Juan Francisco Luis
Former Governor of the United States Virgin Islands
Juan Francisco Luis was the third elected Governor of the United States Virgin Islands.
Early life and education
Juan Francisco Luis was born in 1940 on the neighboring island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. He moved with his family to Saint Croix-which has a sizeable Puerto Rican community-in the U.S. Virgin Islands when he was two months old. In 1958, Luis graduated from the former Christiansted High School as his class' valedictorian. Luis studied at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.
He moved back to Saint Croix after college, where he took a position as a sixth-grade teacher at the Christiansted Public Grammar School.He also worked as a project office manager for the Department of Housing and Urban Development before serving as a in the U.S. Army.
Luis was honorable discharged from the U.S. Army in 1968, holding the rank of sergeant. He returned to St. Croix after his discharge, where he married his wife, the former Luz Maria Guadalupe. He took a series of positions within the civil service and private sector until his election to office in 1972. In 1968, Luis became a personnel administrative officer in the Virgin Islands Department of Health. Luis held several positions in the private sector from 1970 to 1972. He worked for Litwin Corporation as an industrial relations manager. Luis then joined Burns International as an accountant. Finally, Luis was employed as a personnel manager and comptroller at the Estate Carlton Hotel.
Luis was elected to the 10th Legislature of the Virgin Islands, the territory's unicameral legislative body, in 1972, when he was 32 years old. He served one, two-year term as a Senator before seeking higher office in 1974.
In 1974, two years after his election to the Legislature, gubernatorial candidate Cyril King persuaded Luis to join his ticket as his running mate for lieutenant governor. King had founded the Independent Citizens Movement (ICM) in the 1960s, so he and Luis ran for office as the nominees of the ICM. King and Luis were elected as governor and lieutenant governor in a gubernatorial runoff election held in November 1974, defeating the Democratic ticket of Alexander Farrelly and Ruby Rouss.
Governor Cyril King died in office of stomach cancer at Knud-Hansen Memorial Hospital at 8:06 p.m. on 2 January 1978. Luis, King's lieutenant governor, was sworn into office as the Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands ten minutes after King's death to fill the remainder of his term.
On 21 February 1978, Governor Luis appointed banker Henry Millin, a Democrat, as his first lieutenant governor in an announcement broadcast on television and radio. Millin was sworn into office on 10 March 1978, at Government House on Saint Thomas. Millin became Luis' running mate in the 1978 gubernatorial election in November. Luis chose to run for governor as an independent candidate, dropping his previous political affiliation with the ICM in the election.
Governor Luis and Lt. Governor Millin were elected to a full four-year term on 7 November 1978. Luis defeated the Democratic ticket of Ron de Lugo, the then Delegate of the U.S. Virgin Islands to the U.S. House of Representatives, and de Lugo's running mate, Senator Eric E. Dawson, in a tough election campaign. Luis won 10,978 votes, or 59.2%, while de Lugo placed second with 7,568 votes, or 40.8% of the total votes cast. Luis won all three major islands in the election, including a landslide win on Saint Croix.
Governor Luis and Lt. Governor Millin were inaugurated into a full, four-year term on Thursday, January 4, 1979, at a ceremony in Christiansted.
In 1982, Luis announced his campaign for re-election to a second full term. However, Lieutenant Governor Henry Millin chose to challenge Luis in the 1982 gubernatorial election.Luis needed a new running mate and he selected Julio Brady to replace Millin on the ticket.
Luis was re-elected to a second term on 2 November 1982, in a five-candidate race. Luis and Brady came in first with 11,354 votes and were declared the winners of the election. His closest challenger, Lt. Governor Henry Millin, placed second with 4,143 votes. However, the election was challenged in court by fourteen Virgin Islands residents, who argued that blank and spoiled ballots should be counted, which would necessitate a runoff election. By law, a gubernatorial candidate in the U.S. Virgin Islands must garner more than 50% of vote to avoid a runoff. Luis would have fallen just short of 50% if blank and spoiled ballots were counted. A lower court in the Virgin Islands agreed with those arguing for a runoff and ordered the blank and spoiled ballots to be counted, which brought Luis below 50%. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia rejected the lower court ruling and allowed blank and spoiled ballots to be excluded, giving Luis an outright majority of the total votes cast. Thus, Luis won re-election to a second term without a runoff. Luis and Lt. Governor Julio Brady were sworn into a second term in January 1983.
Governor Luis created a new office, the federal programs coordinator, which worked to better coordinate federal funding and cultivate better relations with U.S. federal agencies, such as the Office of Insular Affairs.Luis is credited by many, including current Governor John de Jongh, with the overhaul and creation of the U.S. Virgin Islands' present health care system during his time in office. Luis successfully lobbied for federal funding which was used to construct most of the U.S. Virgin Islands modern hospitals, including the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital & Medical Center on Saint Croix, the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic on Saint John and the Schneider Regional Medical Center on Saint Thomas. In education, Luis abolished the practice of holding two separate sessions of school at the same school during the day.
Luis spearheaded the expansion of the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on Saint Croix and the Cyril E. King Airport on Saint Thomas. He also oversaw the construction of other infrastructure projects, including the creation of a container terminal on Saint Croix. The first desalination plant was constructed by the V.I. Water and Power Authority during Luis' administration.
Governor Luis was also credited with launching the political careers of some of the U.S. Virgin Islands' most prominent politicians. They included former Senator Holland Redfield, whom he appointed to the Public Services Commission and encouraged to run for the Legislature in 1984, and Governor John de Jongh, whom Luis nominated to the V.I. Industrial Development Commission, which launched de Jongh's career in public service.
Luis was barred from seeking a third consecutive term in the 1986 gubernatorial election due to term limits. He was succeeded by Alexander Farrelly on 5 January 1987.
In 1990, Luis once again ran for election as governor. However, he was defeated by then Governor Alexander Farrelly, who won re-election.
Luis and his wife, former U.S. Virgin Islands First Lady Luz Maria Luis, had two children, Juan Francisco Luis Jr. and Carlota Amalia.
Death and legacy
Juan Francisco Luis was hospitalized at the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital & Medical Center on St. Croix on 3 June 2011. He died at the hospital on 4 June 2011, at the age of 70. His funeral mass was held at the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Christiansted. Luis was buried at Kingshill Cemetery following a graveside service, which included a full military tribute by the Virgin Islands National Guard.
Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital & Medical Center on St. Croix is named in his honour.