People's National Movement / Our Party / History / George Michael Chambers (1928-1997)

George Michael Chambers (1928-1997)

George Michael Chambers

Born in Port-of-Spain, in 1928, Chambers never hid the fact that his education, which began at Nelson Street Boys RC School, Burke’s College and Osmond High School, also included a GCE correspondence course from Wolsey Hall. His grandmother Catherine – with whom he stayed at 12 Jackson Place – and who was of Martiniquan descent, died in her ’90s. Chambers’ father, George, married Ruby Noel, of the Simonette clan from Icacos where George often vacationed. Ruby died two weeks after he became Prime Minister. He was the first of three boys and two girls.

Prior to entering politics, he worked with the firm of Hamel Smith and Company and the now-defunct Dominion Oil Company. He wed Juliana Jacobs, with whom he said he had never had a quarrel, in 1956. They produced a daughter, Andrea, and set up house at St Augustine. Also in 1956, Chambers joined the PNM. However, he was first elected to Parliament in 1966 as the representative (MP) for St Ann’s East.

He may best be remembered as the man who coined the term ‘Fete Over – Back to Work’ urging a self-indulgent Trinidad and Tobago oil boom population to buckle down to reality. Nor will his battle cry ‘Not A Damn Seat For Them!’ be forgotten as the rallying call to the PNM in the post-Williams period of election challengers. George Michael Chambers, may not have been a man who followed complacently in the footsteps of his predecessor, but he came to be known as one who set his own style and a person fiercely loyal to his PNM party, even in the face of a humiliating 33-3 defeat in 1986 which was to be his undoing in political life.

In the days following the death of former Prime Minister Eric Williams, Chambers, by then one of three PNM deputy leaders, was summoned to President’s House on March 30, along with the other two PNM deputies, Kamal Mohammed and Errol Mahabir. Reports indicate he was not told why the meeting was being held, but he was later informed that he had been chosen to succeed Williams. 

At PNM’s first convention after his appointment, he was to demonstrate clearly that despite his low-profile unassuming stance, he meant business. His first act: Halting the controversial $240 million Caroni Racing Complex and the Malabar Housing Project, reshuffling several Ministries and declaring the Priority Bus Route for use by hired vehicles and taxis. He also declared: “What is right, must be kept right and what is wrong, must be set right…” And a month before the 1981 election he vowed to deal with corruption: “…When I say that I mean wherever the axe will fall the man is going to get chopped…” Chambers in his first months of office also advised against competent and capable people remaining on the sidelines. From that first occasion, when he departed from Williams’ style even in term of dress, by donning a shirt jac suit, he appeared determined to carve out his own image, rather than emulate the so-called Father of the Nation. Lacking the charisma of the diminutive, but domineering Williams, Chambers developed his own style on basic appeal and a self-assured air which in no way resembled the arrogance and sarcasm which Williams was renowned for at times.

A mere seven months after becoming PM, Chambers faced his first major challenge, leading the PNM Balisier Brigade into general elections against an alliance of the ONR and other forces with the battle cry: “They too wicked – not a damn seat for them!” The ONR charge, led by former PNMites Karl Hudson Phillips and Ferdie Ferreira, had poked fun at Chamber’s silent stance, labeling him “dumb”. But the results indicated that the population was apparently prepared to give “Georgie” a chance rather than heed the ONR’s call to ‘come home.’ The PNM won 26 seats (the most ever), including Caroni East and Princes Town, and made inroads into Basdeo Panday’s Couva North seat and Tabaquite.

Chambers retired from public life after the 1986 election, following a prayerful send-off by PNM women and kept a low profile since. In 1994 it was rumored that he was assisting then PM Patrick Manning but this was not confirmed.

George Michael Chambers, died on the 4th November 1997 at age 69.

By Gail Alexander Trinidad Guardian