“We are surrounded by unlimited opportunities for self-education.
The real challenge is our personal response to this exposure, and our passion to get ahead in life”
Retool or Rust (2007, by Dr. L. Earle Johnson)
Major L. Earle Johnson
Commandant Dominica Defense Force
Commandant Dominica Cadet Corps
Director, Dominica Regional Youth Camp at Londonderry
Agricultural Extension Officer by Profession
Amidst the doom, gloom, and uncertainty attendant to the COVI 19 Pandemic, I received a box of written material, mementos, and historical material from one Lyndon Earle Johnson in April 2020. In our time at the Dominica Grammar School in the early 1970s, we knew him simply as “Major” as he was the commandant of the Dominica Cadet Corps. But he was more than that. Indeed, when one recites his seldom heralded contributions to Dominica’s progress, his true badge of honor is that of: Nation Builder!
The Major was born on December 19, 1939, at Roseau, Dominica. His mother was Eulie Anastasia Defoe nee LaRocque, a seamstress; and his father was Stanley Johnson, a joiner of Antiguan ancestry. Educated at the Dominica Grammar School, Earle Johnson graduated in agriculture from the Eastern Caribbean Farm Institute at Centeno, which fell under the aegis of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA). Johnson joined the public service on January 1, 1960, until his resignation in 1978. A qualified agriculturist, he served for seven years as Director of the Dominica Regional Youth Camp at Londonderry, and at the time of his resignation was General Manager of the Dominica Marketing Board. During his last years on island, Johnson served as President of the Dominica Association for Industry and Commerce. Major Johnson migrated to the United States where he later earned his DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) from California Coastal University. While in the United States Johnson has remained dutiful to Dominica by serving in the leadership of the South Florida Association of Dominicans (SOFAD), a civic development-oriented organization. SOFAD once brought the local WCK bouyon music band to a US tour. He is the author of an exquisitely written part memoir/part motivational text Retool or Rust (Dr. Lyndon Earle Johnson, Xlibris Press, 2007)
To assess the contributions of nation builders such as Johnson, one must first establish the criteria by which that designation should be given. What must a nation-builder do? They must do as follows: Education – provide people with the tools to be productive in life; Inspiration – they must be able to inspire a society to commit, volunteer, and contribute to improving the society within which they live. Opportunities – they must provide practical tangible opportunities in the work of nation-building to all people, especially young people, to show what should be done and how it can be done.
In summary, Major Johnson’s nation-building became known to our generation primarily through his service as director of the Dominica Regional Youth Camp at Londonderry. That facility, which was unique in the subregion, was a training school for men and women in agriculture, animal husbandry, automobile maintenance, plumbing, construction engineering and electrical systems maintenance. Designed to train young people from across the British territories of the Eastern Caribbean, Dominica eventually came to foot the bill; hence the origin of most of the students. Some of the barracks such as Sisserou and Whistler, (which we used as cadets during our summer camps) were constructed by the students themselves. The students tended to their own cattle, chicken, and pigs; they also grew much of the food they ate.
Curiously enough, and by a strange twist of fate, Johnson’s qualifications as a professional agriculturist, and his military background made him the prime candidate and specific choice of then-Premier E. O. Leblanc to head the pioneering efforts at the Dominica Regional Youth Camp. Camp Londonderry was built and developed from scratch, with the only guidance coming from preceding Youth Camp Projects in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the governments of which placed their experts at the disposal of the project without reservation. The camp developed rapidly and well. It was a labor of love and unreserved adventurism.
Aside from having its own cadet unit, the Londonderry Youth Camp had its own steel band. Formed on September 1, 1972, the Londonderry Steel Harmonettes was greeted with thunderous applause at the 1972 Dominica National Day Steel Band Competition. In 1974 the Harmonettes produced what may well be the first locally produced LP record. During those 1970s summer camps, the cadets from the Dominica Grammar School and St. Mary’s Academy (the only other cadetting schools on island in that time) were inspired by the cogs of industry which animated the camp. We would sit at long tables, in a spotlessly clean modern kitchen area, dining on locally grown produce – apart from the notorious powdered eggs. At night-time, prior to taking leave to visit the village of Wesley in mufti, we would listen to the Londonderry Harmonettes Steelband at practice. With our young faces cooled by the steady breeze coming off the nearby Atlantic, and fireflies dancing in the night, we would be serenaded by the melodious metallic notes of the young Londonderry steel band players plinking at their pans.
Camp Londonderry also had its own home-grown Jazz Band – a seven (7) man band called the Londonderry Combo. That band became so professional that they were hired out regularly to play at dances in the villages of Marigot and Wesley, and the town of Portsmouth. The well-known calypsonian Lily was a member of the Londonderry Combo.
