Sept. 7, 2005 As news of her death spread, Dominicans and government officials throughout the territory took time to remember Dame Eugenia Charles, former prime minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica, on Wednesday.
Charles, the Caribbean's first female prime minister, died Tuesday at a hospital in Martinique where she had been flown for hip surgery. She was 86.
Sen. Louis P. Hill, a native Dominican, said he was saddened to hear of the passing of Charles whom he knew personally.
"She was a very good friend of my family and was like a mentor to me," Hill said.
Hill lived in Dominica for part of the time Charles was in power. Charles served as prime minister of Dominica for 15 years, beginning in 1980.
"As a teenager, I was involved in the Young Freedom Movement, a youth organization of the Freedom Party that she headed," Hill said. "She was very instrumental in the development of my political career."
Hill said Charles' leadership style inspired him and led him to an interest in politics.
Paul Alexander, president of Waseen Dominica Association, a local organization for native Dominicans, also reflected on Charles' death.
Alexander, who also lived in Dominica when Charles became prime minister, credits her for helping to place Dominica on the map.
"She was instrumental in bringing Dominica to the world stage," Alexander said, adding that Charles' involvement in persuading former U.S. President Ronald Reagan to invade the island of Grenada in 1983 brought international attention both to her and Dominica.
Alexander said further, "She was the only prime minister, who after leaving office, was not accused of corruption."
In fact, known as the "Iron Lady of the Caribbean," she was noted for her unremitting fight against all forms of corruption.
In her first term as prime minister, she foiled three coup attempts and disbanded Dominica's defense forces making them turn their power over to the police — when she found that military officers were selling weapons to marijuana growers.
Under her leadership inflation went from 30 percent to 4 percent, substantial improvements were made to education, health care and economic development, and the balance of trade deficit was cut in half as new industries, including tourism, began to crop up.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull commented on Charles' leadership and offered condolences to Dominicans, in a press release Wednesday.
"Dame Eugenia served her people and country with great distinction during an especially difficult period in the history of our region," Turnbull said. "Her strong leadership on a variety of issues such as market access to Europe, increased regional tourism and other economic development concerns, were always appreciated by those of us in the wider Caribbean."
Turnbull said, "Dame Eugenia's leadership is a shining example for other women in the Caribbean who aspire to higher political office, and her accomplishments, no doubt, inspired future women, including many in the Virgin Islands to pursue careers in public service."
Delegate Donna Christensen and Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards also offered condolences to the territory's Dominican community.
Richards praised Charles for leading her country to "great economic growth and achievement" during her 15 years of service and said "she truly earned the name 'Iron Lady.'"
Charles was born on May 15, 1919 in the small village of Pointe Michel, near the Dominican capital of Roseau to John Baptiste Charles and Josephine Charles. She was educated at Catholic schools on the island before leaving to study at the University of Toronto where she earned her law degree. She returned to Dominica to become the first woman lawyer, and then first woman prime minister of that island. She never married and spent the years after her retirement from public life practicing law, supporting and protecting Dominica's banana industry and speaking on political matters. She was knighted in 1991 by Queen Elizabeth.
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