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Augustus Benjamin Compton (1931 -1998)

Augustus Benjamin Compton (1931 -1998)

Augustus Benjamin Compton

 

Born: 29th November, 1931

Died:  26th August, 1998

He was born Augustus Benjamin Compton on November 29, 1931, to his parents Malings and Bertha Compton, but was affectionately known to all simply as “Gus”.  His mother died when he was only seven years old.   He was raised by his father and aunt Ethel; and thereafter he fostered a lovingly strong relationship with his dedicated step mother, Lunita. He received his primary and secondary education at the Methodist School in Castries, the St. Mary’s College in Vigie and the Grenada Boys Secondary School in Grenada. Later he pursued his studies in International Relations in London, Paris and Geneva. Gus not only received his formal education in these places, but along the way he also made very many life-long friends.

Upon completing his formal education he worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. But his heart was at home in the Caribbean, so despite his many opportunities in Europe, he uprooted and moved back home. In 1969, he accepted an appointment as the Deputy Executive Secretary of the West Indies Associated States (WISA).  In 1971 he was promoted to the position of Executive Secretary and served in that capacity until 1981 when the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) was created to replace WISA At the OECS he served as the Deputy Director General and Director of Administration and Functional Co-operation from 1981 until his retirement in 1996.

Gus was a Caribbean Man in every way.  His love for the region evolved from his early boyhood days when he sailed the Caribbean seas with his father.  By the time he was fifteen years old, he had touched the shores of every Caribbean country from Guyana in the south to Anguilla in the north. Because of his love for the Caribbean and his vision of regional integration, he dedicated himself to working fervently for the region. When he returned to serve his people, he had intimate knowledge of the Caribbean countries because of his boyhood exposure.  He also knew various Caribbean leaders from his youth or University days.  In addition, his University studies in International Relations provided him with the skill and knowledge to fulfill his mission.  He quickly attained the confidence and respect of Caribbean leaders and his colleagues alike. His years at WISA and OECS were years of dedicated service to his Caribbean family about whom he was so very enthused. He also contributed significantly to CARICOM. He will be remembered among other things as a pillar in our Caribbean regional integration.

Gus magnified integration to extend to his personal, social and family associations as well.  He was a true humanitarian exuding genuine love, care, concern and compassion for all mankind.  His love knew no boundaries, neither was it thwarted by preferences of race, class, creed, status or position. He loved everyone, and this indeed was his greatest strength. Tolerance and patience he had in abundance, and he possessed a tremendous capacity to listen and to relate to people.  Arrogance, hypocrisy and selfishness he knew not, instead humility, honesty, and selflessness abounded.  Added “‘-to this he was witty with a good sense of humor. Laughter always surrounded him.  Yet, he was a quiet, simple and extremely private person.  He valued his personal space and privacy and respected that of others as well. Consequently, his family and friends trusted him with their secrets, and always sought advice and counsel of him.  He was a peace-maker, and was thus constantly looked to, to resolve conflicts.  Naturally, he was a people magnet, and through his lifetime was blessed with numerous special and close friends.  He loved his family immensely, and they too loved him one hundred-fold.   He was respected by all who knew him.  His life has left an indelible mark in our lives.   His passing has created a permanent void in our hearts. Yet, in our hearts, he still lives on!

Source: Vertical Files- St. Lucia Biographies, Hunter J. Francois Library, Morne Fortune, Castries, St. Lucia

As we contemplate the death of Augustus Benjamin Compton, it is fitting to reflect on the words of the Prophet from Lebanon, Kahlil Gibran who died at roughly the same period that our beloved brother was born: “Then Almitra spoke, saying, “We would ask now of Death.”

And he said:

You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life? The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one”.

Augustus Compton’s life was bound by the unity of the sea. He surfed his way into life from the salty loins of a distinguished Sea Captain Malings Compton and his school vacations were spent threading the islands of the Caribbean basin from Guyana to Antigua. He sat many an evening in the company of his first cousin, John Compton engulfed by the deafening silence of the sea, watching the mast of some schooner tracing circles in the sky. It was a slow compulsive rhythm with a logic as sure as the mast of the schooner (it might have been the Schooner Albertha Compton), which traced its geometry in the sun. It was strange how the Unity of the Sea impressed its deliberate rhythm on the Unity of the life of Sonny, as he was lovingly called. Sonny was slow and sure-footed, gracious and graceful, silent as the sea and he had the same lazy-lapping warmth of the Caribbean sea as it caressed the shores.

