COLUMN – The Errol Barrow I knew
One day in the month of May, 1986, I received a telephone call from the then newly elected Prime Minister of Barbados –– Errol Walton Barrow. Mr Barrow proceeded to ask me a series of questions that were designed to elicit personal information about me, and then ended the conversation with the following statement: “Oh, and by the way, I am appointing you to the Senate of Barbados.”
I had just turned 26 years of age, and therefore became –– at that time –– the youngest senator in the history of Barbados. Needless to say, it was a great honour for me to be asked by Mr Barrow to serve his administration in the Senate, and I eagerly looked forward to many years of political interaction with this legendary Barbadian statesman.
Alas, it was not to be! Almost exactly one year after that unforgettable telephone conversation, the great man passed away, leaving this earthly scene. And, some 28 years later, our nation is still reeling from the effects of his most untimely passing.
In celebration of Errol Barrow Day, I now reproduce the tribute that I made to this great father of our nation in the Senate on June 11, 1987.
Mr Deputy President, I agree with those who have expressed the view over the past week that there will never be another Errol Barrow. I believe that a number of very unique and special circumstances coalesced to form the character and personality of that great Barbadian.
From his very birth, his life was a special one. He was the nephew of Charles Duncan O’Neal, the great socialist. From very young he must have imbibed the great socialist principles and the principle of identity with the interest of the working people.
He was the son of Bishop Reginald Barrow, and I, as a son of a minister of religion, know the special and unique influences and pressures that are brought to bear on the child of a minister of religion; and if you are lucky, you have held up before you the great moral values; and I believe Mr Barrow was lucky.
At a very early age he experienced not only the confines of Barbados, but the variety and diversity of the Caribbean region. He lived in the United States Virgin Islands as a youngster. His family had tangible links with St Vincent, and other Caribbean islands. So at a very early age he would have become exposed to the uniqueness, vitality and the specialness of being a Caribbean person.
He attended Wesley Hall Boys’ School, where he was imbued by the spirit and personality of Rawle Parkinson, and he must have imbibed there, also, the principles of self-reliance and industry that were the hallmarks of the late, great headmaster of Wesley Hall.
He was exposed in 1937 to Marcus Garvey, and that, too, must have left its mark. He was exposed to the phenomenal 1937 riots that played so large a role in creating the new Barbados. That, too, must have opened his eyes to the need for change in Barbados and to the possibilities of the new society that he was to play so large a part in building later on.
He was exposed to World War II, to the Nuremburg trials, great issues of human suffering, to the great problems of the 20th century of racism and nationalism. He was exposed to these things at perhaps the most profound and fundamental level in the days following the end of World War II.
He attended the London School of Economics at a time when it was traditional for Barbadian Scholars to opt instead for Oxford and Cambridge, law and medicine. It means that even at that age he had his mind set on the future, because at that time economics was a relatively new academic discipline, in the direction of the modern world, of a modern Barbados.
He came back to Barbados and practised law, and became involved in politics in the era of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the era when the energies of the masses of people were being released, following the end of World War II, the time of the great achievement of universal adult suffrage, when the ordinary Barbadian man and woman came forcefully on to the political stage in Barbados.
I think that all these powerful circumstances created a unique individual, and I will not say that we will never see a greater person, but certainly we shall never see a person who so admirably represents the best qualities of the Barbadian people.
I should like to add my support to Senator [Darnley] Boxill’s call for a statue to the late Prime Minister, and not only a statue, but I should like to add my own call for the Government to commission an official biography of Errol Walton Barrow, and to do it very soon. It is a pity he did not see it fit, or did not find the time, to write his own autobiography.
I think it is crucial to the development of the youth of this country that we have access to a properly documented, well written official biography of the life, times and work of the man Errol Barrow.
I have had much to say over the past week. I have been given a lot of opportunity, I must say, especially by the television station, to say much about the political work of Errol Barrow, and I do not intend to go into that here this afternoon. I just want to draw reference to the direction that Errol Barrow was pointing this country in, especially during the last year of his life.
If we want to find a concise and cogent statement of where he wanted this country to go, we need look no further than the text of the two outstanding speeches that he made during the past year: the speech he delivered to the CARICOM Heads of Government at their meeting in Georgetown, Guyana, and the speech that he delivered in Miami. I think he was making three fundamental points.
He was telling us that our future lies in the Caribbean integration movement. He made this point very forcefully in Georgetown, Guyana. He said that we should not even confine that integration process and movement to mere matters of trade and economics, but we have to begin understanding ourselves, appreciating ourselves, appreciating the wonderful achievements, unique institutions and the unique personality and character that we, as a Caribbean people, have developed over the centuries. We need to begin understanding that and developing it.
He also made another fundamental point, that we have, as a people, as a nation, and as a region, to protect the sovereignty and integrity of our nation and of our region. He was very strong in his pride as a Barbadian and as a citizen of the Caribbean. He made the point that we had to defend our Independence and stand tall as a people; that we were not here to accept largesse or freeness from anybody; that our principles must be those of self-reliance and doing things for ourselves.
In fact, at the Miami conference he told his friends in the American Congress that if they wanted to assist Barbados, the way to assist us was not to give us aid or largesse, but to free up their markets to Caribbean exports. He said that they should do that not as any favour to the Caribbean people, but as a practical measure to redress the phenomenal imbalance in trade between our countries and the United States, and that that was not asking for a favour.
That is how Errol Barrow thought and spoke. In fact, the Americans themselves are now asking Japan to correct the imbalance in trade between their two countries, and this is no favour. He was not looking for favours.
The first fundamental point that he made during the past year, and the third fundamental lesson he was trying to teach us, is that we need to embark upon the urgent task of resuscitating our economy and making our economy more competitive internationally; and I believe this is what Senator [John] Goddard was referring to, with all classes, all people, all sectors of the economy working towards that common goal.
I believe this is what the programme of the Democratic Labour Party over the past year has been aimed at, from the Budgetary Proposals of last year. Errol Barrow was trying to say to us that we exist in a very precarious environment, we are a small island economy, and that if we are to survive, every sector, every class, all people must be involved in that process and we must pull together.
I believe that these are the three fundamental lessons that he tried to leave with us over the past year. The third one is perhaps the most fundamental, because in making that challenge to the Barbadian society, he was saying that our salvation lies in our own hands, in the skills, the determination and the will of the people of Barbados to succeed, and I believe he was throwing out a special challenge to the young people of Barbados, the ones he had done so much to educate.
Sir, I should like to conclude by offering my condolences and sympathy to the family of Errol Barrow, to all his friends, colleagues, the members of his party and to the members of his Government, who so dearly feel his loss.
I should just like to echo the sentiment that has been expressed here today, that the greatest tribute we can pay to Errol Barrow is to make sure that we continue his life’s work, and by our so doing bring it one step closer to fruition.
I thank you.
(David A. Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)