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The Grenada Revolution Online

Eric Matthew Gairy [1922-1997]

“If the first explosion of the smoldering Grenada volcano was the emergence of Gairyism, the second was the coup d'etat of March 13, 1979; just as the third was to be October 19, 1983, and the fourth October 25, 1983.”

Gordon Lewis put Gairy at the top of a long cycle with that adroit observation.

Eric Gairy
Photo: The Resource Center

Eric Mathew Gairy was the classic 'hero in the crowd' as analyzed adeptly by author Archie Singham. A former primary school teacher and union organizer, he had a kind of natty stance and style packed with elegance. Impeccably dressed, he was similar in physical person to W.E.B. Du Bois in his bearing and preference for finely cut clothing. He had a grace that often appeared in his bashful-looking grin.

We know Gairy was an excellent organizer. DaBreo makes a succinct observation that Gairy was "expert at using situations, beliefs and superstitions to his advantage." And Gairy always kept forging ahead.

In a "TIME" magazine interview 18 January 1974, Gairy told Correspondent Bernard Diederich he "wouldn't kill a moth, spider, snake or lizard." He went on -

I don't believe in violence. I'm a spiritual man. I am in the mystical world. Few people know how spiritually, mystically inclined I am. They say that man is afraid to unlock the door to himself. I am not one who has to be afraid. My opponents can't beat me. They are based on negativity. I am positivity. When they hate I love. I send out waves of love to them. I pray for them. They hate me so much they can't eat and sleep. But I laugh, I play tennis. I play cricket. I do yoga exercises. I dance and I am happy inside. Very happy. And I am strong inside.

Why was Eric Matthew Gairy inclined towards positivity? He was appointed by God. Let Gairy tell it in his own words from that same TIME magazine article:

God has a divine plan for Grenada. The plan is self-determination for the people. Nobody can stop it. It has come for the people of Grenada. And I have been appointed to carry out this divine plan.

Yoga was an enlightening practice for Gairy, and he was interested in Rosicrucianism and pageantry of a quasi-religious nature. For recreation, the slim Eric Gairy championed cricket and preferred playing tennis. Sealy spent a week-end with Gairy and tells this first hand:

On the Friday afternoon he was at tennis, lobbing and serving and smashing effectively against a civil servant opponent on the green hard-court of a community centre just next to the Holiday Inn complex in Grenada's capital, St. George's.

A party atmosphere or ceremonial gathering appealed to Gairy's sense of elegance. He would join Governor-General Leo DeGale at grand receptions, all decked out in his white suit, white shirt, white tie - charmingly greeting people in the reception line. According to Sealy, after such gatherings -

The Prime Minister [Gairy] later presented each visitor with a package of the spices of Grenada, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, tonga beans, cardamom, coriander, cloves and turmeric. Attached to each package was an orange card printed in gold -

Dr. E.M. Gairy, O.L., K.G.C., F.R.S.A., J.P.

The visitors loved it.

Later in the evening at the "Evening Palace," a Gairy-owned nightclub at Morne Rouge above the western point of a five-mile white sand beach Grand Anse, Sealy relates this anecdote:

This zestful Prime Minister put away at least five bottles of champagne.

'I never have less than four bottles in all on a Saturday night,' he told me,'for I share in at least 32 bottles.'

There he was, dancing in his all-white outfit, this time open-necked shirt with a white scarf, informal but natty, showing off his velvet black complexion and lighting up his flashing smiles which came on and off like a bright lighthouse.

Referring to his benevolence or letting himself affectionately be called 'Uncle' or 'Papa,' Gairy spoke using memorable slogans and with never-to-be-forgot sayings. He is the kind of man known to have chided priests for not reading prayers he had written himself. His responding quip was "I read your prayers, why can't you read mine?"

He had a kind of sartorial elegance and was forthright, making emphasis with his walking stick or his raised fist. A man surrounded by controversy, he was a character loved by his followers. It must not be forgotten that Eric Matthew Gairy had a life rooted in the Catholic Church and Catholicism is the predominant religion in Grenada.

