Milton Cato was a key figure in the development of democracy and independence in St Vincent and the Grenadines. From a poor family, he pulled himself up through a scholarship to grammar school, and after serving in the Canadian Volunteer Army in the War, was called to the bar in 1949.
He returned from London to set up business in Kingstown and became involved in politics, then in its infancy, with plantation workers only recently having won the vote. In 1955 he founded the St Vincent Labour Party (SVLP), and when St Vincent became part of the West Indian Federation, he went in 1958 to Trinidad as one of his island’s representatives. After the collapse of the Federation he entered St Vincent’s parliament in 1961 and led the SVLP to victory in the 1967 elections, becoming Chief Minister. In 1969 he participated in the negotiations which gave the island the status of Associated Statehood. He remained in power, with a brief interlude in 1972-74, and led St Vincent into independence in 1979. In the general elections of that year the SVLP won 11 of the 13 seats in the newly independent House of Assembly. However, economic stagnation and natural disasters, together with allegations of corruption, hit the popularity of Cato’s government and the SVLP was defeated in the elections of 1984 which brought James Mitchell to power. Milton Cato retired a year later, shunning honours or public recognition of his service to his country, and died on 10 February 1997.