Attendees at the Monday ceremony sing as part of the commemoration of the territory’s first chief minister. (Photo: Tremis Skeete)

On a sunny Monday morning in Cappoons Bay, Virgin Islands leaders and other residents gathered to remember the territory’s first chief minister on the annual public holiday marking his birthday.

As more than 40 attendees looked on and more than 9,000 others watched live on Facebook, politicians and family members of the late H. Lavity Stoutt took turns recounting memories and placing wreaths on his tomb.

Mr. Stoutt was born on March 7, 1929 and would have turned 95 this year. He was a member of the Legislative Council from 1957 until his death in 1995, and he served about 17 years as chief minister starting in 1967.

Laying of wreaths

Mr. Stoutt’s niece Emily George chaired the ceremony, which started with a performance of the national anthem and territorial song by another niece, Shirleen Stoutt.

A third niece, Linett Stoutt- Fahie, laid a wreath on the tomb, as did Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, Opposition Leader Ronnie Skelton, and Junior Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Dr. Karl Dawson.

Each paused briefly in front of the monument, which bears the inscription, “A visionary leader who devoted his life to serving the people of the British Virgin Islands.”

Dr. Dawson said he always looks forward to the annual ceremony.

“It’s important for us to recognise the foundation,” said the legislator, who represents the First District that Mr. Stoutt represented for more than 40 years. “The things that are going to tie us together as a people are going to be our heroes and traditions. And certainly in the BVI, there is no one greater than H. Lavity Stoutt. His contributions in education, economic and social development: He has truly left his mark.”

Dr. Wheatley said honouring his predecessor is part of his administration’s focus on recognising national heroes.

“We’ve introduced national heroes for the first time in the history of the British Virgin Islands, and H.L. Stoutt was one of those national heroes,” the premier said. “The great moderniser of the BVI, and he played such a significant role.

“And we have other national heroes like Theodolph Faulkner, [Isaac] ‘Glanny’ Fonseca, Carlton Decastro, … Noel Lloyd. So it’s important for us to keep the tradition going.”

Leaders and family members laid wreaths on the tomb of H. Lavity Stoutt, the territory’s first chief minister, on Monday. (Photo: Tremis Skeete)
‘Father of progress’

Eileene Parsons, a former government minister, recounted her memories of working for Mr. Stoutt when he was chief minister and she served as secretary at the BVI Tourist Board.

“For me, Mr. Stoutt will always stand out regarding education,” Ms. Parsons said. “He was the one who decided that every child who passed primary five will go on to high school. Before that, it was only a selected few. He was so brilliant. He was the father of progress of this country.”

Also in attendance was Governor Daniel Pruce.

After completing one month in his position, Mr. Pruce said he felt privileged to participate in the ceremony and meet Mr. Stoutt’s relatives.

“H. Lavity Stoutt clearly made an enormous contribution to the territory and leaves a very powerful and lasting legacy,” he said. “It has been an honour to be able to join with those who knew him well and cherish his memory.”

24th year

The commemorative celebration, which is observed on the public holiday held annually on the first Monday in March, is now in its 24th year, according to Peggy Stoutt, Mr. Stoutt’s daughter.

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of Mr. Stoutt’s death.

The ceremony was also attended by several other elected officials, public officers and family members of Mr. Stoutt.