Eric Matthew Gairy was the son of Douglas 'Douggie' and Theresa Gairy, and born 18 February 1922 in Dunfermline, St. Andrew's parish on the Eastern side of the island.

He attended the LaFillette School [St. Mary's Roman Catholic School] and then the St. Andrews Roman Catholic Senior School [Grenville], known colloquially as 'Parochial School.' Gairy was also an acolyte at St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church, next door to the school. Read The Story of the Petit Pere for more about Gairy's youth.

He became a primary 'student-teacher' in the LaFillette School from January 1939 - September 1941.

He went to Trinidad 1941-42 to work at a U.S. base, then Aruba in 1943 at the age of 21 years. In Aruba, the Netherland, Antilles, from 1942 - 1949, he was a Clerical Worker & Workers' Elected Representative, Lago Oil & Transport Co., Ltd. Eric Gairy returned to Grenada [December, 1949] to enter trade unionism and politics. Certainly in Aruba, Gairy came in contact with a 'modern' litany of trade unionism and anti-colonialism. He was a successful leader in politics and the trade union movement. He may also have been described as a man of property in the latter half of his political career who assumed a posture of black self-confidence.

Cynthia Gairy, Minister of Education and Social Affairs, in the Gairy government, and her husband were married with two children. They lived at their home in Mount Royal on Sans Souci Road.A self-written resume from the 1980s of Eric Matthew Gairy reads in part:

1950-1979, President General, Grenada Manual, Maritime & Intellectual Workers' Union

1951-1979, President and Political Leader, Grenada United Labor Party [GULP]

1951, elected Member Parliament

1954, elected Member Parliament

1957, elected Member Parliament

1961, elected Member Parliament, Head of Government

1962, elected Member Parliament, Leader of Opposition

1967, elected Member Parliament, Premier

1970, judge of Miss World contest, held in London, England

1972, elected Member Parliament, Premier

1974, led Grenada to Independence

1976, elected Member Parliament, Prime Minister

1977, officially opened the First world Congress on Unidentified Flying Objects (U.F.O.'s) - Acapulco, Mexico

1977, presided over annual Conference of General Assembly of the Organization of American States, held in Grenada

MAJOR AWARDS

Fellow of Royal Society of Arts, London (FRSA)

Order of Liberator, Venezuela (OL)

Knight Grand Cross of Jerusalem (KGCJ)

Knight Grand Cross of Toledo (KGCT)

Knight Grand Cross of St. Dennis of Zante (KGCstZ)

Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Rhodes and Malta (SMOM)

Medal of the Americas

Knight Bachelor - H.M. Queen Elizabeth II - 1977 (Kt.B)

Member of Privy Council of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II - 1977 (P.C.)

Honorary Doctorate in Political Science (2)

Honorary Doctor of Law

Twenty-five other honors and awards, including Republic of Korea's highest

Gairy carried his 5 foot 7 inch frame with a superb charismatic charm - no two ways about it. He was a commanding actor and personality. He could mesmerize a crowd, make drama and singularly defined Grenadian politics during his time(s) as Premier/Prime Minister, especially during the formative period of the New Jewel Movement in the early 1970s.

Eric Mathew Gairy was interested in people; invited them to his government home on Mount Royal, sat down and talked with them dockside among his social traits. He enchanted people, especially the ladies. He was an excellent speaker, a commanding orator and crowd-pleaser. Gairy's character and his interests were unique, and we shall remain on the bright side in this short portrait.

His loyal followers linked to sentiments toward Gairy in the song:

We shall never let our leader fall,
for we love him the best of all.
We don't come to fight to show our might,
but if we have to, we will fight, fight, fight.

For an extended history of the lyrics above, link to Caldwell Taylor at BigDrumNation.

