“In Memory Of Emery Winston Robertson – Personal Recollections”
By: Parnel R. Campbell QC
My former form-mate Mr. Emery Robertson, Barrister-at-law, who died on 13th August 2020, was to date the only father in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines who had three offspring admitted to practise law in St. Vincent and the Grenadines during his lifetime.
He himself was admitted to the local Bar in August 1970. His daughter Sandra was admitted in 1993; his other daughter Samantha was enrolled in 1998; his son Emery Winston Junior (who is a qualified airline pilot) was called to the Bar in 2005.
Being one year my chronological senior, Emery was one year ahead of me at the St. Vincent Grammar School. I caught up with him in the Fifth Form and we migrated together to Lower Six in 1962, and to Upper Six in 1963, as Arts students taking identical G.C.E. Advanced Level subjects at the Grammar School and at the Girls’ High School (in those days both schools had an integrated Sixth Form; the girls came over for some subjects and we boys went over to the Girls’ High School for some subjects).
Emery’s nickname was “Rice”. I never got to find out the origin of that appellation. Emery had a distinct facial resemblance to President John F. Kennedy, who was one of our heroes. He Emery it was who brought to us his form-mates the earth shattering news of JFK’s assassination when Emery returned to Memorial Hall after lunch on Friday 22nd November 1963 in preparation for the writing of our A-Level paper that afternoon. I recall that we duly and genuinely expressed our condolences to Emery, for he really enjoyed being told that he resembled President JFK.
Readers may be interested in knowing the names of Emery’s form-mates in Upper Six.
In the Arts section were: F.I. Jack, Arnhim Eustace, Fitzroy Clarke (deceased), and yours truly. The Science boys were Jeffery Daisy (deceased), Robert Young (deceased), S. S. Campbell (deceased), Hugh Stewart, Moulton Keane, John Commissiong, Earl “GEM” Jack (F.I.’s older brother), and Basil Dias.
The girls were all Arts students: Betty Boyea-King, Francilia Browne (I do not know her married name), Shirley Browne-Winsboro, Alison Mc Intosh-Roberts, Jeanette Hadley (I do not know her marital status), Irma Bowman-Young, and Yvonne Gaynes.
Every one of us, boys and girls, achieved university degrees or professional qualifications or both. We were terrific students, if I may say so! Amongst our outstanding tutors were Mrs. Norma Keizer (deceased), Mrs. Jeanette France, Mrs. Gladys Hadley (deceased), and Mr. Alwyn “Old Robbie” Roberts (deceased).
So back to Emery. He was a most pleasant soul; always smiling as though his features were incapable of displaying anger. Emery was bright and disciplined, characteristics normally to be found in the children of head-teachers especially in the olden days when the strap spoke louder and more effectively than a lecture. Emery’s father, Head-Teacher Henry Robertson, was a legendary figure who headed primary schools in practically every area in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The son Emery was every inch the product of the Henry Robertson eco-system.
Off Emery went to England for his legal education, from whence he returned and was admitted to the local Bar in August 1970. I was Emery’s first client, but I cannot recall whether or not he got paid. I had had a legal issue with certain aspects of my tenancy of a dwelling house. Little did I know that I myself would be heading off to study for the same profession; or that our paths were destined to cross and re-cross so meaningfully and so soon afterwards.
In October 1970, I joined the UWI Law Faculty at Cave Hill. I had been involved in a quasi-political organisation in SVG called “The Educational Forum of the People” (“EFP”). I was back and forth between Barbados and SVG as frequently as I could muster the standard $EC35.00 airfare.
In early 1972, I found myself standing side by side on the political platform of the People’s Political Party (“PPP”) with Candidate Emery Robertson, as he struggled against Hudson Tannis of the St. Vincent Labour Party (“SVLP”) in the constituency of West Kingstown in the 1972 General Elections held on 7th April 1972.
My substantive role in those 1972 elections was that of campaign manager for Cyril Alexander, the PPP Candidate in Central Leeward. Emery’s uncle Othneil Sylvester was the PPP Candidate in South Leeward.
The elections produced a tie: PPP 6 seats, SVLP 6 seats, Son Mitchell 1 seat. Emery lost to Hudson Tannis; Mr. Sylvester won. Mitchell and the PPP formed an Alliance Government which lasted for a few months over two nail-biting years before Mr. Joshua, Leader of the PPP, torpedoed the Alliance and brought the experiment to an end in September 1972. In the ensuing elections of December 1974, the SVLP romped home with 10 seats to PPP 2 seats, and Mitchell 1 seat; SVLP won again in 1979 to form “the strongest government in the world” according to its leader Milton Cato.
From 1974 to 1979 Emery kept a low political profile, building his law practice. Tragedy struck in 1980 when the combined Law Chambers of Emery Robertson and Othneil Sylvester in the Lyric Building were completely destroyed by fire of mysterious origin.
Between 1979 and 1984, however, a legal case involving Emery literally erupted in the Courts going all the way to the Privy Council in London, Grafton Isaacs v. Emery Robertson. Emery was catapulted into the national spotlight. The case led ultimately to the defeat of the SVLP Government in July 1984, and the ascending into power of the New Democratic Party (“NDP”) led by Son Mitchell, with Emery as Attorney General.
In 1986, Emery resigned as Attorney General and was succeeded by Carl Joseph (deceased). When Carl Joseph resigned in April 1987, I succeeded him as Attorney General.
Emery also resigned in 1986 as Chairman of the New Democratic Party, and was succeeded by myself.
Emery had no active role in politics or in government since then.
He would have completed 50 years at the Bar had he lived a few days longer. As a lawyer Emery was thorough, sound, and was always fiercely determined to do his very best for his clients, yet he was always ready to share his extensive knowledge of the law with colleagues at the Bar. He remained a courteous gentleman to the end.
Emery Winston Robertson was a legal titan in all respects; the profession will surely miss him.
May he rest in peace.“In Memory Of Emery Winston Robertson – Personal