During Saturday’s celebration of Hamilton Lavity Stoutt, the territory’s first Chief Minister, performers of all stripes, including singers in the a capella group BVI Rise, honoured his legacy. (Photo: JOEY WALDINGER)

Once a semester, Hamilton Lavity Stoutt — the territory’s first chief minister — would visit BVI High School to speak at the general assembly, said Najan Christopher, a BVI HS graduate who is now the executive director of the government’s International Affairs Secretariat.

Though Ms. Christopher and her classmates have since graduated and Mr. Stoutt died in 1995, his influence on education and development lives on, Ms. Christopher said.

“At the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, all you have to do is come with a book and a pencil and a willing heart and a desire to learn, and education is available for us,” she told the crowd gathered Monday in the Eileene L. Parsons Auditorium at HLSCC during the territory’s commemoration of Mr. Stoutt’s birthday.

Following a service where leaders adorned Mr. Stoutt’s Cappoons Bay grave with ceremonial wreaths, commemorators rendezvoused at his namesake institution to celebrate his legacy through speech and performance.

Despite never completing a formal secondary education, Mr. Stoutt rose to prominence by remaining loyal to the VI people, making tough decisions, and inverting the social hierarchy that had largely defined VI politics during his upbringing, said Dr. Angel Smith, a mentee of Mr. Stoutt and the former director of the VI Studies Institute at HLSCC.

When Mr. Stoutt became a member of the Legislative Council in 1957, holding the position of member for works and communication, there was a stark divide between “the elites” who lived in “town,” and the “peasants” who lived in “country,” Mr. Smith said.

“Country people knew their place, and town people reminded them,” he said while giving a comprehensive account of Mr. Stoutt’s political ascent.

When Mr. Stoutt’s most prominent political opponent moved from the countryside to Road Town, citing the difficulty of traversing the roads, he lost favour with many of his “country” constituents, Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Stoutt took a different approach, according to the speaker: He decided to fix the roads.

It was this attitude that propelled Mr. Stoutt to the height of VI politics, Mr. Smith claimed.

His legacy

Mr. Stoutt was the longest serving Caribbean parliamentarian at the time of his death, according to a 1995 obituary in the Independent.

He served five terms as chief minister and helped found the United Party, later splintering off to help start the Virgin Islands Party that leads the territory today.

He also played a major hand in the creation of the Social Security system, the advent of cruise ship tourism, the construction of the Jost Van Dyke fire station, and his namesake college, among many other projects.

Throughout the Monday celebration, interpretive dance troupes, chorus groups, singers, and other performers took to the stage to pay tribute to Mr. Stoutt’s legacy.


Musical tributes

BVI Rise, an a cappella group, sang two songs from The Lion King, both paying homage to strong leadership, and the HLSCC Jazz Band delivered a swinging rendition of Miles Davis’ “So What.”

“I look around the room and I see children who continue our legacy,” said Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, remarking on the talent on display in the college’s auditorium.

‘Let us plant the seeds’

Dr. Wheatley urged attendees to repay Mr. Stoutt’s ambition by cementing similar legacies of their own.

“We all sit in the shade of the trees he has planted,” he said. “Let us not chop down those trees foolishly. Rather, let us plant the seeds that will grow into the trees that will shade future generations. And with God’s help, we will.”