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The former Students’ Union president who became an ambassador to the UN

George Odlum meets The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh when they visited the University in 1958

George Odlum meets The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh when they visited the University in 1958 Bristol University's Special Collection

Press release issued: 27 September 2011

The life and achievements of Bristol's first black Students’ Union President are being honoured as part of Black History Month in October.

George Odlum played a pivotal role during his time at Bristol University and went on to become a leading voice in Caribbean politics at a time of significant social change.

The University of Bristol’s Students Union [UBU] has written a short biography of his life, documenting his contribution to the university and successful career, which saw him become an ambassador to the United Nations.

George came to England in the mid 1950s to study English at Bristol University and quickly became part of the University community through the Union, taking part in the Drama Society and the Debating Society amongst others before being elected as President of the Union in 1958.

At that time the UK was still going through significant social change and was still 10 years away from the introduction of the Race Relations Act of 1968.

Samantha Budd, the Chief Executive of UBU, has compiled an article about George for Nonesuch, the University’s magazine, to coincide with Black History Month.

She said: “To have been a Union President, then as now, required above ordinary levels of confidence and charisma. As the son of a barber and a black man from a small Caribbean island, it was a huge achievement to be elected as president at such a challenging time in the country’s history.

“His achievements reflect the values of the Union and the University as well as demonstrating the valuable contribution that the Caribbean community made to Bristol during this era.”

After leaving Bristol, George went on to take a second degree at Magdalen College, Oxford, to study Politics and Economics and continued to act as well as taking part in football and cricket.

He returned to St Lucia in 1961, where he immersed himself in a political career that was to see him become a popular and significant voice in Caribbean politics, holding the position of Vice President in the 1960s, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the 1990s and Ambassador to the United Nations in 1995.

George died in 2003, aged 69, and his funeral saw wide-spread grieving, with Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, describing him as a "giant of a man”.

His achievements fit with the aims of Black History Month, which focuses on positive black contributions to society while raising awareness of black people and their cultural history.

One of the rooms in the Students’ Union was renamed the Odlum Room in 2004 and his legacy will remain once the building has undergone its huge refurbishment programme, with the room becoming the heart of a new multi-million pound International Foundation Centre.

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