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Charles, Eugenia (1919–2005)

Charles, Eugenia (1919–2005)

Eugenia Charles (later Dame Charles) was known to the world as the Iron Lady of the Caribbean, but in Dominica as Mamo. Born Mary Eugenia on 15 May 1919, in the fishing village of Pointe Michel, she died on 6 September 2005, at age 86. Her father had parlayed his small farm into a substantial import-export business and established the first colored-owned bank in Dominica, catering to small farmers. Eugenia took after her father and worked and cared for him until his death at age 107. Devoutly religious (Roman Catholic), she was always independent-minded and outspoken. She never abandoned her no-nonsense style even as her detractors taunted her for her lifelong unmarried and childless state. She earned degrees from the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics and returned to Dominica in 1949 as the island's only female barrister. In 1968 she helped form the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) to counter the authoritarian and corrupt tendencies evident in the Patrick John regime, which had governed since 1974. As a member of the party, she served in the Dominican parliament.

Charles was elected prime minister of Dominica in 1980, making her the first female prime minister in the Caribbean, and served three terms (21 July 1980–14 June 1995) which were characterized by probity, constant lobbying for the endangered banana industry, and efforts in favor of Caribbean integration. These were hardly tranquil years however. She survived two coup attempts organized by ousted prime minister Patrick John and backed by the U.S. Mafia and the Ku Klux Klan. In 1983 Charles backed U.S. president Ronald Reagan's decision to intervene in Grenada. Facing strong criticism from leftist intellectuals for her stance, she was characteristically direct: "The Grenadians wanted it and that's all that counts. I don't care what the rest of the world thinks," she told the Associated Press in a 1995 interview recounted in her New York Times obituary. Her conservative and profoundly honest philosophy of leadership was perhaps best summed up when she was asked what makes a good leader. "Leaders," she said, "must look after the things that need looking after without looking after themselves" (Chouthi 1997).

See alsoDominica; Grenada.


Chouthi, Sandra. "Dame Eugenia Today: As Blunt as Ever." Express, November 24, 1997, sec. 2, p. 1.

"Eugenia Charles, 86, Is Dead; Ex-Premier of Dominica, Called 'Iron Lady.'" New York Times, September 9, 2005.

                                    Anthony P. Maingot

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