Her ancestors would only have been able to get into Government House as servants. But now it is St Lucia’s own Governor General, Dame Pearlette Louisy, not an emissary from London, who is in charge. Recent decades have seen the revitalisation of Creole communities and culture in places like St. Lucia, Martinique, Seychelles, Mauritius and Dominica. There, activists and leaders are working to reignite interest, especially among the young, and bring them closer to their creole heritage. Dame Pearlette Louisy, St. Lucia’s Governor General, is one such leader who is campaigning for greater respect, recognition and appreciation of the Creole language and culture.
Meet the Dame
Calliopa Pearlette Louisy was born in St. Lucia in the seaside village of Laborie. After her early schooling there, she won a scholarship in 1960 to attend the prestigious St Joseph’s Convent Secondary School. She later studied at the University of the West Indies and then at Laval University in Quebec. She completed her impressive education with a PhD from the UK’s University of Bristol, where she studied the management and provision of tertiary education in small states.
Road to Government House
This highly gifted educator’ s career began with foundation stage teaching at the Laborie Infant School, then at St Jo seph’s Convent Secondary School, before moving to the island’s ‘A’ Level College as a French tutor. When The Sir Arthur Lewis Community College was inaugurated she was appointed Dean of the Division of Arts, Science and General Studies and later Principal. She was at this post when, on 17th September 1997, she was sworn in as Governor General of St. Lucia, becoming the first woman to hold this post. Two years later she was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Her Focus in Office
The post does not come with real power in day-to-day government; even though the holder can appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister. Queen Elizabeth also has this authority in the UK, and, like Dame Pearlette, would not use it at her personal whim and fancy. Instead, she acts strictly within the framework of the Constitution and political and parliamentary structures. So what is really expected? There is not a clear and helpful job-description. Is the Governor General just a ceremonial figurehead trundled out on grand state occasions, who otherwise passes the time pruning roses in the garden? For dynamic Dame Pearlette, that just wouldn’t do. Even if not explicitly spelt out, there are serious expectations; so she can’t just make up the rules as she goes along. Therefore, she has worked with successive Governments to establish procedures and more precisely define operations and roles to enable the Office to make its fullest contribution to good and effective government. She has extended that zeal to the wider Caribbean where she works with her colleague Governors General for that very purpose.
She brought Creole to Parliament
In a country where many people are more comfortable speaking Creole than the official language, English, she was the first Governor General to deliver part of the Throne Speech to Parliament in Creole. Now she regularly uses it in other official speeches; communicating her message not just to elites and English speakers, but the whole country. This has been very popular. Dame Pearlette speaks the language of the people who appreciate her lifelong enthusiasm for and commitment to Creole culture, language and research.
Reaching out to the Creole International
As she reaches out to the Creole world, Dame Pearlette tries to learn from the experience of other countries, like the Seychelles, in promoting Creole culture and language. In Seychelles, students learn English, French, and Creole; and television, radio and newspapers use all three languages. She admires this recognition of Creole in the Seychelles where it is an official language, and is not seen as backward. Speaking of a visit to St. Lucia by a group of representatives from Seychelles, Dame Pearlette recalled how shared Creole, helped them quickly establish a common bond with their St Lucian colleagues; although they were from the other side of the world.
For generations, Government House, from its hillside perch above the capital Castries, has dominated St Lucian life. In colonial times Dame Pearlette’s ancestors, like those of the majority of the population who looked like them, would only have been able to get in as servants. But now it is the girl from the village, not an emissary from London, who is in charge. She sees bringing the Governor General’s office closer to the public as her greatest legacy and ridding it of its aura of remoteness and aloofness from ordinary people. She is very active in public life and in the promotion of education, arts, and culture.
During her 17 years in office, she has become Patron of several service organisations, launched a number of charities and a social education fund providing scholarships to needy students. She actively engages with the young, speaking to and hosting school children at Government House. In recognition of her lifelong commitment to education, a primary school was named after her, in which she takes a keen personal interest. Its students have been performing very well; this year and last year topping the nationwide entrance exams for high school. But ‘The Dame ’, as many affectionately refer to her, also has a lighter side. ‘Her’ school is the only one to be named after a living St Lucian and she recounts how amused she is to hear it sometimes unwittingly called the Dame Pearlette Louisy Memorial. She is too tactful though to point out the error; and also that she is still very much alive. What makes her tick?
Dame Pearlette has changed the public perception of the role of Governor General. However, the continuous public scrutiny is like living in a fishbowl. For a woman, such attention can seem even more intrusive; but she copes well; she is not fazed. Asked how it feels being the first female Governor General she retorts that she cannot compare because “she has never been a male Governor General!” Her sense of humour, warm personality and down-to-earth attitude help the public relate to the office. This is a woman of real influence, who wants the people of St. Lucia to understand the Governor General’s role in promoting their best interests and those of the nation. But, she also has another priority; to promote Creole culture and language. This goal she vows to pursue for as long as she is privileged to hold this high office and beyond.