'Papa' Gairy gets nabbed as " . . . the rougish petty tyrant and the protective father of the nation," according to Tafari, who continues:

A balanced reassessment of his historical role will no doubt reveal that, taken overall, he was neither. But he certainly was, at least originally, an unusually gifted populist agitator on behalf of the black masses in the finest Caribbean trickster tradition . . .

Let us tarry on one eccentricity though. Did you know that United States taxpayer dollars in October and November 1978 were spent on State Department investigators to discover what Gairy was up to? This was the time Sir Eric Gairy -

. . . addressed the special political committee (SPC) on agenda item 126 and introduced a resolution (datafaxed) which would establish an expert group to set guidelines for a United Nations study of UFOs [unidentified flying objects].

The resolution was not acceptable to the United States.

On the matter of the extra-legal police groups, historian Gordon Lewis succinctly summarizes:

The formation of the infamous Mongoose Gang in 1970—an illegal act since Gairy had no legal authority to establish law enforcement agencies outside the provision of the law of the state—unleashed a series of unspeakable atrocities against the Grenada citizenry, constitute a veritable reign of terror.

Eric Mathew Gairy had come to this period of time [1970-1984] with a long history of union organizing and political activity in Grenada. When he was 29 years old on 19 February 1951, Gairy and his union initiated Grenada first "general strike." Before long, the young radicals of the New JEWEL Movement of the early 1970s were on his back, giving him sweat with jabs here and there, and moving him to reactionary behavior. One must not discount the growth of his position into power and self-importance and control.

While Gairy was Premier 1968-71, Blaize was Grenada National Party (GNP) Opposition Leader.

Radio Broadcast by Premier of Grenada, Hon. E.M. Gairy on Black Power in Grenada

In reaction to disturbances in Trinidad and Tobago, Gairy made his reaction to 'Black Power in Grenada' speech on radio, 3 May 1970. It read in part -

There are no significant threats in Grenada today. However, being aware of what has been happening to some of our neighbouring islands - Trinidad and Tobago in particular - one cannot be too cautious, and, consequently, as Premier of Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique, I feel myself, in duty bound, to address you at this time . . .

There has been quite some talk recently throughout the region about 'Black Power,' about acts of violence and talks about threats . . .

I have absolutely no doubt that 'Black Power,' as manifested in Trinidad and Tobago can do a tremendous amount of harm to any country . . .

I cannot speak on the merits or demerits of Trinidad and Tobago's
case . . .

I cannot boast of having the patience of Dr. Eric Williams. It is said that when your neighbour's house is on fire, keep on wetting your own house. We are now doubling the strength of our Police Force, we are setting in almost unlimited supplies of new and modern equipment . . .

The Opposition referred to my recruiting criminals in a reserve force. To this I shall not say yea or nay. Does it not take steel to cut steel? I am proud of the ready response to my call on Grenadians, regardless of their record, to come and join in the defence of my Government and in the maintenance of law and order in their country. Indeed, hundreds have come and some of the toughest and roughest roughnecks have been recruited . . .

I know that I would have a ready response from the very responsible people of this country who would be dedicated to protecting themselves and their families, their properties and estates and the good name of Grenada as a whole, and if and when the call is made for the formation of the VIUPP - Voluntary Intelligence Unit for Property Protection - men, intelligent young men and old men - and perhaps women will be called upon to join.

Our Police Force is being doubled to meet the situation. The force are aware of the diligence exercised by the Trinidad Police. Grenada's Police Force is certainly not on a lower level than the Trinidad Police Force in any respect. Today, the Grenadian Policeman knows that by his efforts in stamping out the attempts of those involved in Black Power or any other subversive movement, he can win the award of 'Policeman of the Year' and climb the ladder of promotion or receive monetary awards. The Police are geared to keep this country clean and in an atmosphere of peace and quiet at all times.

The Hon. Eric Gairy
Photo from the Carifta Expo '69 in Grenada booklet

Premier Gairy did double his police force. Thus began the ever-escalating struggle between Gairy Forces and the New Jewel Movement .

