Former Lt. Gov. Derek Hodge dies at 69


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ST. THOMAS -- Former Lt. Gov. Derek Hodge died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 69.

A towering figure in local politics, he also was admired greatly as an attorney, cherished as a friend and loved by his family.

While his legal and political prowess took the spotlight, he also was a talented musician, fisherman and basketball player.

Hodge was born on St. Croix on Oct. 5, 1941, to Rexford Hodge and Enid Kettle Hodge. He grew up in Frederiksted and received his early education at public schools on St. Croix. He attended high school at Colegio San Justo on Puerto Rico, where he became fluent in Spanish. He then attended Michigan State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1963.

While at Michigan State, he formed the Bamboushay Steel Band with his brother, Winston, and former Daily News publisher Ariel Melchior Jr.

After college, Hodge played center on the V.I. basketball team in the 1966 Central American Games.

A few years later, he decided to go to law school and earned his juris doctorate in 1971 from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

He returned home in 1972 and joined his brother's St. Croix law firm, Hodge, Sheen and Finch.

In 1974, Hodge was elected as the St. Croix District Chairman of the Democratic Party. He had a controversial run for governor in 1982 -- he ran as a Democrat without the party's endorsement -- but lost.

The gubernatorial race may have been lost, but he made an impression on the people of St. Croix. IN 9184 he was the top vote-getter in his first run for the V.I. Legislature. He was chosen by his new colleagues to lead the body as Senate president, a rare honr for a freshman senator.

He served only one term in the Senate before becoming Alexander Farrelly's running mate in the gubernatorial race in 1986. They won the election and HOdge served as lieutenant governor under Farrelly for two terms.

Hodge made another run for governor in 1994 -- this time with Democratic endorsement -- but lost to Gov. Roy Schneider.

After a decade in public service, Hodge returned to private practice, opening a law firm with his cousin Kathleen Mackay, who now serves as a V.I. Superior Court Magistrate Judge.

Joseph Sibilly, the brother of Hodge's wife, Monique Sibilly-Hodge, spoke to The Daily News on Tuesday night on behalf of the family.

"We've lost one of our dear family members," he said. "We'll miss him.

"He enjoyed his time here. He just enjoyed every moment," Sibilly said. "He loved the Virgin Islands. He certainly could have gone elsewhere, but he chose to stay here."

Longtime friend, distant cousin and colleague Iver Stridiron was majority whip in the 16th Legislature when Hodge was Senate president, and he said the two worked well together. That strong partnership continued when Stridiron was attorney general and Hodge was in private practice, he said.

"Derek was a wonderful person, a great humanitarian, smart as a whip," he said. "He had a great intelligence, but he was never above anyone. He was one of the poeple; he never forgot that."

"I'm really going to miss him, we had great times together," Stridiron said.

Gov. John deJongh Jr. offered his condolences to Hodge's family and friends.

"Lt. Governor Hodge was one of the most respected men in the territory. His wise counsel, sharp wit, friendship and political savvy will be missed and mourned by a great number of Virgin Islanders, myself included," DeJongh said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Describing Hidge as a risk-taker, DeJongh said Hodge played a pivotal role in the development of the territory during Hodge's tenure as lieutenant governor.

"As the Commissioner of Insurance, Chairman of the Banking Board and overseer of the Office of the Recorder of Deeds, Tax Assessor's Office and Corporations Division, he modernized these functions and proactively worked for efficiency, accountability and accessability. Lt. Governor Hodge was actively involved in securing federal funds for the territory through joint efforts with former Delegate to Congress Ron de Lugo. His work helped the territory receive over $20 million in appropriations for St. Croix's Henrey E. Rohlsen Airport, as well as for health care facilities, prison renovations and hazard mitigation projects. He helped re-establish the Government of the Virgin Islands' bond rating in the municipal bond market, which led to the issuance of $230 million in bonds for the Capital Improvement Program," deJongh said.

DeJongh served as Finance Commissioner in the Farrelly administration.

"With his family ties and network of friends and colleagues, he was in touch with all aspects of life in the Virgin Islands. It was his passion to see the territory continue to modernize and expand for the good of all residents, and he spent much of his life pursuing these goals," deJongh said.

Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis also offered condolences to Hodge's family, friends and colleagues.

"Lieutenant Governor Hodge will be remembered for his deep and abiding love for the Virgin Islands and its people. He was a man of great intellect and selflessly shared his knowledge with our community as a respected attorney, Lieutenant Governor and statesman of the programs and services administered by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and to create a framework to provide better utilization of resources and enhance service to our community,” Francis said in a statement issued Tuesday. “He was a true public servant and served our community well.”

Hodge was an active member of the V.I. Bar Association, and he served as president of the association just before his election to the Senate in 1984.

Richard Evangelista, the current president of the V.I. Bar Association, said Hodge was a well-respected attorney in the community.

“Even though he was a politician, he was first and foremost an attorney, and a well respected one. He’ll be dearly missed, not only for his great counsel but for his statesmanship, his professionalism,” Evangelista said.

V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen said she was deeply saddened by Hodge’s death. She said he was a childhood friend and political colleague.

“Derek and I go back a long way, we grew up together and as adults, we worked on each other’s political campaigns, helping to get each other elected,” Christensen said in a statement issued Tuesday. “My condolences go out to his wife, Monique, his children, Marisol and Jonathan, and the rest of his circle of family and friends.”

Hodge is survived by his wife; two children, Marisol Cohen and Jonathan Hodge; three grandchildren, Olivia, Malachai and Hadassah; sister, Coleen Hodge; and many other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Winston Hodge.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized by the family.

— Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 774-7882 ext. 311 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

 

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