Biography: Sir Eric Matthew Gairy

Last updated: Friday, 18 September, 2009

Eric Matthew Gairy

Eric Matthew Gairy
Former Prime Minister

Term of Appointment: (1974-1979)

Sir Eric Matthew Gairy was born in the parish of St. Andrew on February 18, 1922.  He was educated at St. Mary’s RC School in La Fillette and St. Andrew’s RC School in Grenville. Upon leaving school he was employed as a primary school teacher for three years before migrating to Trinidad where he worked at the American Naval Base at Chaguaramas during World War II. He then moved to Aruba where he worked at an oil refinery before returning to Grenada in 1949.

Popularly known as “Uncle”, by 1951 he had become a working class hero when he successfully organised an island-wide strike throwing the country into civil strife called by the Grenada Manual and Mental Workers Trade Union which he formed.  This placed him firmly in the leadership of labour in the island and in 1951 he contested the first General Elections under the banner of the Grenada United Labour Party, which he also founded, and captured five of the then eight seats in the Legislature.

GULP was the first organized political party in the island and, in the General Elections of 1954, four seats went to that party while independents won the other four.

It was not until the General Elections of 1957 that other political parties participated began contesting, and it was during the campaign for those elections that Sir Eric committed an election offence which lost him his franchise.

Re-elected in a by election when the franchise was regained, Sir Eric went on to lead GULP to victory in the 1961 General Elections. He served as Chief Minister from 1954 to 1960 and from 1961 until 1962. Following this, however, a Commission of Inquiry found his administration guilty of questionable governmental expenditure.

Grenada was then still a colony and Britain suspended the Constitution, governing the island for a short while from London before calling new elections at which GULP was defeated.

Sir Eric regained the Government in the 1967 General Elections which were held under a new Constitution giving the Government full internal self government.  GULP was again victorious with a landslide win in the 1972 General Elections, but this period was marked by extreme lawlessness and violence. He served as Premier between 1967 and 1974, and became the first Prime Minister of Grenada in 1974.

A Commission of Inquiry examining Sir Eric Gairy’s administration did not submit a favourable report but, though with a reduced majority, GULP captured the government again in the 1976 General Elections.

Sir Eric was overthrown on March 13, 1979 by the New Jewel Movement revolution led by Maurice Bishop.  He was visiting the United States of America when the overthrow took place and did not return to Grenada until January 1984, after the military intervention by the United States and Caribbean forces.

Sir Eric was not a candidate in the 1984 General Elections and GULP was decisively beaten. In the 1990 General Elections, he contested his usual seat in the constituency of South St. George and, for the first time in his political career, suffered a personal electoral defeat.

In the Queen’s New Year Honours of 1977, Sir Eric was elevated to membership of the Privy Council and, later that year, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, was made a Knight Bachelor.  Sir Eric died on August 23, 1997.



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