In another part of the 'Black Power in Grenada' radio broadcast, Gairy got specific:

I cannot close my ears to the ugly incidents alleged to have taken place recently, and it may be timely here to mention a few - three youngsters, clad in black, entered the 'Red Crab Restaurant' and ordered drinks and food, ate, and then shouted 'Black Power,' and left without paying; another three demanded money and drinks from two foreigners at the Nutmeg Restaurant; others molested some other visitors by the 'Portofino' Restaurant and the 'China Town' Complex of Restaurants.

'A stitch in time saves nine' is indeed a wise maxim. My government will not sit by and allow individual or groups of individuals to agitate or incite, to promulgate or to promote any racial disharmony in the peaceful 'Isle of Spice' - the Caribbean Garden of Eden.

Today Barbados is providing strong legislative powers with heavy penalties to curtail any such acts. I say, that those guilty of inciting racial disharmony, or guilty of molesting of any form should be told, 'Good Morning' by the Cat-O-Nine as they start their prison term, and 'How do you Do' by the same Cat-O-Nine as they and their prison term. Law and order will always reign supreme in this great little state of ours.

Eric Matthew Gairy's interest in joining with Caribbean neighbors was solidified in print by the Grenada Declaration of 1971. Consider this list of Gairy's Achievements circa 1972. He also listed other major accomplishments on the resume reference above, including Admission to Commonwealth, Admission to United Nations and its agencies, Admission to Organization of American States, Admission to World Bank and Admission to International Monetary Fund.

The elections of February 1972 squared off two major parties: the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) and the Grenada National Party (GNP).

There was a drought in the sister isle of Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Gairy declared a 'Day of Prayer' for the people to pray to bring the rains. Gairy, through his Secretary for Carriacou and Petite Martinique Affairs, Michael Caesar, published the prayer below in pamphlet form, printed by the Government Printery. Note the play on words between 'blaze' and Opposition Leader 'Blaize.'

A DAY OF PRAYER

My dear people of Carriacou and Petit Martinique, this is a time for prayers and repentance. Today, we are experiencing one of the longest and most devastating droughts of our history - a drought which, like a blaize (sic) of fire has destroyed all our crops.

To those of us who believe in God, in the Truth, the Light and the Way, this is a calamity which represents some form of punishment. Some people are asking what have we done to deserve such punishment? I am sure that you will agree with me that God in His Righteousness would never suffer a people who is living according to His way.

Yes my dear people, the time has come for us to examine our conscience and try to determine what we have done, or what wrong we have committed to deserve such terrible punishment.

Referring to this Blaize-of-fire drought which has completely destroyed all our crops, and of the wrongs which we have committed, I am reminded of an incident which took place here in Carriacou immediately following the last election, I refer to a tractor, which, I understand was brought to Carriacou specifically to plough the lands of only those who voted or supported the Grenada National Party. I understand further that several Carriacouans who were suspected of having voted for or supported the Grenada United Labour Party or the Government were bluntly refused the rented service of that tractor. Consequently, only lands belonging to GNP supporters in Carriacou were ploughed and prepared for the expected annual rainy season . . .

Take warning, my dear people, and remember that we, as human beings, can fool one another, but we cannot fool God. In Carriacou today, there are a number of organization that are being operated under the guise of social, cultural or even charitable intentions, but you know as well as I do, that their motives are very sinister and contrary to what the organizers profess them to be. You know too, that certain persons have been going around by night and day, telling lies, preaching hate, and like wolves in sheep clothing have been deceiving the poor people and robbing them of their much needed pennies, under false pretences. Beware, my dear people, and again remember that they are only fooling themselves, because we believe that there is a just God whom they cannot fool.

Obviously, this terrible drought situation is a consequence of the sinful way of life which prevails in Carriacou and Petit Martinique today. This sinful way of hate, of violence, of ungratefulness and of untruth is NOT the Way of God, but of men who represent the devil and his followers, and consequently are responsible for summoning the wrath of God upon us all.

