COMMENTARY: Remembering Mike Douglas

Mike Douglas

The milestone of the 20th anniversary of his death (April, 30th 2012), is an opportunity to reflect on the life of Mike Douglas, a man who will long be remembered for his scintillating oratory; his role in rescuing Ross University; his struggles for the poor and downtrodden and his mission to revitalize the forces of Labour following the Freedom party landslide of 1980.

Mike was a faithful son, father and national hero. His efforts would have gone nowhere, but for the rock solid love and nurturing of his wife, Olive “Nurse” Douglas who served the poor and the sick with great compassion and skill, while her husband exercised a brand of mesmerizing political wizardry. Though political life can be bruising on any family construct, he loved all his children and gave them the best he had: an example of a Dominican patriot.

Mike Douglas was the most brilliant debater of his generation.  The book In Search of Eden by Gabriel Christian and Irvin Andre sums it up best: “Mike’s oratory exuded the persuasive logic of [his father] R.B. Douglas; the irrepressible wit of John Showline;  the bravado of A.B. Hector; the assertiveness of John Royer and the nonchalance of Isaiah John.” His superb oratory was most in evidence in parliament during the 1980-85 period when -singlehandedly and fearlessly – he took the fight to the Freedom Party Government when the Labour party was at its weakest.

Mike was also a brilliant platform speaker. His presentations combined serious issues with humour in English and Creole. In the campaign for the 1975 General Election, Mike taunted the opposition: “We shall confound their politics, frustrate their dirty tricks and give them endless licks.”

Mike served with distinction in cabinet, promoting the sale of Dominica’s citrus to the UK, with his “Grapefruit the Great Fruit” campaign. A graduate in production engineering during his sojourn in the UK, and a competent technocrat, his stints in the Ministries of Agriculture, Communications and Works and Finance were well regarded.

Following his dismissal as a Minister in the Patrick John Government in 1978, he held 40 meetings across Dominica where he exposed the corrupt and dishonest activities of the Patrick John/Leo Austin dictatorship and the lack of democracy within the Labour Party and cabinet. Mike was also at the forefront of the campaign to force the John Government to cancel the Free Port Agreement, an arrangement that would have created a state within a state with the investors having their own police force, port facilities and utility arrangements.

Having served with honour in the Royal Air Force in trouble spots such as Cyprus and Aden, he brought his wisdom to the table during the tumult following the bloody events of May 29, 1979. His stalwart support for a constitutional settlement to the crisis via the Committee of National Salvation ensured that the rule of law, not brute force, became the mark of governance in Dominica. His diplomacy after that divisive crisis was such that he was able to weld the Dominican left into the fold of the old Labour Party.

He championed the struggles of the working class of Dominica and was on the side of banana famers, lighter men, women banana carriers, students, the homeless and the unemployed. He continued the relationship with Cuba, started by the Popular Independence Committees of Rosie Douglas, and so allowed for the scholarship programme with that country to flourish.

Though an opponent of the Freedom Party administration of Eugenia Charles, he urged the disclosure by Algie Maffie of the 1981 Operation Red Dog mercenary plot. That scheme to invade Dominica and topple the island’s government by US Nazi Party and KKK sympathizers was thwarted. But for the wise intervention of Mike, Rosie and Maffie, many Dominicans would have lost their lives.

Championing the vision of a reconstituted Dominica Labour Party from the mid-1980s, Mike diligently laid the structure for a disciplined party with a strong focus on good governance and transparency. He believed that Dominicans should control the natural resources of the state; that every Dominican should own a piece of the “rock.” In his last interview, though stricken with cancer, he called on Dominicans with these words: “Pa quitay yo por Domnik hod nou! “[Don’t let them take Dominica from us].

The Labour Party’s present constitution which describes the Labour party as a Democratic Socialist organization was largely the work of Mike.  He identified a committed team of players who worked tirelessly towards the eventual goal of victory at the polls, achieved finally in January, 2000.

Mike unambiguously outlined the foreign policy position of the Labour party.  At the party’s convention in 1986 he quoted from his party’s constitution which states that the party will “follow an independent policy of non-alignment and resist becoming a satellite of other nations.” Referring to the United States, Britain, Cuba and the Soviet Union, Mike concluded: “But we shall not become a toy of any one of them or a puppet of any one of them.”

Mike passionately believed that every Dominican, irrespective of their background should be given the opportunity to succeed and promoted the socio-economic fairness concept “All Shall Eat”. In an address to labourities at Portsmouth in 1986, he said: “Not some shall eat but ‘All Shall Eat’.”

