George Odlum
Saint Lucian diplomat
George Odlum
George William Odlum was a Saint Lucian left-wing politician who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Born in Castries, Odlum studied at Bristol University and Oxford University in the United Kingdom before returning to Saint Lucia as Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Trade. After working for the Commonwealth Secretariat and the West Indies Associated States, he formed the Saint Lucia Forum, a left-wing pressure group.
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  • 2003
    Age 68
    Following a long fight against cancer, spending most of the last year of his life in and out of hospital, Odlum died on 28 September 2003 in Tapion Hospital, Castries, aged 69.
    More Details Hide Details The body lay in state on 5 October, where it was viewed by Pearlette Louisy, Kenny Anthony, and members of the Cabinet. Odlum's funeral was held on 6 October, with a 30-vehicle procession travelling from Vieux Fort to Castries; it was led by a pair of police outriders and a coach carrying the coffin, draped in the national flag. St Lucian citizens were reported to be openly weeping at Odlum's death. The funeral itself was held in a park, due to no church in Castries being large enough to hold the number of mourners. During the service, sections of his most famous speeches were broadcast from loudspeakers. James Fletcher, a Cabinet Secretary, had previously announced that all flags would be flown at half-mast for the day as a tribute. Edwin Carrington, the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community, stated that Odlum "served his country, St Lucia, with distinction" and was "charismatic, eloquent and a consummate master of communication, both in speaking and writing one of the region's leading and most persistent exponents on the debilitating effects of the erosion of trade preferences for the region's banana industry on the livelihood of the people". Other tributes came from Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who described Odlum as "one of the region's finest political orators, who was persuasive, eloquent and was able to command attention universally, not only in his native capital city Castries but also at the United Nations, in Geneva, Cape Town or in London".
  • 2002
    Age 67
    Odlum attracted controversy in November 2002 when he spoke at the funeral service for Antiguan politician Tim Hector.
    More Details Hide Details His speech censured the attendees for what he perceived as mourning Hector in death while failing to support him in life, asking "were you there when the ballot process was contaminated to declare him a loser? Were you there?". His speech was criticised by Vere Bird, Jr., the Antiguan Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, who called Odlum's words "strident and ill-informed reflections".
  • 2001
    Age 66
    Odlum formed the National Alliance party to contest the 2001 elections, but the party failed to win any seats.
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    Odlum resigned in 2001 after a series of controversies.
    More Details Hide Details His fellow ministers accused him of conspiring against the government and attempting to have it overthrown and replaced with a new administration. Odlum, on the other hand, argued that ruling members of the Labour Party had been making efforts to remove him and that the "dastardly act" of cutting away a significant portion of his constituency in a boundary change was what had forced him over the edge. His resignation came immediately before a letter of dismissal arrived at his house.
    Amidst controversy over his alleged alliance with the opposition, Odlum resigned in 2001.
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  • 1997
    Age 62
    Odlum's ministry also saw the diplomatic recognition of China in 1997, following month-long negotiations and the offer of several million dollars worth of aid to Saint Lucia.
    More Details Hide Details Taiwan responded to the announcement by breaking off relations, stating that the government's move to recognise China had harmed Taiwan's "national interests and dignity". After diplomatic relations were officially established, Odlum visited China between 5 and 12 September.
    After again allying with the Labour Party in 1997, Odlum was returned to Parliament, receiving appointment as Foreign Minister in the government of Kenny Anthony.
    More Details Hide Details In this position, he oversaw the improvement of diplomatic relations with Cuba, announcing that a consulate would be established there and spearheading the signing of a joint Cuban-Saint Lucian trading agreement to oversee improvements in the agricultural and healthcare sectors.
  • 1996
    Age 61
    When Compton resigned in 1996, Odlum chose to stand for election against his successor and lost the contest.
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    In opposition, Odlum was made Ambassador to the United Nations, resigning in 1996.
    More Details Hide Details When the Labour Party came to power again a year later, he became Foreign Minister, overseeing the establishment of stronger relations with both Cuba and China.
