||THE LEGENDARY EUGENE DUPUCH, QC
Lawyer, Editor, Musician Storyteller, statesman,
The Hon Eugene Dupuch, CBE, QC,
influenced the course of Bahamian History.
“Fight, you Johnnies! Fight you Johnnies!
Stand and fight like men for old Saint John’s…
Show the world what S J U can do;
The fighting Johnnies spirit will win through.”
Saint John’s University Fight Song
Written by Eugene Dupuch
It was no surprise when the feisty college song written on a whim by Eugene Dupuch for Minnesota’s Saint John’s University became one of the greatest fight songs in college sports history. Composed in his college dorm room on a ukulele, The Johnny Fight Song was ranked by Congressional Gold Medal bandleader, Fred Waring, among America’s top ten university songs. The chant for the Cardinal and Blue teams still rings out loud in the school’s Minnesota stadium.
There were few things this Bahamian legend touched that did not succeed. Like the college song, Dupuch’s voice and impact on The Bahamas’ legal and political systems still reverberates today.
A reluctant politician, Eugene Dupuch was best known for his way with words and his vision for bringing political stability to The Bahamas during tough economic times, and when tougher race relations existed in the islands. He wore many hats – newspaper editor, politician, author, statesman, radio commentator, satirist and musician with a sense of humour that appeared contrary to his seemingly serious disposition. Perhaps the hat that fit him best was that of advocate – he impressed crowds with his quick wit and brilliant defence in the courts and became a mentor to a generation of The Bahamas’ top lawyers.
Dupuch served in the House of Assembly for more than 15 years. He ran first as an independent candidate and was respected on all sides of the political arena. His main focus was to help establish The Bahamas as a strong, independent nation with a legal and political system that gave all of the country’s citizens a fair chance to succeed. Many would agree that it was because of men like Eugene Dupuch and his brother, Sir Etienne Dupuch, that The Bahamas continues to function as a democracy today.
On Dupuch’s passing, Sir Orville Turnquest, his colleague and former law partner at Dupuch and Turnquest, described him as an even-tempered, far-seeing gentleman. “In the 21 years that he and I were partners we never once had a cross word exchanged, which was unusual. It’s not that he didn’t get annoyed or alarmed, but he dealt with things in a calm, level-headed way,” Sir Orville recalls.
As a leader, Dupuch gave voice to a nation and showed an unshakable dedication to service. Just hours before a sudden heart attack on the day he died, he made his regular appearance at the Bahamas Bar Association’s monthly meeting. When he passed away on September 23, 1981, a powerful voice in Bahamian history fell silent.
An extended family
When Eugene Aubrey Pyfrom Dupuch was born on December 7, 1912, in the family homestead on Market Street, his birth signalled the end of a period of grief and sadness in the Dupuch household. Just three years earlier, his father Leon Dupuch – founder of The Tribune newspaper – became a widower when his wife, Harriet, died in childbirth. Leon was left to raise their four children: Gilbert, Naomi, Etienne and baby Evelyn. The children were heartbroken at the sudden loss of their mother. When their father later married Ethelinda Pyfrom, Eugene was the result of the union. The older siblings were elated at his arrival. Little Eugene thrived under their care.
By the time he entered Queen’s College, Dupuch displayed exceptional talent as a musician. He was the pianist in one of the most popular orchestras of the day, led by Hubert Knowles, MBE, later superintendent of the Princess Margaret Hospital. Dupuch left Nassau to attend Saint John’s University where he studied English and philosophy and minored in political science, not knowing then that he would become an influential politician like his older brothers, and an even greater lawyer back in The Bahamas. In Minnesota he helped put himself through university by playing in a college dance band.
Dupuch grew up in the newspaper business and his decision to turn down a teaching post in the US and return home to work as assistant editor of the struggling family paper came naturally. As a young boy, like many men in the family, Dupuch knew how to set type, write copy and distribute the paper. His love of journalism seemed innate. In 1943, while in his early 30s, Dupuch sat in a courtroom and showcased some of his best work, not yet as a lawyer, but as a journalist covering the trial for the murder of the wealthy gold miner Sir Harry Oakes – a murder mystery still, some 60 years later, and the subject of many books and newspaper articles.
His newspaper report was so detailed that The Tribune published it in book form – The Murder of Sir Harry Oakes. Dupuch’s account of the trial made history by becoming the first newspaper report to be accepted as an official transcript of a case admitted to the law library of the University of Toronto’s School of Law. This was his first taste of the law and the case lit a flame that continued to burn throughout his life.
Sir Etienne and Eugene
At the time of the Sir Harry Oakes trial, The Tribune was being run by older brother Sir Etienne, a staunch humanitarian who used his position as editor to challenge local politicians and push issues of anti-discrimination and equality to the forefront of the Bahamian political agenda.