Today many Dominicans, at home and abroad, involved in construction, automobile maintenance, and those plying the vocation of plumber and/or electrician, learnt their trades at the Londonderry Youth Camp.
Aside from his role as Youth Camp Director, Johnson successfully advocated for the revival of the Dominica Defense Force (DDF) in 1966. The DDF had gone defunct during World War II as most of its members, led by D.K. Burton, Sergeant Gerald Morris Clarke, and others, joined the regular British Army. The DDF made many worthy contributions in disaster relief and protection of public safety during its almost thirteen years of revival. Johnson had left command of the force by 1972. Regrettably, the DDF was disbanded in 1980 by Prime Minister Charles Dominica Freedom Party over its inability to properly maintain its arsenal (some of its weapons ended up in the hands of a band of Dreads in the mountains). There were also issues attendant to its perceived loyalty to the Dominica Labour Party which had lost the 1980 general election.
In the 1980s Major Johnson displayed his passion for civic duty and volunteerism. He was at the spearhead of the Rotary Club movement, both at home and in the extended Caribbean Rotary District. It was an era in which the Rotary Club of Dominica hosted herculean fundraisers such as the hugely successful Donkey Derby competitions at the Windsor Park, established a Blood Bank and built and donated a Psychiatric Unit to the Princess Margaret Hospital. The Rotary Club even went commercial when it established and developed a Timbers Project (Rotary Can-Do Timbers Ltd.) in conjunction with a Canadian Rotary Club.
To appreciate the pioneering spirit of Earle Johnson one must look back on his transition from Public (Civil) Servant to Business Entrepreneur. It was around 1978 when, recognizing that his time in Government Service had run its course, Johnson decided to pursue one of his dreams of establishing Dominica’s first fast foods service. Under the auspices of his newly registered company, Jaws Enterprises Limited, he started what became known as Jaws Snack Bar and Kabaway Club in Old Market Square in Roseau. It was an instant hit, as for the first time ever patrons could sit down in a café-style setting and order a snack to either eat in or take out.
A few years later he introduced JawsCream, a brand of ice cream which had more than its fair share of followers, who reveled in the sweet and silky sensation of local flavors such as guava, soursop, and coconut, which they could watch being manufactured right before their very eyes.
But the spirit of entrepreneurship and pioneering did not stop there. In short order, over a period of ten years, Johnson established Playworld. This was a risky venture, designed to make toys and educational paraphernalia available to kids year-round. Prior, the only time boys and girls were expected to have new toys was at Christmas time. But the bold and fearless Johnson pioneered on. His thinking was: “if it can be done in Puerto Rico, or Barbados, or Trinidad and Tobago, then why not here”. So, for the first time ever, a parent could walk into a local toy store in April or July and buy that coveted item for their child. If a bicycle was needed you could find it there. Johnson’s joy came from seeing the excited children rub their noses against the show windows as they dreamed of acquiring their next special toy come Christmas. Such ventures in commerce by the Major brought fun, excitement, and novelty to the average consumer.
Then there was Visions Advertising, a public relations and advertising agency, which designed and produced the many logos and business visuals that are now so popular in Dominica today. This was essentially a joint venture between Johnson and Guyanese born Harry Gill, a renowned graphic expert. The agency created some of the better advertisements of that era for companies like the DCP, Belfast Estates, J. Astaphan & Co Ltd, and Raffouls.
Visions Advertising also became quite reputable for the publication and printing of the annual Carnival Magazine, and the annual Reports for such reputable firms and agencies like the Dominica Social Security, National Commercial Bank, The Roseau Co-operative Credit Union, and Domlec. In 1988, the year of Reunion, Johnson was commissioned to design and produce Dominica’s first Visitor’s Information Handbook, which featured Carnival Queen Julienta Coipel on the cover.
An entrepreneur at heart, the Major went on to start Golden Fried Chicken in 1981. Golden Fried was the product of Dominican self-confidence, and pride in local ownership of the enterprise. This was a challenging joint venture with Norris Prevost of By Trinee and Antilles Cement Ltd fame. These two like-minded entrepreneurs were convinced that it was time to introduce the KFC concept of Fried Chicken into Dominica. However, both men have travelled extensively abroad understood that Dominica’s limited population density might not be able to bear the high cost of acquiring a KFC franchise at that time.
Following extensive research, the two entrepreneurs determined that utilizing the very same concept of KFC that they could create a local fried chicken concept, unique to Dominica with success. It was a bold gamble, which their bankers gave a 50/50 chance of success.
The Golden Fried chicken product was encrusted with a special herbal seasoning that surpassed that of the Kentucky Fried Chicken that is on island today. The first modern fast food restaurant of its kind, Golden Fried Chicken was located at the corner of Kennedy Avenue and Great George Street. In short order, Golden Fried became the night-time hang-out for young and old, who engaged in consuming the finger-licking chicken to their hearts delight.
