university, Odlum acted, played both football and cricket, and became noted as a successful debater.
After graduating from Oxford he returned to St Lucia in 1961, becoming a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade. He moved back to the United Kingdom in 1964 to work as an economist in the Commonwealth Secretariat, leaving 3 years later. Returning to St Lucia again, he became Executive Secretary to the Council of Ministers of the West Indies Associated States.
In 1967, as the eastern Caribbean islands moved to pre-independence self-rule, he became executive secretary of their grouping, the West Indies Associated States. "Black power" riots in Jamaica, in 1968, and uprisings in Curaçao and Trinidad galvanised the region's new intellectuals.
In 1970, Odlum organised a secret conference of their leading lights, including the later-martyred prime minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, on Rat Island, just off St Lucia's main tourist strip, where the demeaning level of local control enraged the socialist ideologues. They returned home to launch "Forum" groups to educate their compatriots about the local and foreign forces they saw obstructing true national feeling, prosperity and regional unity.
In 1972, Odlum founded the St Lucia Action Movement (SLAM), which shunned the Westminster electoral system. But a year later, he merged it with the enfeebled mainstream opposition St Lucia Labour party (SLP), and set about reinvigorating it, as a means to win power.
"Brother George", as the talented orator came to be known, made his base among the island's small farmers, who produced the bananas that were then its chief resource, and led frequent strikes to improve their conditions. His campaign against robber-baron terms, demanded by the US oil transnational Amerada Hess for building a giant tank-farm on the island, also made him a local hero.
His enemies pointed instead to his enthusiastic links with Cuba and Libya. In July 1979, four months after Bishop seized power in Grenada and five months after St Lucia's independence, Odlum's efforts swept the SLP and its elderly figurehead, Allan Louisy, into office at elections, ousting the tired regime of prime minister John Compton.
Under pressure from panicked US officials and their local allies, Louisy at once reneged on his secret promise to hand over the premiership to Odlum within six months. A furious Odlum complained loudly, which made him seem undignified and petty.
Louisy sacked him as his deputy, the SLP broke apart and three, often-farcical, years of infighting and government paralysis ensued. His fellow regional radicals privately felt his theatrical behaviour was damaging their cause. Voters returned Compton to power in 1982 and Odlum lost his parliamentary seat. He took his revenge on the SLP in the 1987 election when his new Progressive Labour party split the vote and deprived it of victory.
In 1995, after 13 years in the wilderness, during which he alternately harangued, enlightened and entertained St Lucians through his newspaper, the Crusader, he accepted the job of UN ambassador from his old enemy Compton. He then helped the SLP regain office in 1997, was re-elected to parliament himself and named foreign minister, only to be sacked in 2001 after secretly allying himself with Compton again.
Odlum was previously married to ex-wife Fleur and was the father of four children.
Death and legacy
George William Odlum died on 28 September 2003 in Tapion Hospital, Castries, Saint Lucia following a long fight against cancer. He was 69.
The George Odlum National Stadium is a 9,000 capacity football stadium in Vieux Fort, Saint Lucia is named in his honour.