Peter Morgan (NATION ARCHIVES)
IN HIS BOOK The Life and Times of Errol Barrow, Peter Morgan dedicated the last chapter to the death of Errol Walton Barrow, the Father of Independence. These are the events as they unfolded, in his words.
Errol Barrow had known since 1986 that he had not long to live. His doctors in the U.S. had told him that his heart was in such condition that there was nothing more they could do for him. This only seemed to inspire him to work even harder in order to accomplish as much as he could in the time that was left.
From Thursday May 21st until Sunday May 25th he visited New York primarily to attend a function at Rochdale Village Community Centre in Queens. This was a function arranged by Barbadians in New York in celebration of the first anniversary of the election victory. He was reported to be in good form circling the room, chatting with people at every table and generally enjoying the occasion.
On the Monday he was in his office by 7:45 a.m. and worked through the morning. On the Tuesday he attended a meeting of the House of Assembly. Thursday was the regular Cabinet meeting.
On Friday May 29th he left home at 6:30 a.m. to visit St Peter where there had been extensive flooding. He then held a Press Conference at the Arawak Cement Plant and passed through his constituency of St John to talk with people and see what problems they had encountered from the inclement weather.
That evening he addressed a mammoth crowd at a meeting in Independence Square to mark the anniversary of the General Election Victory. He dealt at some length with the increasing problem of drug abuse and promised that strong measures would be taken to minimise this, including the use of the Defence Force where necessary.
“The Defence Force is not going to be used against the people of Barbados. The Defence Force is not going to be used against the people of the Caribbean. The Defence Force is going to be used against the drug smugglers,” he declared. He was reported in the press as ‘being in a fiery mood’.
On Saturday May 30th Errol Barrow toured the Barbados Manufacturers Exposition. In the afternoon he opened a fair in his constituency. In the evening he attended the wedding of the son of his friend Ronnie Gittens and then went on to attend a dance at the D.L.P. Headquarters.
On Sunday, even Dipper took a day off.
He was back at his office at 7:45 a.m. on Monday morning for a series of meetings, leaving the office at 2 p.m. for his beach house Kampala near to Paradise Beach Club, where, soon after, Errol Barrow collapsed and died.
His personal physician, Dr Richie Haynes, was also Minister of Finance and was eventually found at a meeting of the Central Bank. Meantime, Dr Haynes’ wife, Carol Jacobs, who is also a physician, went directly to Kampala on hearing the news from friends. There was nothing to be done.
Dr Haynes and one or two other Ministers and close friends arrived, including Sir James Tudor, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Maurice King, the Attorney General. Each reacted to the situation in his or her own personal way – some unashamedly weeping, others simply subdued and not knowing quite what to say.
Later in the evening most of the Cabinet Ministers who were in the island – Ministers [Brandford] Taitt and [Wes] Hall were away at the time – gathered in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Erskine Sandiford to discuss what should be done. Then Mr Sandiford left for Government House where he was duly sworn in as Prime Minister.
Mr Barrow lay in State at the Auditorium – the monument he had built but declined to have named after himself. Thousands of people passed by his coffin to pay their respects – people from all walks of life and political persuasions.
A solemn State Funeral was held at the National Stadium – the Cathedral could not have accommodated a fraction of the mourners who attended. Dignitaries from all parts of the world were in attendance. Tributes were paid by his close friend – a visibly distraught Prime Minister “Son” Mitchell of St Vincent and the Grenadines and by his sister Dame Nita Barrow. Dame Nita expressed the thoughts of many of us when she said:-
“There is little I feel I can do or say now, except some word of thanks for Errol as a brother, as a family man, as a friend, as a human being who was wonderful to know and care for.
“I say wonderful, for Errol Barrow, who at times seemed almost simple in his manner, was also a complex person, a man of many parts, full of surprises. So being close to him meant being a part of his rich adventure of living. It was an adventure in which people mattered most.”
Later that afternoon Errol Barrow’s remains were flown to Miami for cremation as he had instructed.
Some time later his ashes were scattered from a plane over the Caribbean Sea. An era had passed.
So this man achieved that he has set out to do which was, in his words, ‘to drag Barbados kicking and screaming into the 20th century’. He was the principle architect of the transformation of his country from a collection of villages into a nation. At the end of his work his main asset was a ‘glorified chattel house’ on the beach at Black Rock, St Michael.
I would only add that, family matters apart, the two most fortunate things that happened in my life were that I chanced to come live in Barbados, close to 44 years ago, and that I spent a good deal of time in the company of Errol Barrow.
Oh – one more thing. Which of you can boast that on your fiftieth birthday you and your wife and a host of friends enjoyed a sumptuous Chinese dinner prepared and cooked by the sole hand of your Prime Minister?
Man, now that’s one-upmanship.
Peter Morgan was born in Britain and migrated to Barbados in 1951. He joined the Democratic Labour Party in 1956, one year after it was formed. He went on to serve as Minister of Tourism, he was also a Senator and High Commissioner to Canada. He died in August 2005.