In the realms of social responsibility and community outreach, Johnson’s commitment to Rotary International and Rotary Service should not go unnoticed. He has the distinct honor of being the Charter and First president of the Rotary Club of Dominica, which was formally established in 1974. The contributions of Rotary International to the development of Dominica are well documented.
In his almost 50 years of Rotary Service Johnson is a Past District Governor with the distinct privilege of having led three (3) unique Rotary Group Exchange (GSE)Teams. In 1977 he led a GSE Team to Washington State in the USA and British Columbia in Canada. This team included Jefferson Joseph, a professional insurance agent from Dominica. In 1991 he led a GSE Team to Australia. This team included the now-famous Major Francis E. Richards (abwell regarded cadet officer of the pre-independence Dominica Cadet Corps who spearheaded the revival of the cadet program in 2000), who at the time of his selection was a food products research specialist with the Government of Dominica. And finally, since migrating to the USA, he was selected to lead a GSE Team to India in 2009. (A Rotary GSE Mission involves the selection and chaperoning of five (5) specially screened young business professionals to spend a period of 4-6 weeks touring another country, and to enable their exposure and interaction with comparable professions, so that they could return to their homelands better equipped to face the challenges of their chosen careers. At least two other Dominicans have benefitted from this highly acclaimed program. They are well-known business entrepreneur and former senator Norris Prevost, and insurance specialist Solange Bellot Magloire.)
Johnson is currently an Active Member in the Rotary Club of South Lake County, in Clermont, Florida, USA. From which vantage point he continues to support many of the Dominica projects related to Rotary and the Dominica Cadet Corps. Throughout the years the Major has made tangible donations of musical instruments for the Cadet Corps of Drums and sports equipment for schools. When Hurricane Maria struck Dominica, he was instrumental in personally raising thousands of dollars, through Rotary towards the hurricane relief funds. In the aftermath he was somewhat influential in a first-ever visit to Dominica by a sitting President of Rotary International, who wanted to see firsthand how Rotary International could assist in Dominica’s recovery efforts.
Major Johnson was a force of nature; zealous in guiding us and urging us on to excel. He was meticulous in dress, refined in speech and finessed in his use of the English language. We did not always appreciate his iron-clad discipline in approach. Such was the case when the Dominica Cadet Band staged a mini rebellion at the 1974 summer camp at Londonderry over being each fed a boiled green banana in salt water at one breakfast, accompanied by a cup of cold sugar water. Some of us, including myself, scrambled around the lime trees on the compound to find limes to squeeze into the sugar water to make a reasonable lime squash. To this day, we are unsure whether the Major was testing the mettle of the mostly Roseau bred boys in the band; accustom as we were to the niceties of bread, butter, and cheese. Johnson had Band Major Francis Richards drill us to his billet where he strode out, ramrod straight in his army fatigues. He was furious and tore into us. He upbraided us for our indiscipline. He referenced the war years when marauding German U-Boats stalked the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, torpedoing ships with supplies bound for our islands. Durinf that World War II period food was scarce thereby compelling our island people to make do with little. He called us to embrace a sense of national duty and to always strive to engage our better selves. Shaking in our boots, and so, chastened by our mini tempest over being served a hot green banana for breakfast, we returned dutifully to our practice. The Barbadian Cadets from Combermere High School were coming to camp with us that summer. Major Johnson’s exhortation did the trick, and our cadets and cadet band were on par with the visiting Bajans (Barbadians). Such was the power of Major Johnson’s stern lecture and motivational speech on the importance of national pride and sense of commitment to duty, I remember it to this day. (See- https://www.thedominican.net/2013/07/of-nation-building-dominica.html)
As Dominica grapples with how to fashion a viable economy in the disastrous wake of the COVID 19 Pandemic, we must remember leaders like Major Johnson. Johnson led from in front, taught us what he could, and led by example in the industry. In those days we had several soft drink factories, agro-industry plants such as Bello, Domfruit and L. Rose & Company producing jams, lime juice cordial and other juices. We also had several rum distilleries. In that period bananas flourished, thus giving birth to a new middle class. Today, we must rebuild the commitment to enterprise and industry and so be a more productive nation. The life of the Major is a reminder that there have arisen among us men and women who made valuable contributions to national development within the terms of reference noted above. Major Earle Johnson is one of those men as he acted with a disciplined passion, in educating, and inspiring our generation to do our best. So, educated and inspired, Major Johnson gave us the opportunity to succeed in various fields. It is upon such inspirational leadership that great nations are built. And we can be a great nation, little though we may be. To that end, we shall be ever grateful for the Major’s monumental contributions in nation-building.