Tribute to Professor, The Right Honourable Owen Seymour Arthur by Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan.
The world and region has lost a great man. Barbados has lost one of its finest products. St. Peter has lost a beloved son of the soil; one who loved and cared for us, represented us well, and worked hard for our development. For the residents of St. Peter, Professor, the Right Honourable Owen Seymour Arthur, was first and foremost one of us. Coming from the middle of the parish, the belly of the constituency, he was determined to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to be poor and from the working class and, by dint of hard work and tenacity, rise to any height.
He was proud of his roots – his parents Frank and Iretha (affectionately called Doll), his birthplace in Rose Hill, his primary schooling at All Saints Boys’ School and his secondary schooling at the Coleridge and Parry School. There were other people and educational institutions outside of St. Peter, but for him, St. Peter was a special place.
One of the last things he told me (and I know that he wants this to be remembered) is that he is the only Prime Minister who has represented the constituency of his birth in Parliament. He was proud to have represented us for 34 unbroken years.
St. Peter has always been proud of him. There are many stories about who was meant to be the candidate of the Barbados Labour Party in the first 1984 by-election to replace Speaker of the House of Assembly and our Member of Parliament (MP) Burton Hinds. Our elders are fond of sharing that they stood up to the powers that be and said, “Don’t bring anybody. We have a man – Owen Arthur.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Prime Minister Arthur distinguished himself in many ways. He was a visionary. He knew what he wanted for Barbados and he had a roadmap for how to get there. Whether it was 30,000 jobs for Barbadians or expanding and deepening Caribbean integration, or positioning Barbados on the world stage, he had a plan and was able to execute.
He was a teacher. Many can remember the joy of listening to budget replies and later, budget speeches, and actually understanding what was being said. He gave advice or made suggestions for how you could improve. He enjoyed seeing people develop. He taught me much of what I know about politics. The title “Professor of Practise” was a most appropriate designation.
He was a practitioner. He enjoyed using his deep knowledge of economics and translating it to the practical realities of the everyday lives of ordinary people. He mastered the ability to connect the dots.
He was fearless. Whether it was standing up to the United States on the matter of Shiprider or taking on the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on tax policy. Even in taking on powerful forces here in Barbados he was fearless though not reckless. He was not afraid of the cut and thrust of politics and seemed to revel in it.
He understood the role of education in the uplifting of people. He knew what it had done for him and he had seen what it had done for so many others. He worked hard to ensure that it was not only available but accessible.
He was inclusive. He recognized the size of our country and the limits of its resources. He was determined to move beyond party politics and include the best and most suitable talent available in the development of the country.
He was a man of conviction. I choose to use this term rather than to use stubborn, even though some may believe that stubborn is more appropriate. When convinced of the correctness of a position, it often seemed there was no one on earth and no team of wild horses than could get him to change his mind. He stood his ground regardless of the volume of voices to the contrary.
He was a straight talker in the lineage of former St. Peter MPs before him like JTC Ramsey and the now Rt. Excellent Sir Frank Walcott. Mr. Arthur had many terms and sayings. Two that are particularly important to me and to the people of St. Peter are “Go for the gold” and “Face it and fix it.”
St. Peter celebrated our beloved elder statesman in February at our We Gatherin’ commencement service where he read a lesson and again when Professor Sir Hilary Beckles delivered a superb lecture under the topic “From Cuffee to Owen”.
Listening to Mr. Arthur tell his personal story, I recognized that he was one of a long line of patriots from St. Peter who struggled against oppressive forces and reached the top. In many ways he represented the pinnacle of that struggle and I wanted us to celebrate that.
The people of St. Peter express sincere condolences to his wife Julie, his daughters Sabrina and Leah, his granddaughter, siblings, nieces and nephews and many cousins on the passing of Professor, the Right Honourable Owen Seymour Arthur. We pray that God will comfort them at this time of significant loss.
Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan, M.P.