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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsArchivesV.I. Answer Desk: The Curious Case of the Carter Clock

V.I. Answer Desk: The Curious Case of the Carter Clock

Tim Ammons wrote the Source asking about a clock in his father’s estate that was a gift from Gov. Juan F. Luis to President Jimmy Carter in June of 1980.

"From what I know, the clock was presented to President Carter and he, at some point, gave it to his mother," Ammons wrote. "She later gave it to a Georgia State patrolman who was friends with my father. At some point a trade was made since my father enjoyed collecting clocks."

Extensive research uncovered no mention of the clock. But a great deal of circumstantial evidence suggests it was given to Lillian Carter between June 30 and July 1, 1980 – likely during a July 1, 1980, hospital groundbreaking ceremony on St. Croix.

The face of the clock is a slab of St. Croix mahogany, carved or burnt with the inscription: "To President Jimmy Carter … In appreciation from the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands … Juan Luis, Governor."

The back of the slab is carved to say "Mahogany of St. Croix," with an outline of the island around the words "St. Croix Virgin Islands" and the date June 1980.

The territory’s third elected governor, Luis was also the longest serving, taking office in 1978 when Gov. Cyril E. King passed away in office, and then winning two full terms at the ballot box, to serve a full decade in office.

Born in Vieques, Puerto Rico, in 1940, Luis moved to St. Croix at the age of 2 months, growing up on the big island and graduating valedictorian of Christiansted High School Class of 1958. After attending college in Puerto Rico, he returned to St. Croix, taught grammar school and worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development until being called to serve in the U.S. Army.

In 1975, he was elected lieutenant governor on the ticket with King.

Luis is credited with getting financing to build the territory’s two modern commercial airports, building a new container port on St. Croix and a wide array of road and construction projects. He acquired more than 2,000 acres of land in the middle of St. Croix for affordable housing and agriculture and is responsible for the building of Elena Christian and John H. Woodson junior high schools. He passed away in 2011.

The appearance of the clock face is very similar to other clocks, signs and tables produced since the 1970s by St. Croix Life and Environmental Arts Project (LEAP) up Mahogany Road in what is locally called the "rain forest," but which is technically a dry, tropical forest. It has a furniture/art facility that brings together locally harvested tropical hardwoods and the talents of local artisans as a training program for local youths. (See Related Links below)

Vincent Nichols of St. Croix LEAP told the Source they had no record of making the clock, but said it was plausible. "The founder passed 25 years ago, but I was around then too. And it could have been," Nichols said. "We usually do that, with the carving and saying it is made from local mahogany," he said.

A call from a Source reporter to Raul Carillo, protocol officer for the V.I. Office of the Governor, revealed there is no single comprehensive list of gifts given to heads of state by V.I. governors.

The website of the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum has a "state gifts" section that says the "Carters asked state governors to contribute an item native to their state that could be a special gift for a foreign leader." The clock appears to partly fit that description. However, being dedicated to Jimmy Carter would seem to preclude “re-gifting” to a foreign leader, as anticipated.

Several helpful people at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, including curator Sylvia McGee, looked for documentation of this gift, but came up empty handed. While there are lists of official state gifts to Carter, that clock is not among them, McGee said.

While the clock says June 1980, a search of the New York Times and other online news archives found no mention of Carter visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands or the Caribbean that month, nor of Gov. Juan Luis visiting Washington, D.C. Several newspapers reported that Carter returned to Washington on June 28 from an eight-day European trip.

The St. Croix Avis newspaper printed a brief item June 25, 1980, saying Gov. Juan F. Luis had invited President Jimmy Carter to groundbreakings for what are now the territory’s two hospitals. "Unable to attend, President Carter indicated that his mother,” Lillian Carter, would represent the White House, the Avis reported in an item with no byline.

Lillian Carter arrived June 30 and attended the groundbreaking for what is now the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital on July 1, and also a groundbreaking for the Roy Lester Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas on July 2.

There is no mention of a clock in either the Avis or Daily News reports on Lillian Carter’s visit.

Avis reporter Katrina White quoted the president’s mother joking with Roy Lester Schneider, at that time Health commissioner and later governor. "All the praises I’ve heard for Dr. Schneider, I had thought he was a god,” Lillian Carter said. “After being with him for a few days, I know he is not."

Given the date on the clock and Luis’ invitation to President Carter, it is reasonable to speculate that the clock was given to Lillian Carter during her visit to St. Croix in 1980. That Ammons reports the clock was given by Lillian Carter is highly suggestive too. And it would explain why the Carter museum has no record of the clock.

"If it was given to Mrs. Lillian, we would not have a record of it," McGee said.

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