GULP won the majority of seats. GNP won 2 [Blaize and W.R.L. Friday] of the 15 seats. Friday left the GNP, joined the GULP party and became Minister of Education.

Gairy had been making his moves for Grenadian independence with Britain since 1970. In May of 1973, both Gairy and Blaize argued the case concerning constitutionality in London. Check the page Independence 1974 .

A national strike, led by the Committee of 22, began 1 January 1974 prior to Independence and continued actively for about three weeks.

The Committee of 22 was a joint effort by trade unions (except Gairy's GMMWU), civic organizations, the major church denominations, transportation and accommodation groups, plus many other groups. The NJM tried to join but were informed the Committee was a non-partisan political body.

The reason for the strike concerned Independence and the lack of a referendum taken from the people of Grenada. People felt there were no adequate guarantees for the constitutional maintenance of civil rights. Grenadians were protesting the beatings [including Bloody Sunday] and arbitrary arrests. The people were suspicious of what was up Gairy's sleeve. The country shut down. There were massive demonstrations. On 21 January, the confrontation between demonstrators and police with the death of Maurice Bishop's father, Rupert, was coined Bloody Monday.

Gairy, known by 1970 FORUM writers as the "Czar" and NJM writers as "Lucifer" and "Dr. Cross", had an 'official prayer' issued by the government printing office to be read out in schools:

Have mercy upon our Prime Minister Designate, Eric Matthew Gairy, remove from him all dark evil and negative conditions that may be around him; an evil force that may try to tie him down or weigh him down or burden him in any ay or tend to prevent him to perform his obligations more promptly and more effectively. Save him from all danger and all malice, jealousy and hate of his enemies. Save him from their arms, weapons and whatever plots and schemes they may formulate against him . . .

Independence from Great Britain did come to Grenada on 7 February 1974. Gairy made the most of the celebrations, especially the night before when in his speech he declared:

We are now completely free, liberated, independent. In spite of a wicked, malicious, obstructive, destructive minority of noise-making self-publicists, God has heard our prayers. God has been merciful. God has triumphed.

The elections of 7 November 1976, retained Gairy. There were allegations of tampering with election rolls, that only GULP candidates were permitted to use loudspeakers at their political rallies, that election officials were government employees [members of GULP]. Gairy won this election; Bishop became the leader of the opposition.

Gairy's economic interests involved ownership in several nightspots including The Evening Palace , the Tropical Inn and the Rock Gardens. According to Adkin:

In 1976 his government introduced a law requiring banks in Grenada to put 5 percent of their deposits in the treasury; two years later, this was increased to 10 percent.

In 1977, Gairy aided and supported the establishment of St. George's Medical School. The university was founded by an act of the Grenada parliament and opened in 1978.

Also in 1977, Gairy was knighted and became Sir Eric Gairy [there must be an interesting story about this]. Gairy's Secret Police Force was actively making investigations on members of the New JEWEL Movement. Continuing in 1977, Gairy forged links with Chile and General Pinochet in the manner of 'counterinsurgency' training for the Grenada military and police, and receiving arms and ammunition. Two officers were sent to Chile.

As early as 9 September 1977, Gairy was meeting with President Jimmy Carter in the White House. Zbigniew Brzezinski attended the meeting where Carter and Gairy both talked of their personal UFO sightings and making UFOs an agenda item at the United Nations.

In October 1977, Gairy addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. He urged members to set up an Agency for Psychic Research into Unidentified Flying Objects and the Bermuda Triangle. He published his speeches to the UN in Grenada with a cover showing a UFO hovering over him as he was speaking to that body. He wanted 1978 to be established as 'The Year of the UFO.'

By 10 March 1979, New JEWEL Movement [NJM] leaders, whose homes were being searched once more by Gairy's police force, believed that they were to be arrested or murdered, and went into hiding. Vincent Noel of the NJM was already incarcerated.

