A new life in St Lucia
“Life is about serving.”
For Shirley Lewis, née Cuffley, that mantra has been the cornerstone that has framed her life. Even in her role as a lawyer, she often worked with those who were economically disadvantaged, providing them with legal aid.
So it didn’t come as a surprise when Shirley, a Barbadian hailing from St Philip, was elected by unanimous decision to be mayor of Castries, St Lucia.
It seems strange that a Barbadian could hold such a post in another Caribbean country, but to fully understand one must grasp the journey that Shirley has taken through her life.
“I’m from Marley Vale. We grew up very poor, and in those days we didn’t have electricity. I didn’t have a father living at home. My father was white and my mother was black, and in those days black and white never mixed at all. My aunt adopted me, so I went to school at Bailey’s, then went to England at 18 to study. I got married in 1964 and lived in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Wales, and then went to Jamaica, which is where my daughter Claire was born,” Shirley said.
“I came back to Barbados in 1972 and my daughter Louisa was born in 1973. My husband Vaughan Lewis was a lecturer at the university there. We stayed for two years and then I went back to Jamaica. I did law in Jamaica and Barbados.”
Shirley, who worked as deputy registrar in the early 1980s, then moved to St Lucia with her husband and she has been for the last 30 years.
“I got myself involved in politics from the point of view that Vaughan was Prime Minister for a short while, so obviously you get roped into the politics even if you don’t want to be,” she said. “I did fund-raising but I worked as a magistrate in St Lucia from about 1982 to 1988. After I stopped being a magistrate, I went into private practice. My real passion is legal aid . . . . I like legal aid. Even now I do a legal aid clinic every
Wednesday at my church Holy Trinity in St Lucia.
“I had always to do law. I suppose it’s part of your psyche that tells you you have to serve, life is about serving.”
Shirley also gets involved in charity events and is now with the Labour Party in St Lucia.
“Every year for a few years now we’ve been doing a Christmas lunch for the poor, and in that way you’re helping,” she said.
Shirley believes it was her work serving and helping with those less fortunate in St Lucia that even propelled her to the position of mayor of Castries.
“When we had the inauguration ceremony on December 14th, I heard the deputy prime minister saying that when my name came up the nomination was unanimous,” she revealed. “I like the people we were dealing with. They were not highfalutin people. But there are places in Castries that are so run-down, especially the market. The people that I have been moving with know that I am concerned with the welfare of people generally, so I think that’s part of it. I think it also stems from Vaughan being interested in politics and people seeing us on the streets together.”
Though she has her hands full as mayor, she still maintains her law practice.
I probably do half and half and they had asked me at first to do it [the job of mayor] full-time, but they told me they have no money, so I still have my practice,” she said. “But I enjoy it and I have good counsellors. The people who work with me are very sincere and helpful.”
But Shirley says that part of the richness of what she does as mayor is helping the people and seeing their reactions.
“We had a Christmas lunch for 200 underprivileged and indigent people and about 250 showed up,” she said. “One of them said to me a couple of days ago, ‘We still talking ’bout that lunch, you know’. We decorated the place for them and we had arrangements on the table and nice tablecloth, so they enjoyed it.”
Part of Shirley’s charm and success is her ability to get along with all types of people.
“I got to meet people of a different stratum in life once Vaughan got into politics. I knew all the upper class people, did the Government House lunches and met the Queen. I did all of that,” she said. “Once he got into politics, I then met a different group of people. There are those who come with their children wanting schoolbooks or clothes. But it has allowed me to advise people not only about law, but about the avenues through which they have recourse. Sometimes what people want is a little advice.”
Though her tenure as mayor of Castries lasts only two years, Shirley hopes to accomplish a lot within that time to help alleviate the suffering of people, as well as to help rebuild the market, the arcade and parts of the city area that are run-down.
“The most important thing is to try and help,” she said. “I really do want to fix the market and the arcade. There are a lot of other things to do like reintroduce scholarships to children. Plus we have daily issues. Outside of Castries we have a little park called Constitution Park. Every day the number of people there increases. I think every government needs to have a social conscience, but I just want to help. I think of my aunt as well who is now 94 and I put her in a lot of the scenarios, because I say if that was my aunt out there I wouldn’t let that happen, I’d take care of her.”