Sonny never knew hardship or indigence or distress. He was cocooned from the meanness and squalor of life by the salt-sea sweat of a father who tended all his needs as Sea Captains tend to do. Bounty and generosity filled in the absences of a sea-faring father. That bounty and generosity became part of the stock-in-trade of Sonny. He was generous and open-handed to a fault and became a magnet for parasitic friends in his students days. He was perceived as soft-hearted and malleable, but in fact he was as tough as tungsten when he firmed on a principle or took a reasoned stand. He was kindly, courteous and gentlemanly and many ladies saw him as a fit object for mothering. Often he ended up fathering.

In the early seventies, he completed his studies in International Relations in England and returned to his country to serve as the Administrative Officer in the Secretariat of the Eastern Caribbean States, known then as the West Indies Associated States. It was there that Augustus Compton displayed his nautical tradition. He became the sheet anchor of the Secretariat. He had a penchant for organisational detail and was painstakingly thorough in everything he did. He was disciplined, methodical and serious. He worked like a magpie securing and storing every bit of information and documentation in anticipation of the day when it would be needed to solve some knotty problem or inform some ministerial decision making. Gus became the institutional memory of the integration movement of the Eastern Caribbean, serving many Heads of Government and Ministers with a loyalty and dedication which span the better part of a quarter century. During that long spell of service the threaded the Caribbean Islands, crisscrossing the Caribbean Sea by aeroplanes mirroring the schooner flights of his salad days.

Gus Compton was a familiar figure in Government Conferences all over the Caribbean and many Heads of Government depended on the quiet, incisive perception of this quiet-centred man in times of political storm. He would know if to slacken the main-sail or tighten the Gib of the Ship of State. Gus was as confidential as a confessional, the absolute soul of discretion and a willing life-line to shipwrecked souls.

He married the beautiful Leah Nyack from Grenada in 1963, but thisenjoyable union ended in divorce some eleven years later. He has a quiver full of children Nicholas, Hans, David, Jacqueline, Patrice, Lorraine, Trevor, Glen, Nicole, Anthony, Brent and Germaine, and most of them were present at his bedside lovingly stroking him and praying for his safe passage to eternity. The bounty and love which he had cast freely on the waters of life came back to him tenfold in the almost monumental dedication and care of his constant companion for the last twenty years, Marilyn Fricot, who was at his bedside at the time of his passing. His family mourned, and grieved and wept in his last moments.

But “what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”

Those of us who were fortunate enough to share a life, a friendship or a slice of life with Augustus Compton know his quiet dignity, his broad humanity, his subtle humour and his deep concern for the amelioration of the human condition. Let us hope that he encounters God’s bounty and God’s mercy unencumbered.

“Only when you drink form the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance”.

Let us sing and dance our hymns of praise in celebration of the life of Au9ustus Benjamin Compton.

May he Rest in Peace.

Prepared by: George Odlum

Delivered by: Primrose Bledman

Source: Vertical Files- St. Lucia Biographies, Hunter J. Francois Library, Morne Fortune, Castries, St. Lucia

Augustus Benjamin Compton, known more familiarly as Gus, was a man of great generosity. He was generous with his knowledge and generous with his time.

In saying this, I well recall the first day on which I came to work at the OECS Secretariat in July of 1982. Gus had been the Executive Secretary, the Head, of the Secretariat of the West Indies Associated States Council of Ministers (WISA), established by the Windward and Leeward Islands Heads of Governments after there seemed, in the 1960’s no further possibility of Federation in these parts. When WISA was dissolved to make way for the OECS Secretariat, I was appointed it’s Director General and Gus Director of Administration and Functional Cooperation, in effect my deputy.

I Myself, though an academic specialist and advisor on international affairs, was a relative novice in the realm of practical diplomacy. As I got into work, and after I had made my acquaintances with the small staff, he took me to his room where I found a series of files laid out. He explained that I needed to be properly briefed. “Take some time”, he said “and go through these files and then we will talk”. I then found what was to become a custom throughout the years of our professional association: that he had meticulously prepared the documentation, and had obviously spent much time ordering it, so that one who was coming to deal with these matters for the first time would have the minimum difficulty in coming to terms with them.

That thoroughness, and unselfish willingness to assist I was to find to be continually characteristic of Gus. He was, of course, a professional diplomatist, having received a thorough training in the fields of International Relations and International Law in London and Paris. He often laughed when the joke was made, that his desire was really to study medicine, but that during a short preliminary stint at Victoria Hospital, he found that he could not stand the sight of blood. He laughed, but never actually, in a way characteristic of himself, confirmed the story. But we took its truth for granted, and concluded that medicine’s loss had become regional diplomacy’s undoubted gain.

