Historian and conservationist Robert Devaux was laid to rest this week, having passed away on the morning of April 16th 2013, after a battle with cancer. St. Lucian netizens have been paying tribute to a man many consider to be an environmental hero and national visionary.
A founding member of both the Saint Lucia Research Centre and the Saint Lucia National Trust, where he served as president for many years, Devaux also authored several books on the island's rich history, the last of which was 2012's “A History of Saint Lucia”.
A biography posted by Tony Williams on the Caribbean Book Blog highlighted Devaux's contribution to to research in Saint Lucia:
Born in Castries in 1934, Mr Devaux devoted most of his life to studying and documenting the history of St Lucia and the island’s natural habitat and ecosystems, as well as its rich and diverse cultural heritage. He was a strong advocate for the preservation of the island’s archaeological sites and its historical relics. Along with other local environmentalists he played a major role in helping to raise public awareness of the importance of environmental conservation and the protection of St Lucia’s unique ecology, wildlife and and landscape.
The post also touched on his archaeological work:
A former field engineer, Mr Devaux was an avid participant in archaeological digs. He is credited with re-discovering numerous historical sites, including the ruins of early Arawak and Carib settlements and the forest hideouts of the Brigands, former runaway slaves considered to be the island’s first freedom fighters because of their resistance and rebellion against the brutal oppression of French and British colonists and planters in the mid to late 18th century.
The Facebook page for Lighthouse Road Publications, which was established to publish “A History of Saint Lucia”, also included information about Devaux's work:
In 1961, Devaux founded the St Lucia Research Centre (incorporated in 1994), producing dozens of research papers on a wide range of topics, usually following a request by government, corporate or private entities for information on (occasionally obscure) details of St Lucia's past. The decades of meticulous research spent on those papers were put to good use in ‘A History of St Lucia’, which Robert co-authored along with Jolien Harmsen and Guy Ellis.
According a tribute posted to Facebook, Devaux worked hard to protect Saint Lucia's heritage, even when it sometimes seemed futile:
Sadly, he spent too much time fighting to be heard. Imagine how much more of our heritage would be preserved for future generations if there were more people like him. He lost some of his hardest-fought battles: when he tried to stop the development between the Pitons, he was relieved of his duties on the board of the Development Control Authority; his proposal to create a wetland at La Tourney was shot down by the Port Authority; and his effort to save the east coast trail (four miles of trail that he built single-handedly) fell on deaf ears when the developers of Le Paradis started talking.
The tribute continued:
He had a vision for St. Lucia – one that put conservation and heritage preservation on par with development. He was a realist: he never tried to prevent development; instead he preached sustainable development. He never rejected a project without suggesting an alternative that would accomplish similar economic goals without compromising the nation’s heritage. He despaired of how much we have squandered, but he would want us to fight for what little is left of our beaches, our rainforests, our wildlife, and our historic sites. He believed that it is our duty to make our little piece of the world a little better. He certainly did that.
Robert Devaux was the recipient of several awards, including being named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1991.