Sir Etienne Dupuch – 14 years his brother’s senior – had a significant impact on young Eugene’s life. While growing up, Eugene worked closely with his brother at The Tribune and his talents blossomed under Sir Etienne’s direction.
In 1942, a well-established political group sued The Tribune for libel. Determined to defend himself in court, Sir Etienne called on Eugene to help him build up a strong defence in the Supreme Court.
Both shrewd and agile thinkers, the Dupuch brothers won the case with their own limited knowledge of the law and the back room advice of friend and lawyer, the Hon Godfrey Higgs, a Member of Parliament (MP) and founding partner of Higgs & Johnson. The team walked away victorious, and Eugene left the court satisfied that justice had prevailed and curious about the possibilities the legal system provided.
Although different in their approach, the two were strong allies in the fight for equal rights for all Bahamians.
Sir Arthur Foulkes, who worked at The Tribune and knew both Eugene and Sir Etienne, recounts the legacy of both brothers. “Eugene’s humanity made him a great person. When he was on his way to court you would see him walking fast with those sharp features of his, looking somewhat stern. With all of the talents that he had, he was still goldenly humble, amusing, and he did not laud it over anybody,” said Foulkes. “His brother, Etienne, had an iron will.”
Former police officer in the court, Errington Watkins, remembers the Dupuch brothers as two strong but distinct political forces in Bahamian history. “Sir Etienne was a fighter, an old soldier. He feared nothing,” said Watkins. “Where Eugene was more of a diplomat, Etienne would go head-on into a situation.”
During The Tribune’s libel case that sparked Eugene’s interest in the law, the two brothers showcased a strong sense of togetherness. Watkins recalls the Dupuchs’ fight against the almost unbeatable establishment, known as the Bay Street Boys. “They were fighting for the poor people but they were straight down the middle. The Bay Street Boys couldn’t get Sir Etienne to follow their lead and he was on the side of the masses,” said Watkins. “Etienne was forceful like a bull. They were both fighters. The harder you pushed them, the harder they fought.”
After the victory in the libel case, Dupuch was destined to take his life in a new direction. Prior to the case, the young journalist suffered a tragic loss. After returning home from Saint John’s University, he fell in love with Gladys Black, a staff reporter at The Tribune, who was his classmate at Queen’s College. Just six months after their wedding, his wife died of a chronic heart disease. Dupuch was devastated. He went about his daily life at the paper trying to cope with the loss. It wasn’t until he fought the lawsuit with his brother that Dupuch became interested in another passion that eased the pain of the loss. Prompted by his older brother, at age 32, he enrolled in law school at the University of Toronto in Ontario.
As an older student, already established as an influential journalist in The Bahamas, Dupuch was able to move with ease into his new role as sub-editor at the Toronto Bureau of the Canadian Press, and did a series of broadcasts in Bahamian dialect over the CBC network. Until the end of the Second World War, he served in the Canadian Reserve Army as a member of the University Officers Training Corps.
While in Canada, he courted former Queen’s College schoolmate Dorothea deGregory. They were married in 1945 in The Bronx, New York. Two years later, he graduated from law school and began training under Dr W P M Kennedy, dean of the law programme at the University of Toronto. Kennedy specialized in constitutional law and sparked Dupuch’s interest in this subject. In 1948, at age 36, Dupuch was called to the English Bar as an “utter barrister” at Lincoln’s Inn and became a member of the Bahamas Bar in January 1949, where he served until his death.
Consumed in service
Many knew Dupuch as a prolific lawyer, with the know-how, quick thinking and intelligence to convince even the toughest juries. His greatest joy was in the practice of criminal law and finding irregularities and technicalities that would help him win his cases. So adept was he that he saved a man from the gallows on two occasions. One of his constituents, Elvin Rose of Long Cay, was accused of killing a man in a bar on Hospital Lane. He lost the case, but it was in appealing the death sentence that Dupuch showed his skill.
At the time, the prison was located on East Street, and the death sentence mandated that the convicted man be taken from the court to (a prison in) the “city of Nassau” to be hanged. At the time the Rose case concluded, the prison was being moved to its current location in Fox Hill. Dupuch argued that, because there was no longer a prison situated in the city of Nassau, the death sentence could not be carried out. He won on a technicality and Rose’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison.
Dupuch was able to save his client a second time when Rose attacked and killed another inmate. This time, Dupuch used the defense of diminished responsibility brought on by insanity. Although this is a relatively common defense in modern times, the Bahamian law books did not allow for such an argument. He appealed to the Privy Council in England and won the case. Rose was sent to a prison in England that was equipped to deal with his mental problems. He served a number of years and was eventually released and returned to The Bahamas a free man, a fine welder and a rehabilitated first-rate citizen.