Gus’s somewhat carefree and hail-fellow-well-met approach to social life hid from many people who only knew him in those settings, the thorough and detailed knowledge that he had of his chosen discipline. He had well-developed and considered views and judgements of the variety of issues in international relations: in technical terms, he took a position of realism, was something of a believer in geopolitics, and an absolute believer in precedent as a guide to future practice. This made him look a little cautious sometimes in his approach to various issues as they developed in our region, but I found that it served as a useful brake on some of us younger, and less temperate, associates at the Secretariat anxious to solve problems in quick time.

Gus had a particular love for International Law, and I believe that it is probably fair to say that in the early years of Windward and Leeward Islands regional activity, he may have been the only real local advisor in this field readily available to the political directorate. He had in fact prepared (and written in French) a doctoral thesis on the Guatemala-Belize territorial dispute long before this became a burning issue in the Region. He seems never to have felt that it was perfect enough for presentation, and even when I sought to encourage him to let our University’s Institute of International Relations have a copy so that it could be of benefit to the students there, he took the view that it was by then outdated and needed to be revised.

In this field of International Law he quietly gave advice to many. He had adopted a particular interest in the law of civil aviation, and was much leaned on by the OECS Directorate of Civil Aviation for his knowledge. He worked hard to sustain the survival of LIAT through all its troubles, and played an important part in the creation of LIAT(1974)) Ltd. I became aware too, that when the private airline St. Lucia Airways collapsed, and a group of young men wanted to use their experiences to start a new local airline (now known as HelenAir) he gave of his advice free, gratis and for nothing.

That was Gus . He was a man of public service par excellence. I often asked why he did not offer himself in the burgeoning consultancy business in the Region. But I had the feeling that he thought this to be a somewhat dubious profession consisting of persons who presented on reams and reams of paper matters that could dealt with in a few pages – the amount of paper corresponding to the size of their fees. For he also liked simplicity and brevity of language, was a first class craftsman of statements and communiques, and a severe editor of he work of others at the secretariat.

At the OECS Secretariat when I joined him there, I found a small, committed and intensely loyal staff. Those who knew Gus well, know that he seems always to inspire a deep trust and loyalty in those with whom he worked. I believe that, that solidarity, which we sought to continue in future years, was in some large measure responsible for the reputation that the Secretariat developed later in the Region. He was loyal to his staff, and his staff loyal to him, and the staff understood, through his example, that that loyalty should be transferred to the new leadership. I mention this because in public affairs, loyalty and discretion go together and are necessary to the effective practice of diplomacy; and because in today’s cynical world, loyalty is seen by so many of the up-and-coming to be a sort of sin or vice. Gus never made that mistake, and it was clear to any observer of the regional scene that he earned the complete trust of his employers – the political directorate – in what ever political or ideological colour they came over the years.

On a personal level, I knew Gus since I was a very young boy, since we lived for some years two doors away from each other on the Chaussee Road. But given the age difference between us, we could in no way be said to have been friends or temporaries. I admired, as a young schoolboy, his capabilities at football, and gazed over the fence on many Bank Holidays, as he and his friends boisterously assembled on the Chaussee or at Hildreth Sanchez’s home nearby. I could see even then, what was not secret: that he loved life and the good life.

He and I, I believe became firm and fast friends over the years after my return to St. Lucia. He became, for me, a confidant, assisting me to make decisions in many areas of personal and professional life even after I had left the Secretariat. For this I was, and shall remain, extremely grateful. In the day-to-day sense, of course, I saw less of him in very recent years than I had in the past. We often joked that the Secretariat had become his home. And I had the feeling, that Secretariat work and his personal life having merged to such an extent over the years, he felt somewhat lost when he was constrained to retire from regional public service.

Those who knew him as a worker, knew that he gave of his all. The sub-region must be indebted to him for the way, in his quiet way, that he helped to put together the foundations of our integration effort. He never sang his own praises, never blew his own trumpet. But we must do so now.

In closing, I wish to extend on behalf of my family and myself, our sincere condolences to all of Gus’s family, and especially to Marilyn, who, in the years that I have been recently acquainted with Gus has been with him through thick and thin, and to all the children.

May his soul Rest in Peace

By Vaughan A. Lewis

Source: Vertical Files- St. Lucia Biographies, Hunter J. Francois Library, Morne Fortune, Castries, St. Lucia

 

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