Vanuatu daily news digest | Keith Woodward OBE

Keith Woodward OBE

The first President of the Republic, George Sokomanu, feels that the other so-called Fathers of Vanuatu’s Independence still living, would agree to Keith Woodward also being granted such a title himself, even though Woodward remained an Englishman during his twenty-five years in the New Hebrides. Keith loved the people of this country and the islands of the New Hebrides and devoted a lifetime of service to what was to become Vanuatu.

Keith Woodward was Political Secretary for most of his time here, which ended in 1979. He was well acquainted with the valid desire of the people of the New Hebrides to be accorded a nationality of their own. Man ples lacked a citizenship and could not be granted a passport, only a travel document by one or other Residency. Man Efate or man Tanna, New Hebridean or indigene, the people of these islands, in an era of worldwide de-colonization, were prepared to fight for their Independence from not just one but two, and rarely unanimous, colonial masters. Woodward was well aware of the injustice the Fathers of Independence knew they were getting. He was also well aware of the manner in which their country – and especially their heritage of land – had been appropriated by foreigners for their own acquisition of wealth.

Woodward’s strength of spirit has been evident during the last days of his life in Bath in Gloucestershire. His cancer reached his liver on Thursday last week and he entered a coma. His Anglican priest was called to administer the last rites. He was expected to live no longer than another day and was not taking any food. But yet he would slip back into consciousness from time to time and speak with his wife Elizabeth or second daughter Fleur. He lived a further week.

This indomitable spirit upheld Keith Woodward through a life of almost total blindness from a congenital condition which also affected his hearing. He was born in Egypt in 1930. His education was undertaken in Plymouth College and at Keble College, Oxford. He graduated in Modern History in 1951. He came to the New Hebrides for the British National Service in 1953 and dealt with a wide range of administrative tasks along with political issues.

Keith Woodward played a major part in setting up the New Hebrides Cultural Centre in 1961 and 1962 and remained on the Board of Management for 16 years, Additionally he was involved in the introduction of Scouting. He was also a strong member of the Anglican Church in Port Vila and efforts to establish a hostel for young men coming to work in town from the islands were rewarded with the hostel on which he himself worked being named the Woodward Hostel, in the grounds of the Anglican church at Tagabe.

In spite of the blindness he suffered, Keith was often seen making his way to the Erakor Lagoon down from Seaside and sculling from there to near the Hotel Le Lagon. In his retirement in Bath he would daily jog along little used country lanes near his home at the area called Lansdown until only a year ago.

Administrative Officer Brian Bresnihan speaks of Woodward as "an acknowledged expert on the New Herbrides." Former British Resident Commissioner Sir Roger du Boulay paid a tribute to Woodward for his ability to work closely with, and gain the respect of, his French colleagues. Do Boulay mentions this in the book "Tufala Gavman" jointly edited by Woodward and Bresnihan. Keith Woodwsard was a fluent speaker of French. Jacques Fabre mentions his "good fortune to work with Keith Woodward in the same book.

Keith Woodward has written a political memoir of his life in this country, detailing the events surrounding the advancement to Independence of the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu. It is only now being published and in the coming days readers will learn of how to obtain it, both electronically and in hard copy.


One Comment on “Vanuatu daily news digest | Keith Woodward OBE”

  1. Selwyn Leodoro says:

    Thanks Bob for this enlightening piece on Kieth.

    My condolence to his wife Elizabeth and Fleur, his daughter..

    I knew Kieth from my time with the BNS in January 1975 to February 1978, along with Ati George Sokomanu, George Pakoa Tarimanu, Kieth Mala, Massing Lauru, Anderson Garae, Tom Bakeo, John Naupa, Jimmy Simon, George Bule, Mannaseh Lango et al..
    In November 1975, I was fortunate to be interviewed by Kieth on the subject of training the “Locals” via a Crash Course in Public Administration in preparation for Self Rule. Kieth asked me for my views on this topic.
    As you know. at that time, not many people knew what self rule meant, so I answered Kieth with whatever background knowledge I had learnt in my 5 years of school in Sydney, and 1 year of Pre-Med Science at USP. In 1975, I was 22, and the Senior ranks of the BNS considered me as another well educated ‘smart ass’ who knows nothing about Public Administration, so they should treat me as a guinea pig in their experiment. I was quietly aware of this, and played along.

    The rest, as they say, is History..