Gairy was on his way to New York City where he arrived on 12 March 1979 to attend a Conference on the International Year of the Child. He most likely had plans for 13 March 1979 to lobby UN officials to pay attention to outer space matters by meeting with Kurt Waldheim to discuss the United Nations UFO Resolution.

While passing through Barbados from Grenada, on 11-12 March, Gairy was introduced by US Ambassador to Grenada, Frank Ortiz, to US Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents on their way to Grenada to investigate the illegal shipment of arms from the US into Grenada.

The itinerary of Prime Minister Gairy, Dr. Wellington R.L. Friday and Gloria Payne is described in a schedule. Ms. Payne was Acting Cabinet Secretary under the GULP government and Dr. Friday was Minister of Education. The party was greeted at Kennedy Airport by H.E. George A. Griffith and other members of the Permanent Mission of Grenada to the United Nations. Later Gairy met with United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, the Inter-Government Philatelic Association, the Papal Nuncio, the Executive Director of UNICEF, the chair person of the United States Commission of the International Year of the Child, plus international dignitaries. The group, which Gairy writes elsewhere consisted of four people from Grenada [perhaps a bodyguard], was to arrive on Monday, March 12 and was to leave New York City on B.W.I.A. on March 16th, 1979.

After the coup d'etat of 13 March 1979, Gairy lived in New York, under US surveillance. A letter was sent to President Carter which "informed of the Grenada situation and the very far-reaching effect it could very well have on the region." In November 1979, after hearing nothing from President Carter, Gairy was told the letter had been sent to the Department of State for advice. Hearing nothing from the U.S. Government, Gairy spent his days on local New York City radio station WLIB serving the Caribbean New York community. He also broadcast to Grenadian and Trinidad & Tobago ears with anti-communist sentiment. Under the U.S. Neutrality Act, Gairy could not legally mount an invasion of Grenada from the United States.

Gairy shortly moved to an apartment in San Diego, California where his actions were monitored by the US government and where he attended meetings of UFO buffs. Men in dark suits continuously watched his movements.

Wanting to get his version of his governance and what happened is an example of Gairy's message from Letter from San Diego, 10 Oct 1979.

On 10 December 1979, in a letter to Senator Robert Bird, whose given name is spelled Byrd, Gairy expressed the opinion that Grenada

. . . was literally high-jacked in my absence while on legitimate Government business in the United States. I have been in active politics as an elected member of parliament for over twenty-eight years, and I am now experiencing here what I may term a bold departure from all known international convention and practices.

The letter of 10 December 1979 attempted to evaluate the lost feeling Gairy had when he wrote:

. . . the mutual friendship between the Administration and myself seems to beat a speedy retreat into oblivion . . .

In 1984, Sir Eric Mathew Gairy returned to Grenada from exile in the United States. In his elder years, he suffered from a stroke, failing eyesight and mental instability. Gairy died on 23 August 1997. A state funeral was given for a unique personality in the history of Grenadian politics.

After the passing of the National Honours Act whereupon 15 people are chosen yearly, Eric Matthew Gairy was honoured as a National Hero, 2008.

The definitive biography of Eric Gairy [18 February 1922-23 August 1997] begs to be written by a Grenadian national. Check out these sites below for biographical information on Sir Eric Mathew Gairy.

Spiceislander Profile

Gairy and General Strike of 19 February 1951 for four weeks

The Story of the Petit Pere

Gairy gave many speeches. This link takes you to the text of an interesting
Gairy Speech, United Nations, 12 October 1978

Another typical Gairy Radio Grenada National Address, 1 October 1976

And Gairy made an alleged 'enemies list' which is at Gairy's List of Enemies


During Carnival, circa 1968, Rupert Glean re-enacted Eric Gairy by dressing up in all white and standing like a statue.

Gairy Re-enactor Eric Glean
Photo by Jim Rudin, Grenada

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