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Saturday, November 26, 2022


The death of Ariel Melchior Sr. was a personal loss, not just to his family, but to the many of us who knew "Senior" and admired him and the stands he took on issues of importance to the Virgin Islands. Those stands were not always popular and they won him enemies among the many who were more concerned with their immediate personal interests than what might in the long run benefit all Virgin Islanders.
In the early years of World War II, when the draft did not apply to the territory, he called for the extension of the draft to the islands, arguing that those who were clamoring for the right to elect their own governor had to recognize that with rights came obligations. This was not an argument that won many friends.
And in 1961, with the Democrats in control of Congress and the White House again after eight years in the political wilderness, and the Virgin Islands Democratic Party anxious for a fellow Democrat to be installed in Government House, who but Senior would fly up to the mainland and plunk down $10,000 of his own money to buy a full page ad in Washington Star headlined "32 Points of Suppression of the Freedom of the Press in the Virgin Islands." True, but not popular with the political "ins."
That was back when the Legislature regularly went into executive session, closed to the media –The Daily News that is. The doors were always open to the Home Journal, owned by a Democrat senator. And so too was the public till, as for years the Home Journal was the only paper to enjoy the gravy train of government-paid legal advertising.
And then there was crime. The Daily News, when it could gain access to the police blotter, regularly reported on crime in the islands, much to the dismay of governors, police chiefs, and much of the business community. Their desire was to keep the best possible face before the tourists who brought money to the islands and the mainland carpetbaggers who gave the politicians a cut of what they extracted from the government. (Remember the $30,000 fee given to a consultant who made the astounding discovery that by switching to driving on the right there would be less damage to the right front of cars in head-on collisions?)
Senior didn't lose all the battles though. He fought against the proposed East End airport at a time when only the environmentalists who wanted to save the Mangrove Lagoon, and those who weighed the real costs against the supposed benefits were in his camp. Yet, eventually, common sense won, and even the governor who had been the prime backer of that project came to admit that he had been wrong.
All of those battles were fought very much in the public arena, with the Daily News in the white hat and the Home Journal in the black hat in the ring. This rivalry in print gave Virgin Islanders some of the best ringside seats for some of the most biting commentary and richest humor in print anywhere in the United States. Those who remember Hitler, Bully, the Defrock Priest, and Undah de Market Place have a legacy that very, very few on the mainland could ever have.
The Old Man may have had his faults, of which few of us are in lack, but ever since he started the Daily News on a few hundred bucks he borrowed from a San Juan bank, after the local banker had turned him down, he displayed the grit, the determination, and the principles that guided a newspaper the like of which you just don't see anymore.

Editor's note: John Thompson joined The Daily News in 1970 as a reporter, was the paper's editorial writer for most of that decade, and eventually was named editor. He returned to the mainland prior to the sale of the paper to Gannett, but continued to work with Mr. Melchior on a proposed biography. He currently produces a monthly magazine for a scientific association.

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