Though he lost two general elections as leader of the Labour party, in 1985 and 1990, in the town of Portsmouth, Mike was unbeatable. He first won the Portsmouth seat in the March 1975 General Elections. He famously beat Charles Savarin in three consecutive general elections with increased majorities at each election.

It was Mike Douglas who very early saw the economic potential of Ross University. He rescued the struggling institution at Castaways and persuaded Robert Ross to move the School to Portsmouth. Leading figures in the Freedom Party Government including the Minister for Health and senior medical professionals in Dominica did not see Ross University at that time as a legitimate medical institution. Mike was instrumental in making it possible for Ross University to establish itself at Picard.

In his contribution to the debate on the 1980-1981 Budget Address, Mike stated: “Ross University spells economic development to the people of Portsmouth.” Today Ross University is the largest offshore medical school in the world employing several hundred Dominicans.

The role of Mike in securing land in Chance for housing expansion in the Town of Portsmouth must also be revisited.  It was Mike as a Minister of Government who ensured that 35 acres of land at Sugar Loaf Estate was acquired.

Mike encouraged poor landless people to move into Chance. An abiding memory of Mike Douglas was when he stood in front of bulldozers and the police to prevent the removal of homeless persons who he had encouraged to squat on state lands in Chance from being evicted. In the end the Freedom Party government retreated. This was to mark the beginning of the mass movement of people into Chance.

Mike Douglas was part of the multi-party negotiating team that travelled to London in 1977 to hold discussions on crafting the post-independence constitution for Dominica. Along with Rosie and the Popular Independence Committees, he supported and campaigned for political independence for Dominica.

On this the 20th anniversary of his death, the contribution of Mike Douglas should command our attention. Apart from his tangible achievements, Mike also possessed very important qualities. He was a man of self-confidence, keen intellect, and the team ethic. He was also humble enough to listen to the man on the ground. He was accessible and kind. He abhorred arrogance and accepted constructive criticism. His brand of political activism shunned personal hatred, blind allegiance to party over country, or the cult of political idolatry. When asked what he wanted his legacy to be, he said: “to make Dominica a place where every man and woman possesses the tools to earn a decent living.”

His style of leadership and the value system he espoused should be elevated to the forefront of discussion and debate. His being made for a better Dominica; his service was not in vain. May we always remember him.

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28 Comments

  1. D'can By Marriage
    May 1, 2012

    Judging from all that is said about Him Michael Douglas is the epitome of what all politicians should aspire to. He praised his opponents when they did well in the best interest of DOMINICA(not themselves)…Its a pity that the new crop of politicians can’t model their behaviour after this great Dominican Son…Maybe its a good time to start the debate of changing the name Portsmouth to Douglas Town…..I hope all Politicans and supporters across the board can agree with me. Mike you had a vision and its only now its been recognised

    Rest In Eternal Peace Michael

  2. Anonymous
    April 30, 2012

    I will remember him as a superb orator. A teenager at the time although II didn’t support his party I looked froward to his debates in the house, tinged with wit, humor and intellect.always throwing in the patois or slang. He was brilliant

  3. I die nah!
    April 30, 2012

    oh boy, he looks so much like tiyani

  4. lawyer
    April 30, 2012

    He was a dear friend

  5. Eh-heh
    April 30, 2012

    Brilliant writing in this article!

  6. concern
    April 30, 2012

    RIP MIKE. IF YOU WERE ALIVE DDMINICANS WOULD STILL PRESURE YOU BECAUSE THEY ARE NEVER SATISFIED WITH WHO AND WHAT THEY HAVE.MIKE GOD KNOW HOW THEY WOULD TREAT YOU IN DOMINICA EVEN THOUGH YOU FIGHT FOR THEM. DOMINICANS ARE VERY UNGRATFUL AND UNAPPRECIATED. THEY LIKE TO COMPLAIN AT EVERY LITTLE THING. IF MIKE HAVE TO COME BACK DOMINICAN WILL NO TREAT HIM BETTER JUST CHECK HOW ARE THEY TREATING THE PM THAT IS TAKING DOMINICA TO A NEXT LEVEL WATCH THE ROADS ect.. AND THEY STILL WANT TO KILL HIM. BUT I FIND SKERRO STILL STRONG THEY HAVN’T KILL HIM AS YET. PAPAMET ALLYOU DUMINICAN NOT EZ. LORD PROTECT THEM EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE WICKED AMEN.

