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My hero Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE

First elected in 1975, the late First Premier of the Virgin Islands, Hon Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE served the Virgin Islands Party until 2015 as Representative for District 9, which encompassed Virgin Gorda and Anegada. Photo: VINO/File
The late First Premier of the Virgin Islands, Hon Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE, left, with Third District Representative, Hon Julian Fraser, RA back in 2011. Photo: VINO/File
The late First Premier of the Virgin Islands, Hon Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE, left, with Third District Representative, Hon Julian Fraser, RA back in 2011. Photo: VINO/File
Mr Thomas C. Famous with Sixth District Representative in the Virgin Islands House of Assembly, Hon Alvera Maduro-Caines, left. Photo: Provided
Mr Thomas C. Famous with Sixth District Representative in the Virgin Islands House of Assembly, Hon Alvera Maduro-Caines, left. Photo: Provided
From left: Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon Julian Willock; Mr Thomas C. Famous; and Third District Representative, Hon Julian Fraser, RA. Photo: Provided
From left: Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon Julian Willock; Mr Thomas C. Famous; and Third District Representative, Hon Julian Fraser, RA. Photo: Provided
Mr Thomas C. Famous with former Speaker of the Virgin Islands House of Assembly and artist, Mr Reuben Vanterpool, second from left, during the funeral procession for the late Hon Ralph T. O'Neal, OBE on December 11, 2019. Photo: Provided
Mr Thomas C. Famous with former Speaker of the Virgin Islands House of Assembly and artist, Mr Reuben Vanterpool, second from left, during the funeral procession for the late Hon Ralph T. O'Neal, OBE on December 11, 2019. Photo: Provided
Thomas C. Famous

“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling onward through the night.”- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In biblical times, a man’s worth was measured by the number of livestock and children he owned.

What is the measure of a man’s worth today?

Is it is his physical stature or the number of academic degrees he has attained or the number of friends he has?

One day in December of 2019, I sat in the hallowed all of the House of Assembly of the Virgin Islands.

I was not there to listen to politicians go after each other, nor there to hear long fiery speeches.

The person that I was there to see, no longer had verbal battles with other elected officials.

You see, on November 11, 2019 the [British] Virgin Islands (VI) lost its former Chief Minister and First Premier, the Honourable Ralph Telford O’Neal, OBE, at the age of 85.

First elected in 1975, Hon O’Neal served the Virgin Islands Party until 2015 as Representative for District 9, which encompassed his island of Virgin Gorda and Anegada.

With a total of 40 years of service, he was the longest serving parliamentarian in the VI.

Hon O’Neal spent twenty years combined as a teacher and civil servant, before entering politics. So in total he had 60 years of public service.

Thousands of Virgin islanders came as individuals, as families, as coworkers, as groups of school children of various ages.

Ministers from Anguilla, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States Virgin Islands were in attendance to pay their respects.

Under his tenure as Chief Minister, then later Premier, the Virgin Islands experienced steady growth in the areas of; infrastructure, school buildings, Airport Terminal, home ownership, hotel development and tourism.

The Virgin Islands transformed into a major financial services sector player due to his vision to diversify their economy away from tourism alone.

On a more personal note, my own life has been greatly impacted by the works of this icon.

As a young school girl, my mother, June, was one of the hundreds of students who gained a love of maths from her teacher, Mr O’Neal. He not only taught his students maths, but equally as important, groomed them to believe in the potential of themselves and what they should do for their country and the entire Caribbean.

Later in life, he taught many of them the finer arts of property development, which served to benefit them and to place the Virgin Islands as one of the highest property value markets in the Caribbean region.

If one were to drive through Road Town, Tortola, they would see scores of multi-story office buildings owned by those who were his students.

So, yes indeed, my mother and most of her peers, are now able to pass this very same knowledge of property development down to their children.

On a different note, after serving for forty years, Hon O’Neal, is responsible for grooming many, if not all, of those that chose to enter politics in the Virgin Islands.

His main concern was that the Virgin Islands and the greater Caribbean, was developing critical thinkers and statespersons.

Again, putting on his teacher’s hat, he took one young man in particular, under his wing and for over 20 years taught him how to become not just an elected official but more importantly, how to ensure that service to the country remained his primary goal.

Such was his trust in this young man, that he eventually made him a minister in his cabinet, with the responsibility for Natural Resources and Labour and then eventually, the Ministry of Public Works.

As each project was completed successfully, Hon.O’Neal gave his student more and more responsibilities, such as, leading delegations around the world to represent the Virgin Islands for various issues.

Eventually, this young man became Deputy Premier of the Virgin Islands. In turn, he too, began to mentor young people, near and far, into the sacred role of public service.

This young man is my Great Uncle the Hon.Julian Fraser, RA who has been one of my greatest life and political mentors over the last 20 years.

It is through the works of Hon Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE that put both my mother and my great uncle, on paths to personal and political upliftment. Subsequently, through them, my life and the lives of many others have been enriched with values beyond measure.

So, you see, there was no place else I could be that week, but sitting in the House of Assembly of the Virgin Islands, amongst the thousands, to honour this great son of the soil.

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