By Earl Bousquet
I grew-up at Hospital Road in Castries in the 1960s and 70s, seeing Dwight Venner walking up and down, to and from his nearby family home, ‘going to town’ and returning from St Mary’s College, the island’s top Catholic school for boys.
Earl Bousquet is Editor-at-Large of The Diplomatic Courier and Chairman of the Saint Lucia National Reparations Committee (NRC)
Much younger, I attended primary school. But from my father’s daily insistence that I always read the newspapers and listen to the radio news (there was no TV at the time), I happened to know more about Dwight’s father than about his ‘bright college boy’ son.
Mr Noel Venner was the Financial Secretary of the British West Indian colonies that made up the West Indies Associated States. He was effectively head of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority (ECCA), overseeing the transition to the Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollars and cents that eventually replaced the British pounds, shillings and pence.
The younger Venner disappeared from Hospital Road for a long while, only briefly reappearing at Christmas and other holidays from his studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica.
It was only after the radicalized young man returned to Saint Lucia in the mid-to-late 70s -- with a bushy Afro (hairstyle) and a briefcase full of degrees in finance -- that we (‘the boys on the block’) started to understand who the Dwight we knew had become.
He was appointed Saint Lucia’s Director of Finance (circa 1982), after which those of us in the know often made the rarely-observed connection between him and his dad, which went way beyond father and son.
As it turned out, son would later takeover dad’s old job after the smaller Leeward and Windward Islands became independent and got their own EC currency.
Dwight not only inherited his father’s old office space (above the Treasury at ‘Government Buildings’ in Castries), but also his dad’s earlier responsibility, when, in 1989 he was appointed Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB).
The signature of ‘K. Dwight Venner’ started appearing on every EC dollar. And even more, he would spend 26 years on the job, becoming who -- I daresay and subject to no challenge -- had the global distinction of being the longest-serving regional central bank governor in the modern world.
During his over two-and-a-half decades at the helm of the ECCB, Governor Venner also had the other worthy (if not also worldly) distinction of keeping the EC dollar perennially and dependably stable in its exchange rate, forever pegged at EC $2.71 to US $1.00 throughout his reign.
Even more, the currency notes were changed and the face of the Caribbean’s only Nobel Prize winner (1992) for Economics, Sir Arthur Lewis, was placed on the $100 bill; a wider range of coins was introduced with different shapes and features; a special larger silver-dollar coin was introduced in 2003 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ECCB; a silver two-dollar note was introduced in 2011 to encourage OECS citizens to ‘Grow Your Savings’; another silver dollar (with red and blue added) was also introduced in 2015, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the ECCA (which preceded the ECCB); and new safety features were also introduced on all bills to combat forgery.
It was also under Governor Venner’s watch that the ECCB took the visionary decision to invest in special, new ‘dollar notes for the blind’, to actually enable the Eastern Caribbean’s visually challenged to be able to bank on counting their own money.
I last met the “Guv” about two years ago.
At the time, he was with Saint Lucia’s other world-famous son, US-based Vanderbilt University researcher, neurologist and international pain scientist, Dr Winston Parris.
It was at the Castries Market one Saturday morning and while most vendors he asked the price of their goods reacted like they felt they might have seen him somewhere, none imagined the man whose signature is on their every dollar would be “buying food by the market”.
Nor did any expect the other man with him to be the person who a top local fellow doctor predicted (to me) “can join Derek Walcott and Sir Arthur Lewis to become Saint Lucia’s third Nobel laureate, by winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine, for eventually discovering a cure for pain.”
The same happens to Dwight at the crowded and noisy Gros Islet Friday Night food-and-drink festival in the island’s northern tourism town, where a vendor I know confessed that after dishing his local order into a bowl he brought from home one night, she watched his back all the way after he left, before asking the nearest person, “Is that the man with his name on our money?”
In and out of office, like his dad, Governor Venner was considered the most unassuming holder of the powerful regional post.
After retirement, he bore all his bodily pains with all the quiet dignity he always showed on his feet. Mere hours before being hospitalized, he’d been on the phone negotiating medical treatment from home, with the same quiet zeal; and minutes before his eyes closed for the last time, he’d been talking to hospital bedside staff and family like normal, even smiling.
Governor Venner’s death came right out of the blue -- like that of that other Caribbean and regional luminary, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, last November 25. Neither saw Christmas, but both got fitting funerals followed by the entire region.
Most Saint Lucians thought Dwight Venner was born here, until St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves announced his knighthood several years ago. And those who still didn’t know learned after PM Gonsalves spoke at his funeral on January 4.
But where he was born never diminished any part of the fact that Governor Venner was a full-grown ‘Castries boy’ -- he went to school here, got married here, lived and worked here, climbed the world’s ladder from these here shores – and he died here.
Fact is, the Governor served every OECS, ECCB and ECCU member-state and bank with equal dignity, passion and compassion. His signature will eventually disappear from the EC dollar, but his indelible fingerprints on the region’s currency and his large footprints in the sands of Caribbean time, will never be erased.
That’s why, in his eternal memory, I propose that the OECS Commission, ECCB, ECCU and related banking institutions, should take immediate steps to ensure that the face of the legendary Governor K. Dwight Venner replaces that of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, on every EC dollar.
He worked for that – and he’s worth it.
I rest my case – and in his honour, I humbly submit!