David Carty: A Jack of Many Trades

As I walk into David Carty’s office to discuss certain aspects of his past, his warmer-than-cordial greeting tells me already I am not, really, meeting the Speaker of the House of Assembly. In Anguilla, prominence is ignorant of conflict, as personalities are often driven – compelled, even – to wear different hats, to (ful)fill different roles. Given his multifaceted profile, I had decided to break the ice (that, incidentally, wasn’t there) with a mock trick-question. “When you go abroad,” I ask, “what do you write down on your immigration form as your occupation?” His eyes come alive with the thrill of the unexpected. That’s a good question. If I’m traveling in my capacity as Speaker, or on an official trip, I would put my position as parlamentarian. The ensuing pause almost tricks me into breaking the flow of his thought. Otherwise, I write boat builder. The definitive tone of these final few words, together with his smile, sets the mood for the rest of the interview. I have come to the office of the Speaker of the House to talk about the time when he was Director of the Tourist Board but it takes no great observer to see that David Carty knows himself to be, above all, a boat builder – and a proud one at that.

David Carty (R) presented the Pioneer Award

Getting back to the task at hand, I refer him to the Tourism Pioneer Award he recently received for his endeavors at a prior age in the history of Anguilla. Yes, that was a fairly short but a very intense period of my life, he acknowledges, and a pivotal one for the future development of the island. Indeed it was – so let’s pause and rewind to get a better understanding of the situation.

The year was 1977. There was a political crisis in Anguilla following the vote of confidence which Ronald Webster, Chief Minister at the time, had lost. Young David Carty was then firmly entrenched in the career that circumstance had chosen for him. Having attended the University of the West Indies to read Law on a Government scholarship in 1971, he became an unwitting victim of the ardent feud between Anguilla and St. Kitts when, six weeks into the course, he was notified that the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla would not allow an Anguillian recipient of a public scholarship to study Law. Presented with the options to change degrees or give up his scholarship, David did the obvious thing. It was totally acceptable for him to read Social Sciences, so, when he returned to Anguilla in 1974, he was equipped with the tools to be a civil servant, not a lawyer. However, there wasn’t much in the way of service being carried out by the public sector, let alone vacancies to do so at the time, so Carty became a teacher.

Thoroughly enthused by the practicalities his job entailed, he was also thoroughly frustrated by the bureaucratic hurdles imposed by the system. So, after four years of teaching, Carty decided enough was enough. At that time, Emile Gumbs (later Sir) was being appointed by Commissioner Le Breton to succeed Webster as Chief Minister. Sir Emile’s approach was progressive and, at a time when politics in Anguilla were still very much dominated by the issues of revolution, self-determination and separation, even refreshing. He was highly concerned with the future of tourism on an island that hardly had anything other than potential. All that was in place in terms of accommodation at the time was Lloyd’s Guest House and Rendezvous Bay Hotel. The new constitution (1976) provided for 3 Ministries in the cabinet and the dismissal of Ronald Webster opened up the position at the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources. Sir Emile’s bold move was to give the job to Idalia Gumbs.

Idalia Gumbs stamp, Anguilla (1998).

David doesn’t even pause to take a breath during his tribute to someone he clearly admires. She was the most level-headed person you will ever meet. She was a seamstress by trade and she would say what she had to say. But she was a woman of action: she had a clear mentality and she could make a decision. And in that Government we often needed someone who could make a decision. She was so important, the unsung hero that most people in Anguilla never get to hear about. Of one hundred people you meet maybe five have heard of her and I just cannot give her enough credit.

The next move by the Gumbs administration in terms of tourism development was to seek external advice. Enter the (key) figure of Stephanie Sawyer, a British citizen arriving from the Seychelles, where she had acted as Director of Tourism, who brought the experience and the know-how that were lacking in Anguilla at the time. It is to the credit of Emile Gumbs, Albena Lake-Hodge and Idalia Gumbs to have acknowledged both the need for such help and the quality of Stephanie’s guidance.

Sir Emile Gumbs, Chief Minister of Anguilla 1977-80 & 1984-94. Photo: caribbeanelections.com

So, while David Carty wondered what to do, where to go, next, Stephanie Sawyer sought a local aide to help her market the island as a destination. She recognized his talent – or so he guesses – even before he recognized this as the opportunity of a lifetime. It took a little nudge from the new Chief Minister, a word of advice not to let this chance pass by, for him to come onboard. But he did. And it turned out to be quite a phenomenal team. The great thing was, he explains, as he grows decidedly more comfortable with the memories coming back, the level of understanding between Stephanie and the members of that Government. You see, Emile, Albena and Idalia, all wanted to develop the tourist industry in the island, but at the same time they wanted to make certain that the island didn’t lose its identity in the process.

Of course, the negative example of St. Martin provided the perfect model for Anguillians to know exactly what they DIDN’T want – something at which they have excelled since the days of the revolution. However, turning that around into an operational plan to develop something positive was more difficult. This, precisely, was the role played by Stephanie Sawyer. David explained, she had an understanding and a knowledge of the market that allowed her to put a plan in practice that was compatible with the vision of the Government. This all sounds very well in 2009, but, as David reminds me, there was hardly any electricity in 1978… none in the West; the airport was small (really small) and there was no direct connection to Puerto Rico. Executing a plan under these circumstances entailed envisioning it, and what Stephanie envisioned was nothing short of daring!

