With 50 years in public life to her name, three-time legislator and Fifth District Representative Delores Christopher was not only a mother to her three children but “a mother to the entire community,” her House of Assembly colleague Archie Christian, the junior minister for tourism, said in his eulogy.
Mourners packed every seat last Saturday morning, Nov. 3, at the Sea Cows Bay Methodist Church to pay their respects to the woman widely known as “Dee,” the third female ever elected to the territory’s legislature and an advocate for preserving and promoting the culture of her homeland.
The legislator died Oct. 16 after a long illness. She was 70.
“Delores Christopher was a warrior; fiercely protective of these, our Virgin Islands; what they represent; … what our ancestors fought for,” said her colleague and protégée, Speaker of the House Ingrid Moses-Scatliffe.
Mr. Christian described how Ms. Christopher inspired him to press on in his political career even after he twice lost bids for office.
“She would say, ‘Archie, don’t give up. The country needs you,’” he recalled. “She was a visionary.”
Speaker after speaker emphasised the legacy of the programmes she spear- headed, many of which are still going, including Christmas on Main Street (now in its 20th year, though rechristened as Christmas on DeCastro); the Virgin Islands Festival of the Arts; and the Crafts Alive complex in Road Town, which Mr. Christian said should be renamed in her honour.
She also advocated for the instatement of the territorial pledge and territorial song, and repeatedly called for the establishment of a national museum to preserve and display historical artefacts.
Health and Social Development Minister Ronnie Skelton said his colleague was “driven by her deep conviction that the Virgin Islands and its people are rare gems and must be preserved.”
Roosevelt David, a former senator in the United States VI, noted her accomplishments, which included road projects, as well as parks in Huntums Ghut and Fahie Hill.
A long-time National Democratic Party member, Ms. Christopher was elected to represent the Fifth District on three occasions: 2003, 2011 and 2015.
After her victory in 2011, her House of Assembly peers voted for her to serve as deputy speaker, a role she filled until her death.
Her 11 years as an elected official are the second-most for any woman in VI history, behind only Eileene Parsons, who served for 12.
“Two women have had an impact on me outside of my mother,” said Mr. Christian, referring to Mses. Parsons and Christopher.
Ms. Christopher was born on Oct. 27, 1947, the daughter of fisherman Ivan “Fox” Lettsome and his wife, Hilda “Dally” Potter-Lettsome. Her father, also a local constable, engaged in regular political discussions with prominent community members, instilling in his daughter an interest in public service. As a child, Ms. Christopher attended local schools and the Long Look Methodist Church.
She “grew up in a strategic cultural location, which infused her with the Virgin Islands culture and its heritage and a love for her native land,” said her cousin, Dr. Quincy Lettsome.
She went on to earn diplomas from Duffs College in Barbados and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, entering the public service as a stenographer in the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Prior to her election to the then-Legislative Council in 2003, she served in various roles in the civil service, including as an administrative officer in what was then called the Chief Minister’s Office, an administrative officer in the Trade Department, and later the head of the Trade Department.
Karia Christopher, the current director of trade, recalled that Ms. Christopher was the first government official to visit her on the job.
“Never once did she suggest how I should manage my team or what direction the department should take,” she said. “She just came to wish me well.”
Additionally, Ms. Christopher was a businesswoman who served as president of the Association for the Advancement of Small Businesses, an organisation she helped found.
Soon after starting her career, she met her husband, Robert Christopher, “who used to follow her home from work,” recalled her brother, Maurice Lettsome.
“Being a good girl,” she ignored him until one day he tripped and fell and she helped him up, sparking their romance, Mr. Lettsome recalled.
They married in 1972, at which point Ms. Christopher relocated from Long Look to her long-time home in Mount Healthy. Together the couple had three children: Troy, Art and Najan Christopher.
Relatives recalled her warm sense of humour.
“She had a giggle she used to do whenever she was amused by something,” said Mr. Lettsome said.
The funeral service was presided over by Reverend Franklyn Manners and featured music from Kristin Frazer, Dominick Frazer and the Althea Scatliffe Primary School Striders in Harmony ensemble. Premier Dr. Orlando Smith gave a gospel reading.
Afterward, Ms. Christopher’s casket was carried from the church by pallbearers from the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, then escorted by a police motorcade to the Christopher family plot on Mount Healthy for burial.
Daughter Najan Christopher noted that her mother’s favourite quotation was by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Wise men plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sleep.”
“We are now sleeping in the shade of the trees she planted,” her daughter said.