  7. Morihei Ueshiba
    April 30, 2012

    Ian if u have any dignity left resign now stop making your father turn in his grave… 8-O

  8. Indian River
    April 30, 2012

    People wondering why the DLP to include the son of Mike did not even take the lead in recognizing Mike Douglas- here is my take. The current DLP is NOT a true representation of the ideals of the labor party. What we have are imposters using the name Labor to pursuit their personnal agenda. Some have become hefty rich under the banner of labor Party. I am too old a cat to be fooled by blatant imposters. I would need space for an article to expose all the imposters. It is no secrete that the imposters posing as Laborites have all worn different cloaks and were all hard core opponents of the Dominica labor Party.

    I am not a UWP fan but at least the UWP deed something in honor of Mike Douglas – they built and named the Roadway from Glanvillia to Portsmouth the Mike Douglas BLVD. They also named the Dame Eugenia BLVD which was built by the dame herself. I always thought those gestures by the UWP to be noble and classy. Ian as far as I am concerned, never been a leader. Mike knew that very well so much so that he never designated responsibility to Ian.

  9. Mike Boulevard
    April 30, 2012

    It was on Q95 with Angelo Allen that Dominicans were reminded of the life and death of Mike Douglas. His own son, Minister of Tourism, Ian Douglas, must have forgotten. That tells us alot of the character of that son.

    Skerritt and the DLP Govt. also forgot the tireless work of Mike in reviving the DLP. Now they are in Govt,. in power, enjoying Mike’s hard work, who cares about remembering his legacy?

    The Mike Douglas Boulevard built by the previous UWP Govt., is the only significant reminder of praise for Mike’s work and a fitting one at that. Should Dominicans be surprised that neither Mike’s son, Ian Douglas, nor the DLP remebered to say anything? Check the sort of treatment some members of the Douglas family as well as many, many Dominicans, many labourites at that, have gone through and faced with?

    Check the fall outs. Check the pressures and subsequent fall outs with the DLP Govt. re. at least three of them (Douglas) who dared express their views genuinely. What wrong have they done to merit such backlashes? The calypsonian reminds some among us to, “Come and get back your conscience.”

    • Meeee
      April 30, 2012

      “It was on Q95 with Angelo Allen that Dominicans were reminded of the life and death of Mike Douglas.”

      Are you mad? Angelo was reading from DNO which published the article at 6:30 am. Plus the article was published in the Chronicle over the weekend. So how comes is Allen that reminded Dominicans of Mike’s death?

      Get your facts straight.

  10. Porssie Ranger
    April 30, 2012

    I had the opportunity to drive from Portsmouth to Roseau with Mike Douglas . I learned quite a bit from Mike Douglas during that slow drive to Roseau. I recall that red, burgundy Subaru. Mike Douglas revealed his most sincere opinion about the hen Euginia Charles Freedom Party administration. As a young man from Portsmouth embroiled in the Portsmouth Labor syndrome What Mike revealed to drastically changed my perception of politics. I realized that Mike was no different than Marlone Brando, Clint Eastwood or Stallone. Mike was an actor who mastered political theatrics. He knew very well how to manipulate situations to suit his political career. I was most surprised when Mike revealed to me that he thought the Freedom Party was doing an incredible job for the country. In fact his words were “ Eugenia was the best person for the country.” I pondered upon this moment for years – why did Mike say that to me ? It took a few years for me to understand the reason why Mike Said what he said – He knew how to flip the script; he was very good at analyzing his audience.

    Those who knew him know that Mike Douglas held no grudges; Mike would hammer you on the platform and tomorrow he would hug you around the shoulder and laugh. A great orator who was able to utilize the political platform to render his opposing act in the form of stand up comedy. There is this famous line in during parliament where Mike Douglas warned Alleyne Carbon that he had seen two tiny little holes on the newly rehabilitated West coast road. When Marrie Davis Pierre told him what was his point he said “ Madame speaker tiny holes can become big holes”. The entire parliament went up in laughter to include Mike himself. It was on this drive to Roseau that I realized that two people that Mike really admired was Euginia and Alleyne Carbon. He admired Alleyne Carbon for his work ethics , his humble background; He admired Eugenia’s leadership

  11. April 30, 2012

    WHAT A SHAME IAN NOT EVEN YOU SAW IT TO RECOGNIZE YOUR FATHER AS A GOOD LEADER ,ROLE MODEL AND POLITICAIN.
    TELL ME WHAT DOES THIS SAY TO THE PEOPLE YOU SAY YOUR REPRESENT ,THE LABOURITES,THE DOMINICA PUBLIC AND THE WORLD.AM VERY MUCH TAKEN BACK THAT IS ANGELO ON GOOD MORNING THAT HAD TO OPEN MY EYE THIS MORNING.COME ON IAN THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN A BIG DAY IN P/MOUTH.IS NOT TO LATE TO REMOVE THE SHAME A IMPLEMT SOME KIND OF FOUNTION.