Dupuch maintained an excellent record for criminal cases, but his wife, Dorothea, recalls one particular time he did lose his case and a client was sentenced to death. “He was very against the idea of capital punishment and it bothered him so much that his client was going to be hanged,” she said. “I don’t remember how it all came about, but he sent me to buy the man a new suit, and I cooked him his last meal. It was important to Gene that the man die with some dignity.”
Tutored students at home Saturday mornings
It was this generosity for every person, regardless of social status, that earned Dupuch respect in the Bahamian community. People often remember him walking from his small office to court, with a stern look on his face, consumed in deep thought and focused on his cases. Brent Symonette, current MP for Montagu, was among a group of young lawyers who trained under Dupuch. “A lot of times he came across as gruff and short but he had a heart of gold,” said Symonette. “He always took time out to instruct junior lawyers. His office door was always open.”
Other successful lawyers, such as Jeanne Thompson, Immigration Minister Vincent Peet, Fred Smith, the late Keith Duncombe and Veronica Turnquest Grant (Sir Orville’s younger sister), all benefited from his teachings.
Still others, such as Philip “Brave” Davis – today one of The Bahamas’ leading criminal lawyers – spent Saturday mornings in the games room in the basement of Dupuch’s Eastern Road home. He never charged a fee for the time and knowledge he imparted, but his wife, Dorothea, and son, Peter, say that to this day they are repaid in many ways for Eugene Dupuch’s generosity. Peter paid an extraordinary tribute to both his parents when he said, “I can give you all sorts of adjectives to describe my father but perhaps the best way is to tell you that, in the 23 years I knew him, I never once heard my parents raise their voices to one another.”
Smoky Joe Says
Although he was stern and serious in his courtroom appearances, Bahamians remember another side of Dupuch – a funnier side that brought both laughter and pride. As assistant editor at The Tribune, long before he started his law practice, Dupuch created a character by the name of Smoky Joe. He described Smoky as someone who had an “elemental philosophy, a little earthy, but after all, the earth is rock bottom, a level to which few philosophers ever descend to attain. He has a staunch loyalty to things Bahamian without the shallowness of stupid sentimentality. He possesses the happy faculty of hoping for the best, but not being surprised at anything that may happen in a world of paradox and error.” When Dupuch transformed himself into Smoky Joe, the Bahamian public embraced him.
“My earliest memories of Mr Dupuch were not as an eminent lawyer,” said Janet Bostwick, lawyer and first woman elected to the House of Assembly. It was as the voice of Smoky Joe which she heard on radio. “It was a voice which I could understand. It spoke in a dialect which I could understand and it caused a release of tension,” she said. She believes that Smoky Joe and his antics with Unca Gabe, Auntie Turpee and Unca Zeek provided a sense of calm in frightening times during the Second World War.
Norman Solomon, prominent Bahamian merchant and former Member of Parliament, recalls how Dupuch could use wit to win over any audience. “I marvelled at the man’s intelligence and his achievements, especially his column, Smoky Joe Says. It was very cleverly done,” says Solomon. “Eugene Dupuch was a man of great intellect and charm and he told great stories. He was a brilliant lawyer and an altogether unique Bahamian.”
While studying law in Canada, Dupuch brought Smoky Joe to an international audience. He did a series of broadcasts over the CBC system done strictly in Bahamian dialect – the first of its kind. The weekly broadcasts in The Bahamas of Dupuch’s Smoky Joe monologues were not only a source of entertainment but the character and the series helped to legitimize Bahamian folklore and its spoken traditions. Like many other forms of cultural expression during the dark days of the war, the monologues fell victim to censorship. Dupuch’s radio programme was taken off air after a disagreement with the ex-King of England (who became the Duke of Windsor when he gave up the throne for American divorcee Wallace Simpson, and later became the Governor of The Bahamas).
Eugene Dupuch’s entry into politics seemed inevitable. Sir Clement Maynard, former Deputy Prime Minister and MP for the Progressive Liberal Party, recalled that Dupuch “came from a family that had been in public service and Parliament… His father was in Parliament and he had two older brothers and two nephews in Parliament.”
In fact, seven Dupuch men have been MPs over four generations. The first was Joe Dupuch, son of Elias, patriarch of the family, who was born in Bordeaux, France, and arrived in Nassau in 1840. The last one is Sir Etienne’s son, Pierre, currently MP for St Margaret. Throughout his 18 years in active politics, Eugene was never defeated in a parliamentary election. His first victory, however, was won on a technicality. At 37 he ran as an independent candidate for the Crooked Island constituency in the 1949 general elections. After losing by nine votes, Eugene protested the count and won the by-election a year later.
Just three years after officially entering the political arena, he was appointed one of the youngest members of the Governor’s Executive Council – a post he retained until the 1964 Constitution came into effect.
