Grenadian centre-left politician, chief minister 1957–62 and prime minister 1967–79. Initially a champion of the rural poor, he founded the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) in 1950. He became chief minister of the Federation of the West Indies in 1957. As prime minister he led Grenada to independence within the British Commonwealth in 1974, but his regime became increasingly autocratic and corrupt, imposing restrictions on the media and unions, and order through his ‘Mongoose Gang’ of thugs. In 1979 he was ousted in a left-wing coup and, unsuccessful in further elections, he retired as GULP leader in 1996.
Gairy came from a poor country background, and actively promoted the rights of the rural poor in his early political career, founding the Manual, Maritime, and Menial Workers' Union in the late 1940s, and the left-of-centre GULP, the island's first political party. Elected to Grenada's Legislative Council in 1951, he antagonized white planters by leading a campaign to increase workers' pay. As a result, he was exiled to the dependency of Carriacou, 48 km/30 mi away, for six years.
After succeeding Herbert Blaize as prime minister, he held many ministerial portfolios himself. His idiosyncratic style of rule was compounded by his belief in voodoo and his conviction that he was under surveillance by UFOs. He was deposed while in New York addressing the UN by the left-wing opposition leader Maurice Bishop, in a largely bloodless coup led by General Hudson Austin. Returning to Grenada, after Bishop had been removed, he unsuccessfully contested the 1984 elections. The GULP failed to win any seats at the 1995 general election and in 1996, after suffering a stroke, Gairy retired.
He was knighted in 1977.