Barrow the inspirer
As he delivered a presentation in memory of National Hero Errol Barrow, St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves established distance between the “Dipper” and another national leader –– Tom Adams.
“My settled view of the whole of Barrow’s record is that he was a transformative, and not a transactional leader. Tom Adams was of the latter type, a transactional leader,” Gonsalves told an audience of mainly Democratic Labour Party faithful when delivering the 16th Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture on Friday night.
Gonsalves spent some 90 minutes delving into the life and significance of Barbados’ first Prime Minister from the unique perspective of a seasoned Caribbean political leader, scholar, and someone who spent time in Barrow’s country among the people whose lives were transformed.
Having placed Barrow and Tom Adams, another pioneering dynamic Prime Minister, in two different but similarly significant dimensions, Gonsalves shared opinions on the former, the representative of St John, who passed in 1987.
He advised that in making pronouncements on Barrow, “we ought to resist the temptation of focusing on the multitude of individual and tactical decisions which any political leader, particularly those in our small Caribbean countries may make”.
Here the Vincentian touched on the fact that regional political leaders were often called upon to deal with the small and large issues all at once, at the risk of citizens taking personal offence.
“Undoubtedly, an individual here or there may have a prime ministerial discretion exercised unfavourable to him or her, but which in no way undermines, hampers or reflects adversely on our thrust of the society.
“Amidst his much lesser failures or limitations, such an assessment must always avoid abstractions and stylized polemics.”
In the peer assessment of Barrow, Gonsalves disagreed with the writer Gordon Lewis.
“Barrow’s achievement in leading Barbados from a veritable plantation village into a modern sophisticated nation is now legendary. But this is not mere legend; it is factual.
“Brilliant as the political scientist Gordon Lewis was in his magisterial volume The Growth Of The Modern West Indies, published in 1968, he was in error in his assessment of Errol Barrow as simply ‘a modernizer’.
“To be fair to Lewis, he had not yet seen the flowering of Barbados’ social democracy applied to the domestic and external circumstances of Barbados.”
Gonsalves explained: “Barrow’s leadership was of a special high quality. To be sure, he inspired the people whom he led; but, more importantly, he drew out of them that which was good and noble in them. Oft-times he drew out nobility which the people did not know as yet they possessed.
“So he did not simply instil; he did something more profoundly lasting; and he caused his people to deliver above the very limitations which they had imposed on themselves.”
In the view of the Vincentian leader, 27 years after his death, the legacy of Barrow continues to be a source of inspiration when confronted by an avalanche of naysayers.
“Today in our Caribbean, the political gospel of hopelessness and helplessness by so many who occupy high purchase in politics, academia, the church, business, and the commentarial would have found no support from Errol Barrow.”