    • concerned
      April 30, 2012

      Mike was a role model to his children. Ian has to do as he feels best. Ian can and will never be a next Mike. Ian has to plant his own seed. Being the son of such a brillant man is not easy and the burden is heavy. It is good that Angelo remembered this role model.Ian knows and don’t need the public to remind him. today is a sad day for him.missing our dear love ones is very hard and could only bring tears. Why don’t you start the fondation and then things will follow?

    • Anonymous
      April 30, 2012

      Ian is damned if he says anything and also damned if he remains silent.

      We are all thinking of the politician Michael Douglas was but today for Ian and his family is a remembrance of the father, husband, uncle and brother who is no longer with them.

      Give Ian a break as he reflects on the huge influence that he lost at an age in his life when a father’s influence mattered most.

  12. Anonymous 2
    April 30, 2012

    These things should be taught in every single history class in Dominica. this is Dominican history and our children should have the opportunity to learn about them. it’s time we teach Dominican history because there is a lot to be learnt

  13. Reader
    April 30, 2012

    Even school children say so, “Is Mike we like”.

    I pray that we raise a generation of God fearing and patriotic men and women who will serve with honor and dignity as the late Michael Douglas. May he rest in peace!

  14. April 30, 2012

    In Memory of my Mentor and former Parliamentary Representative and fellow Portsmouthian I am must say may your memeories forever lived on. You showed the people of Dominica that politics were not for the faint at heart. I remembered your days in Parliament as the lone soldier. We the people of Portsmouth satyed by your side and stood with you through thick and thin. We loved to hate you but you steered the course. You will be forever be remembered for that. Thanks for the little development we got in Portsmouth from the Government of the day. To those of us who were there and will always remember the encounter at chance. The bebate for Ross University moving to Portsmouth. We say Thanks. May your soul rest in Eternal Peace and may your memories live on.

  15. Mike Fan
    April 30, 2012

    May his soul continue to RIP. Mike i still like. The greater orator in Dominican Politics ever.

  16. April 30, 2012

    Mike said he wanted and I quot ” TO MAKE DOMINICA A PLACE WHERE EVERY MEN AND WOMAN POSSESSES THE TOOLS TO EARN A DECENT LIVING ..
    Can we as DOMINICANS in all honesty say that is what’s happening in DOMINICA today.

  17. joe
    April 30, 2012

    Maximum Respect to the Big Man from Portsmouth, i am sounding the Call for a Statue to be placed in Portsmouth in remebrance of our hero

  18. Mahaut.
    April 30, 2012

    Thank you Mike for all you did to uplift Dominica and not just yourself.
    My your soul rest in peace.

    • forkit
      April 30, 2012

      dat was de only douglas with balls…..

      • real
        April 30, 2012

        ROSIE had balls too, or are you so quick to forget.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0
  19. Honesty
    April 30, 2012

    Thanks Mike for the “little” that you did for Portsmouth!!!

    • PossieStone
      May 1, 2012

      Hold up hold up hold up!! Ross being in Portsmouth is Mike fighting for it. Ordinary Famers owning the land around Ross is Mike fighting for it, and Chance being the new town it is today owned by ordinary people is Mike fighting for it. Those are big things!! So watch what you saying when you come withyour “little”.. FRESH!!!

  20. DA IN NY
    April 30, 2012

    PLEASE GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT

  21. zor
    April 30, 2012

    Great! However I must note that we should teach patois in schools! It should be part of the school curriculum. I said this because the author’s patois writing skills isn’t entirely correct. The sentence should read: “Pa kité yo pon Domnik hòd nou” Patois has no letter ‘q’

  22. fertine
    April 30, 2012

    TO ADMIN.

    Please note the following minor correction to the historical facts in paragraph four (4) of this commentary. The quote “We will confound their………licks ” attributed to Mike was in fact made by the then parliamentary representave for Colihaut Ferdinand Parillon. The occasion was not during the 1975 election campaign. It was at “old” Labour Party Convention at the Newtown Savannah some time between 1976 and 1978.
    Thanks

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