Friday, April 9, 2010

MAMO: The Life and Times of Dame Mary Eugenia Charles

By Thomson Fontaine

PM Skerrit
Dame Eugenia Charles confers with Ronald Reagan and his advisors in the White House.
“She is listed by Guida-Myrl Jackson-Laufer in her book, Women Rulers Throughout the Ages among the likes of Catherine of Aragon, Golda Meir, Elizabeth the First and Margaret Thatcher. Charles Gulatta’s 1999 book, Extraordinary Women in Politics, locates Charles among a veritable pantheon of historical leaders such as Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt; Mary, Queen of Scotts; Isabella, the first queen of a unified Spain and Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.”

The above quote is from Judge Irving Andre in his introduction to’MAMO: The Life and Times of Dame Mary Eugenia Charles’ written by Gabriel Christian and published this week.

The book tells the story, often in her own words, of the woman who ruled Dominica from 1980 to 1995. Indeed, Dame Mary Eugenia Charles is arguably one of the most well known leaders of the twentieth century.

Long before she emerged alongside Ronald Reagan in the White House on the eve of the United States invasion of Grenada, she was been spoken about in capitals around the world. A leader with the rare ability to reach out equally to persons from disparate backgrounds, the wealthy, the poor, the powerful and the humble.

Christian tells the story simply and brilliantly, of the woman who was equally loved and reviled by those who knew her. Most of her story is retold based on interviews he conducted with her during the 1990s at his home in Maryland, USA.

To tell the story of Mamo is to recount the historical evolution of Dominica and to some extent the Caribbean, from the late 1940s to the mid-1990s, and there Christian does not disappoint. He artfully weaves the story of the political heavyweights of this era, Patrick John, Roosevelt Douglas, Edward Leblanc, Maurice Bishop, Frank Baron and others, ultimately into that of Dame Eugenia Charles.

Beyond the politics he offers us an interesting and fascinating glimpse into the person of Dame Eugenia. I was particularly drawn to the story of his family’s legal encounters and the role that Miss Charles played.

She pointedly refused to represent his family when, as a child, he was knocked down by a prominent civil servant in a hit and run accident, but gladly took the case when his parents’ chicken was taken by a neighbor.

The unedited version of her life’s story told in her own words is profoundly moving, and she says it in a way that only Mamo could. The image held by many of a woman who sometimes appeared to be aloof and not caring for those less fortunate could not be further from the truth.

Consider her encounter with racism in the 1940s. She was first denied service in a restaurant because she was black and after having to give up her plane seat to a white gentleman.

Traveling by train to New York in the company of black US soldiers and a few elderly black women she bravely forced her way into the dining car, refusing to take no for an answer.

Her leadership and courage, which would grow considerably in the years ahead, greatly emboldened the black soldiers. The whole episode left its mark on her but she refused to be bitter or hold any grudges, bravely stating “I never got bitter about this black and white business. The reason is that every time they tried to hit me with something because I was black, I would meet another person who didn’t realize I was black and helped me.”

To the disinterested student of history, politics, and power, this book must feature high on your list of must read. To everyone else, it’s worth taking the time to hear Mamo in her own words recount her youth, struggles, failings, and triumphs.

In the end, it is about a story that had to be told and we are grateful that Christian found the time to tell it. The veritable collection of rare photos only adds to the story’s worth. That he took the time to listen to the great woman, and the time to chronicle her life and rise to power means we are the better for it.

After all, we are left with the stirring account of one of the more recognizable names of the twentieth century, a woman who although coming from a small island refused to let that limit her scope and accomplishments; a lesson that we could all do well to learn from.

Listen to the author as he talks to about his latest book

Copies of MAMO: The Life and Times of Dame Mary Eugenia Charles are available at, or from the author at [email protected]
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Congratulations Mr. Christian Well done.
Irving Andre gives a biased distorted view of the landed gentry of Dominica from Franklin Baron to Eugenia Charles. Great people can be identified by their achievements and none of his heroes can claim any significant honor except one being the first woman Prime Minister of a poor male dominated country.
Many people might agree or disagree with the authors perspective, however, I think that it is folly to condemn the book without reading it and having an analysis that also reads between the lines. Read the book then comment.
Anonymous you will do well to note that justice Andre quoted from Guida-Myrl Jackson-Laufer and Charles Gulatta. They are the ones who crowned Eugenia with greatness. Should they be dismissed?
Anonymous, are you suggesting that Justice Andre is distorting history? This is a serious allegation and as such you should at the very least produce some proof of your allegations!
Jacob I don't think that Guida-Myrl Jackson-Laufer and Charles Gulatta should be dismissed. However, I don't think that the entire effort & publication should be condemned because of those references. I am pretty sure that I will disagree with many parts of the book. What I can't accept is the outright condemnation of the content based on this newsletters summary and the dismissal of the effort by the author. Let's read the book & debate its content. Thats all I ask. You & I will agree on a lot I'm sure Jacob
Irving Andre and Gabriel, speak to any Grenadian (old and young) and please tell us how they feel about mamo
I am a young man and think personally that the Book is worth a read in order to comment constructively.
Congratulations to the Author and I really think the book will make some interesting reading.
I knew the Dame both on a personal and work basis. She was very adamant about any aspect of her live documented for such ventures. After she gave permission to Dr.Honeychurch and Marian Dowe for the publication of a book entitled "MAMO" and to American author Janet Higbie for the Book tittled Eugenia,"The Caribbean's Iron Lady" she made it very clear that there would have no more such ventures.
Since she did not leave a will, or had any immediate kins,who really gave the writers permission for such publication???

I would really like to know, before I venture to buying this book.
Anonymous, I don't know what your beef is. She apparently gave the author permission to tape her. I don't believe she expected the tapings to be hidden away.
Andre has written about Edward Leblanc, poor Dominicans who enlisted in the two world wars and about three Dominicans whgo lost their lives because of a class conspiracy. Were these persons part of the landed gentry too? As Matt Peltier says, it is sometimes better to remain silent lest you are thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Anonymous, your comments reflect the pathological self hatred which many colonialized people suffer from. To people like you there is no greatness in Dominica. No one deserves credit for any achievement. People like you subscribe to the view that nothing has been created in small islands such as Dominica. You echo the negativity of a Naipaul and others of his kind. You have nothing to contribute because you likely have not read, let alone purchase any of the books that Andre and Christian have written.
Those who have no argument resort to ad hominem attacks.Imagine someone had to be told after looking at Dame Eugenia that she was a black woman. Tap it!Tap it! E. O Leblanc was the only great one; E.C. Loblack, the only bold one; Skerrit, the only talented one.
Aha! I wonder if Eugenia Charles was a member of the Labour Party, would she be then considered in the same category as those mentioned above?
And you anonymous, are the only foolish one!
Wow, sometimes we as Dormi-in-da cans really take things way too serious.
Congratulation Gabriel, on your quest to continue to enlightened your people. I for obvious reasons will no doubt indulge my thirst in some of your relishing work.
I would also like to encourage all Dominicans and non national alike to embrace this opportunity to be properly clued up about their history. Indeed, our very existence in this industry depends on it.
The future is only bright for the enlightened.
At last someone has seen it fit to write about the life of one of Dominica's pioneers and heros, Thanks to you.
i agree, Irvin Andre`s writings have always been biased towards Eugenia Charles and her freedom party.Her contributions to Dominica greatly exaggerated. Even Lennox Honey-church in recent times seems to be revising his perspective of "the great dame".If you ask me it`s one big myth.
well done!

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