At that stage, the first thing we needed was investors, David continues. Stephanie became the face of Anguilla abroad, while I became the host figure for potential investors once they got to the island. I was the first person Leon Roydon met when he got to Anguilla, for instance. And thus starts the already mythical tale of the Malliouhana. The name came from a small aside in one of the books my father left me. I used it as the title of a play that I produced during my years as a teacher. So, when Mr. Roydon finally got the land required to make his dream hotel, he asked David for a name suggestion – the rest, one might say, is history.

But before history could happen, the land had to become available. We looked up the records and discovered the land was registered in the name of people who had owned it in 1825. These people were still slaves as abolition didn’t come until 1834. They had descendants in Antigua, St. Kitts all over the Caribbean, really. I personally had to collect hundreds of signatures. But somehow we got it done within six, eight weeks and we closed the deal. The tone of accomplishment in his voice makes me think he has made this sound easier than it was.

Stephanie Sawyer stepped down as Director of Tourism in 1979 in order to become Regional Tourism Officer. She left having put Anguilla on the map in terms of public relations. During her tenure the deal for the Malliouhana Hotel was closed and a lease was put in place for the land where Cap Juluca is today, to James Frankel, the late owner of La Samanna in St Martin. Here again the decision-making qualities of Idalia Gumbs came to the fore, David explains, in relation to a piece of 6 acres of land located before what nowadays is the main house at Cap Juluca, for which the required signatures could not be obtained. Government enforced its right of compulsory acquisition and obtained the whole of Maunday’s Bay for a total of EC $25,000. Anyway, the project did not go ahead, because the new Government, elected in 1980, took every possible measure to derail the course in which we had set the tourist industry.

Prinair’s signature Heron aircraft. Photo: Ger Buskermolen

David Carty inherited the position of Director of Tourism on January 1, 1980. His first two moves, the only ones he had time to carry out, were to secure the lease of what would eventually become Mariners at Sandy Ground to Roy Cutler, and establish a link with Puerto Rico through a direct flight with Prinair. On May 18, 1980 new elections were held, which were swept by the unlikely coalition formed by Ronald Webster and Hubert Hughes. The new Government was in place by the 28th of the month. Prinair’s inaugural flight from San Juan was scheduled for the following day. Mr Toledo, Chairman of the airline, was among the confused passengers who saw their flight diverted by Anguilla’s air traffic control as it made its final approach into Wallblake. Prinair never did fly to Anguilla. Before the end of the year, and despite public demonstrations in his support, David Carty was unemployed.

But systems were already in place for things to go in a specific direction, David assures me. I guess the fact that the new government lasted only eleven months didn’t hurt, either. And there were people who provided continuity and stayed the ship: Clive Carty was one of them. He was the Administrative Secretary, the equivalent of Permanent Secretary these days, and he did an excellent job at keeping things in control. And then there was Amelia [Vanterpool-Kubisch], who started right at the bottom and has done an extraordinary job at learning the trade and going up the ranks. David has made it a point throughout the afternoon to make me understand that none of what we have discussed is the product of an individual’s effort, that everyone involved deserves some credit.

So, what about David Carty circa 1980-1981? “I was not willing to go back to teaching. Not that I didn’t like it – I really did. But a lot of the rhetoric before and after the 1980 elections involved forcing me to go back to a teaching post. I knew this was part of what was being leveled at me and I was not going to concede the point. But I was married and I had a kid, so I decided I would make a living fishing. I knew nothing about fishing – I still know nothing about fishing, but I figured I could ask my cousin Ed to teach me the basics and take it from there. I made a small boat and called it Rebel, in tribute to the people who had taken to the streets on my behalf.” Needless to say, David never had to earn a life out at sea. The Rebel was spotted by a curious fan, who offered to pay more for it than David would have made as a fisherman – well, probably ever. And it wasn’t even that much money. But he made the maths and saw an opportunity.

That opportunity is called Rebel Marine. But that’s another story, he says with a sleight of hand that conceals none of his satisfaction. A different story it may be – but one entirely coherent with the commitment, the respect, David has displayed towards his country. It’s the influence of my father, he explains, somewhat humbled, or perhaps awed. He was a Methodist Minister and played an important role in the revolution, when I was at a very impressionable age, he continues, as if anyone didn’t know about the Reverend Leonard Carty. I suppose I have developed an undiluted dedication to Anguilla as a consequence. Quite, and a similarly undiluted eagerness to highlight and celebrate Anguillian identity. Another legacy, perhaps, of a childhood shaped by the itinerant routine of a religious Minister – which, together, dominate the personality of the individual I have interviewed today – someone who is, undoubtedly, a lot more than just the Speaker of the House.

 

PUBLISHED BY ANGUILLA LIFE MAGAZINE (VOL. XXII, #2) IN NOVEMBER 2009.

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