  • 1995
    Age 60
    In 1995 he accepted the position of Ambassador to the United Nations from Compton, his old enemy, holding it for only a year.
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  • 1987
    Age 52
    Now outside Parliament, Odlum maintained his presence in the public eye through meetings and the work of his newspaper, The Crusader. His revenge over the Labour Party finally occurred during the 1987 general election, when the PLP split the vote and denied his old allies victory.
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  • 1982
    Age 47
    Louisy was succeeded not by Odlum, but by Winston Cenac, who himself resigned eight months later on 16 January 1982.
    More Details Hide Details Cenac was succeeded by Michael Pilgrim in an attempt by moderates in the Labour Party to avoid the possibility of Odlum leading the country. By this point Odlum had left the party, forming the Progressive Labour Party (PLP). Pilgrim's government also collapsed, necessitating an early general election in 1982 in which the Labour Party was left with only 3 of the 17 seats, returning the United Workers Party to government and seeing Odlum dismissed from Parliament. His Progressive Labour Party won only a single seat.
  • 1981
    Age 46
    The result was the 1981 dismissal of Odlum as Deputy Prime Minister and the resignation of Louisy.
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    The dispute continued into 1981, with Odlum attracting controversy by announcing on 3 March that he had not ignored the possibility of his grouping within the Labour Party splitting and joining the United Workers Party.
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  • 1980
    Age 45
    A second proposal that Louisy resign was rejected on 30 December 1980, with the power struggle continuing despite his agreement to hand over some of his portfolios.
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  • 1974
    Age 39
    His work in the 1974 election, along with his "good looks and charisma", yielded a safe seat in Castries, which he allowed his brother to run for.
    More Details Hide Details Odlum instead chose to campaign for a rural seat held by the United Workers Party, which he lost by a small margin. Despite the Labour Party still being in opposition in Saint Lucia, socialism and left-wing politics were on the rise in the Caribbean as a whole and, during his time out of Parliament, Odlum was the public face of socialism in the region. Saint Lucia gained full independence in 1979. Immediately beforehand, Odlum organised large protests in front of international news cameras, further cementing his role in the region's communist and socialist movement. Three weeks after independence, the nearby country of Grenada saw the overthrow of its government by communists revolutionaries led by Maurice Bishop. When the United Workers Party called a general election in Saint Lucia three weeks later, Compton's government fell – Odlum was returned to Parliament and the Labour Party, led by Allan Louisy, came to power.
  • 1972
    Age 37
    In 1972 Odlum left his job with the Council of Ministers to form the St Lucia Action Movement, which later merged with a weakened Labour Party in time for the 1974 general election.
    More Details Hide Details Odlum's faction of the Labour Party did most of the work in the election, building their power base among the banana-producing small farmers, with Odlum leading frequent strikes in an attempt to improve working conditions.
  • 1964
    Age 29
    He moved back to the United Kingdom in 1964 to work as an economist in the Commonwealth Secretariat, leaving 3 years later.
    More Details Hide Details Returning to St Lucia again, he became Executive Secretary to the Council of Ministers of the West Indies Associated States. During the early 1960s, St Lucia and the other West Indies Associated States were British colonies, with a limited degree of self-rule. In St Lucia, the Saint Lucia Labour Party was considered the traditional party for "political and constitutional advance" but, despite this, it lost the general election in 1964 to the United Workers Party, a right-wing party led by John Compton that continued to rule until 1979. In response Odlum, a socialist, founded the Saint Lucia Forum, a pressure group that discussed "the socialist and black cultural ideas which were beginning to challenge the Caribbean status quo". This was part of a group of Forums established in 1970 following secret talks with other left-wing Caribbean intellectuals, including Maurice Bishop.
  • 1961
    Age 26
    After graduating from Oxford he returned to St Lucia in 1961, becoming a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade.
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  • 1934
    Odlum was born on 24 June 1934 in Castries, the son of a barber.
    More Details Hide Details 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.
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