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15 February, 2002
Princess Margaret and Dominica
Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Saturday 9 February had a number of connections with Dominica. The most important perhaps was that she represented the Queen in Dominica at the Independence Day celebrations in November 1978, and handed over the new constitution of this island nation on the night of 2 November just before midnight. She also attended a number of other functions associated with the celebrations including a Cadence Bandorama, cocktail party aboard a visiting British warship, and a rally in the Botanic Gardens on 3 November.

Her association with Dominica goes back further however, with a brief visit in 1955 as part of a Caribbean tour. As a result of that visit the main hospital of Dominica was named after her. It was built between 1953 and 1955 with Colonial Development and Welfare (CDW) Funds on the recommendations of the Moyne Commission Report of 1940, and opened in 1956. It replaced the old Roseau hospital that was located on the site of the present Government Headquarters.

After Hurricane David in 1979, Princess Margaret was patron of the UK Dominica Disaster Relief Committee, which raised money for emergency relief and rehabilitation of the badly damaged hospital. The then High Commissioner for Dominica, Arden Shillingford was closely associated with the princess during that fundraising effort.

Another memorable experience for her in Dominica was that she spent a day of her honeymoon on the island in 1961 with her husband Tony Armstrong Jones, now Lord Snowdon. The young couple were sailing on the Royal Yacht Britannia and landed at Roseau on a surprise visit that was only known to certain key individuals. They drove through the Botanic Gardens and then across the island to Pointe Baptiste, the home of Mrs. Elma Napier, where they spent the day relaxing and going to the beach. In the late afternoon they drove to Portsmouth, where the HMY Britannia was waiting for them.

In 1978 Princess Margaret told this author of her interest in the works of Jean Rhys, the writer born in Dominica, and she said that she could understand how the island had such a hold on Rhys even though she had left Dominica when she was only sixteen years old. One would hope that Princess Margaret’s own varied experiences of Dominica, spanning off and on almost fifty years, struck a cord in what appears generally to have been a rather unhappy life.


 

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