Friday, January 19, 2018

Vernon Charles – A Man of Rare Calibre


Vernon Charles

Donstan Bonn

The following tribute to Vernon Charles, co-founder of the newspaper appeared in the EXPRESS Thursday, July 19, 1973. Charles 82, died in Canada where he'd lived since 1973, on April 6 after a long fight with cancer.

‘I am happy to have given people breaks they may not have had’

For many, bespectacled young industrial pioneer, Mr. Vernon Charles will always be a philantrophist.

Only 42 years old, Mr. Charles, a financial power with gentle fingers on the pulse-beat of several millions, is probably the best-loved businessman in the country.

And it is a love that he has earned.

Even his fiercest competitors in today’s business jungle have had the kindest words to say about him, his sense of fairplay, his easy disposition, his remarkable modesty, his empathy with the less fortunate, and an almost unbelievable willingness to share his wealth and all his "blue chip" money spinning prospects.

In the true sense of the word; Vernon Charles is a. paradox. He defies the all-too-familiar story about the successful millionaire species, who rise to fame and wealth on a trail of trampled bodies of associates, friends and foes alike.


He is a rare breed. And his climb to the top of our small world of industry and commerce is marked by generosity and a genuine desire to help others.

This is the caliber of the man we lose when he boards a British West Indian Airways aircraft, Canada-bound today. He is leaving to take up residence in Vancouver. Travelling with him on the 7.30 a.m. flight will be his wife, Maria and their three children, Narissa, 12; Rhiannon, 10; and Keenan, 8.

Were it not for the safety of his family, Mr. Charles wouldn’t be making that trip this morning. But he took the decision to migrate (a shock to many) after a daylight attempt to kidnap his wife at gunpoint in October last year.

His attractive wife only escaped through quick thinking. She was just driving away from her Valsayn Park home when she was stopped by the gunman who carried a briefcase. As soon as she realized what was happening she very daringly drove off.

To date the mysterious kidnapping attempt has never been fully explained.

This is the only reason the Charles family is migrating.


He emphasized yesterday in a farewell interview that his decision to leave had nothing to do with a rumoured loss of faith in the economy.

In fact, he reaffirmed his faith in the economic future of the country. "I am very confident about the tremendous potential here", he said.

And, as if to prove it, the young wizard is leaving behind him solid investments in at least nine companied he has helped establish, two of which will be formally launched before the year is out.

With the exception of one company that he is involved in, West Park Villas Limited (the West-moorings housing development project) Mr. Charles conceived and led the way to the establishment of 13 business enterprises since 1966.

Two of them, Barbados Beverages Limited and Rose and La Flamme (West Indies) Limited (manufacturers of flavourings) are based in Barbados and are reportedly doing very well.

In Trinidad, the list is impressive: El Socorro Pharmacy Ltd; Holiday Foods Ltd; Trinidad Express Newspapers Ltd; Gaylord Indian Restaurant; Valpark Shopping Plaza Ltd; General Pharmacy; Flavourite Foods Ltd; Charles Enterprises Limited; E.V. Charles Candy Company Ltd; the country’s first joint industrial venture with Venezuela and Cinemas Limited which will operate a new airconditioned cinema in Valsayn before the year is out.

Of all these companied he has only sold his shares in two, El Socorro Pharmacy and General Pharmacy.

One remarkable feature, however, stands out about Mr. Charles involvement in these enterprises. In spite of the fact that he initiated every one, had and was the guiding force behind them, he does not hold controlling interests in any of the companies. Neither does he hold any promotional shares.


And this is not be accident either. It is all part of the Charles’ philosophy of sharing the wealth.

An outstanding example of Mr. Charles attempt to involve the community in business is the Valpark Shopping Plaza. Just before launching this commercial project, he invited every householder in the Valsayn, St. Augustine and Trincity areas to participate.

The response was not exciting.

Valpark, however has proven its worth. And today its shareholders are reaping rich dividends.

I remember asking Mr. Charles when he was launching Valpark why he didn’t simply raise the capital himself (today the dividends would have been all his). He explained to me then that he was making a sincere attempt to teach people without ready access to business about investment.

Altogether, the Vernon Charles enterprises, if I may call them that, have so far provided more than 1,200 permanent jobs.

In a certain sense. Mr. Charles has been involved in business since he was 11 years old. In those days he helped his father, Mr. Joseph Charles, bottle soft drinks at home after school.

From school he went directly into his father’s soft drink business He became managing director of the company in 1962, and when his father died in 1965 he took full control of the business.

When he left, Joseph Charles Bottling Works and Investments Limited in 1969, the plant was producing at the rate of 465 bottles per minute—a far cry from the time he helped his father at home, when it was a mere four bottles a minute.

Preparing for his departure, Mr. Charles has resigned from several directorships on some rather prestigious boards, among them the Bank of Nova Scotia Trinidad Limited and TEXTEL.

It would be wrong, however, to associate Mr. Charles only with the success of commercial companies and plants.

He took the Harmonites steelband from relative obscurity in Morvant, to national supremacy with his inspired sponsorship while he was with the Solo company.


And his sponsorship did not end with the steelband. There was the famous Group Solo combo, which has since been disbanded. Still alive though, are the Solo Cycle Stars, the Solo Crusaders (a table tennis team), two basketball teams and the Solo Sanjeet (Indian) Orchestra.

On the social front too, he was once VIce Chairman of the National Youth Foundation, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Best Village Competition in 1969, and served on the Archdiocesan Advisory Committee.

Mr. Charles is not too apprehensive about what new challenges he may have to face in Vancouver. In fact, he is looking forward to his new home with his usual optimism.

What is he going to do there?

He is not quite sure. He has no elaborate plans. But there is a possibility he said, that he may go into the real estate business.

His farewell message was simple: "I am very happy to have been in a position to give some young men breaks they would not normally have had. I am glad to see that they have done well. I hope they continue to do well."