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Farewell to Lammie the stalwart

Lionel Seymour Craig, who died on Sunday morning at 85, reportedly of a heart attack, was for more than two decades the uncompromisingly militant advocate of the policies and programmes of the Barbados Labour Party.

And his fiery spirit and hysterics on the public meetings platform and in the House of Assembly oft-times made him a source of entertaining or out-of-the box reportage, and on occasion a target of public, media and political anger –– in the latter case particularly through his infamous “let them starve” outburst in Parliament in relation to the members and supporters of the then Opposition Democratic Labour Party.

This very episode, which would even see outrage and dander swelling from within the bowels of the Barbados Labour Party against Lionel Craig, the firebrand, on account of his parliamentary spasm of 1978, would shadow him for many a year. His subsequent apologies in the Press and in Parliament itself would seemingly do little to mitigate the breach of political convention and mollify a hurt and disconcerted BLP hierarchy.

Starving the other side was simply not the thing done –– most definitely not the thing said!

But there was an affable, genial and gentler side to Lammie Craig. He was the lively soul at social gatherings, outings and other events –– across partisan lines –– even though it was clear where he belonged. He even earned a reputation for parliamentary impartiality and professionalism as Leader of the House, treating all other Members of Parliament with equity within the confines of his Constitutional remit.

One of Barbados’ most famous and successful insurance executives, his political accomplishments and boom could not have come from mere brazenness, nor from the imagery of the bull-necked Barbados Labour Party St James political warrior that much of the electorate would perceive him to be. Nor was he all braggadocio.

Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley recalls Mr Craig as being “the consummate politician who knew how to connect with people and how to represent them”, who “brought his tremendous people skills as a successful insurance agent to the task of representing people and improving the lives of ordinary Barbadians, especially the aged”.

These talents would stand him in good stead and to the benefit of the party he loved. For some 20 years Lionel Craig enjoyed unchallenged political mastery in the constituency of St James, because of his attractiveness to the ordinary elector of the riding, winning the seat there in four successive general elections (1966 to 1981).

The policies of his party, which he pursued with voracious energy and determined will, would see him further transforming much of the residential landscape of Barbados as Minister of Housing between 1976 and 1981. And BLP leader Mia Mottley reminds us of his accomplishments in the housing developments at Ferniehurst and Rosemont in St Michael, Haynesville, West Terrace and Oxnards in St James, Bagatelle in St Thomas, and Wotton in Christ Church.

By association –– and example, one may say –– Lionel Craig sought to spread his brand of political activism across the Barbados Labour Party movement, and never shirked from backing any group of party supporters or activists with an axe to grind in the hope of heightening militancy and creating fresh opportunities for social action.

These were not qualities which went unnoticed or unacknowledged by the Democratic Labour Party, for all the adversarial elective politics played out through the 1960s to 1980s.

And it was the DLP Government, under Prime Minister David Thompson, which in 2009 bestowed upon Mr Craig the second highest national award in our land –– the Companion Of Honour of Barbados (CHB) for his outstanding contribution to national service during his political career.

General secretary of the Democratic Labour Party, Donville Inniss, was minded to say that Mr Craig, “formidable opponent” though he was, “would have made an immense contribution initially to the politics of St James and, by extension, to the politics of Barbados”, and that he was “an outstanding parliamentary representative for many years”.

Lionel Seymour Craig was also human and subject to foibles. We can surely forgive his 1978 transgression. He confessed he was under duress and smitten by frustration on account of “unjustified” DLP accusations, and begged the forgiveness of us all.

It would yet be another great tribute to Lionel Craig granting him –– though posthumously –– the full absolution he sought, and a greater honour yet to his surviving wife Tracy and daughter Leslie.

May he rest in peace.

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