He served as president of the Bar and Bar Association and chairman of the Bar Council on four occasions and also chairman of the Board of Examiners for admission to the Bar in 1965. He was chairman of the commission for the revision of the Statute Laws of The Bahamas in 1957 and a member of the commission for a further revision in 1965.
Dupuch was instrumental in creating the first corporation in the country, the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, by helping to draft the Electricity Act. His contribution to framing the laws of the land and incorporating infrastructure into The Bahamas was rewarded in 1957, when, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, he was made Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Ending racial discrimination
Even though he was a reluctant politician, Dupuch made tremendous strides in his political career by influencing the lives of everyday Bahamians. Both Eugene and his brother Sir Etienne worked tirelessly to end racial discrimination in The Bahamas.
Sir Etienne was the architect of the historic anti-discrimination resolution. Eugene was his strongest supporter. He backed his brother during the tense moments in the mid-1950s when they sought to end discrimination against the black majority. At that time in The Bahamas, hotels, theatres and other public places were segregated.
Both Eugene and Sir Etienne had grown up with the Christian principles of equality regardless of race or social status. In his contributions during the intense parliamentary debates, Eugene insisted that the anti-discrimination resolution boiled down to “pure and simple Christianity – a question of right and justice.”
The Dupuch brothers were both in the House as independent politicians and they faced mounting opposition to the proposed resolution. On the night Sir Etienne made his most memorable contribution to the House of Assembly, thousands of Bahamians gathered around Parliament to hear his motion. Although the resolution was defeated on January 23, 1956, and sent to a House committee, that week hoteliers took the initiative of announcing the end of racial discrimination at their resorts. In fact, discrimination in public places based on race had ended. The Bahamian people hailed Sir Etienne a hero.
After serving as a representative for Crooked Island, Eugene switched constituencies for health reasons. He was elected to serve as a representative for the East Central constituency in New Providence.
In 1963, Dupuch, an independent politician for most of his career, joined the United Bahamian Party (UBP) when party politics was introduced to The Bahamas. He served as Minister of Welfare, an appropriate post for a man who spent most of his professional life working to improve the conditions of the poor in The Bahamas. He was one of the delegates to The Bahamas’ first constitutional conference in 1963, helping to produce the country’s first written constitution, leading to internal self-government.
When he died in 1981, Dupuch was recognized as being a pivotal figure in developing a thoroughly modern constitution that he said was “…far more literary, legalistic, reasoned and democratic” than the American model.
Recalling the writing of the Constitution in the 1967 Bahamas Handbook, Dupuch said he and the other framers had “…endeavoured to protect the rights of the underprivileged while not losing sight of the rights of the privileged. We have ensured equality for majorities and minorities, rich and poor alike. We have preserved and affirmed the fundamental freedoms of the individual, irrespective of race, place of origin, colour, creed or sex, subject only to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and the public interest.”
On the defeat of the UBP in the general elections of 1967, he was appointed Opposition Leader in the Senate and held office for a year before retiring from active politics, after 18 years of service. It was his prowess in constitutional law that saw him return briefly to the political scene.
With all of the accolades from the Crown and all of Dupuch’s high achievements in politics, it was in his role as a lawyer that his giving spirit came through. “Dupuch took an interest in persons who had encountered misfortunes and he did a lot to help convicts to get back on the straight and narrow path,” said Foulkes.
Dupuch saw his crowning legislative achievement as the formation of the Girls Industrial School. He felt strongly that young delinquent girls needed to be removed from the male-dominated prison and provided with a more nurturing and wholesome environment.
In 1964, shortly after joining the UBP, Dupuch was appointed one of Her Majesty’s Counsel (QC) and acted as a judge of the Supreme Court in 1976.
His legacy – the Dupuch Law School
When Eugene Dupuch died in the fall of 1981 at age 68, with his wife Dorothea and only son Peter at his side, the whole nation stopped to honour him.
Shortly after his death, the Bar Council of The Bahamas proposed that a fund be established to create the Eugene Dupuch Law Library in his honour. In September 1998, the third law school of the Council of Legal Education (Caribbean) was established in The Bahamas and was named after him. For a man who took such pleasure in the practice of the law, and in imparting his knowledge on Saturday mornings to eager law students, the law school is a most fitting tribute.
Colleague and fellow Queen’s Counsel, Sir Kendal Isaacs, described Dupuch as a man who used the law to secure freedom for all. “He was always concerned about freedom, not security,” said Sir Kendal. “He did not seek the comfortable life. He gave to society rather than took; and he was one of the most responsible men I have ever known.”
When Eugene Dupuch died, the entire country paid tribute to a generous man who, in his lifetime, redirected the course of Bahamian history.
Excerpt from Bahamas Handbook 2004
For more information about Etienne Dupuch Jr Publications Ltd click here.