Grief, regret over passing
Bajans in North America may have expected his death at any time, but when the news of David Thompson’s passing began to spread across the United States and Canada, the depth of grief and regret wasn’t diminished.
That in essence was the reaction of Barbadians, especially in New York and Toronto, where the late Prime Minister who died of pancreatic cancer during the early hours of Saturday morning, had a strong personal following.
“This is simply a heart-felt loss,” said Marston Gibson, president of the Council of Barbadian Organisations in New York, an umbrella body of more than a dozen Bajan organisations. “We were praying that his life would be spared but all along there was the realisation that death could be the final outcome of his serious illness. Still, that has not lessened our sense of loss.”
“He certainly energised a lot of young people to want to get into the political process and to show that it is something honourable. Politics may have a bad name among some people and that’s unfortunate. That’s not limited to Barbados. It’s the situation in the United States. But Thompson showed that it doesn’t have to carry that negative image,” he added.
“What I thought was quintessential David Thompson was the establishment of the constituency councils which should allow people to connect with government and governmental processes. The idea was that we have to establish some connectivity with ordinary Barbadian citizens.
“Yes, you may be a member of Parliament but these local councils would give people an opportunity to come in an express their opinions and outline their challenges,”said Gibson, a judicial referee on Long Island, who once taught the late Prime Minister when he was a law student at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados.
“I am sitting in New York after hearing of his death and I am recalling him in my class room at Cave Hill when I lectured to him. He made a serious impact then and I am sure that despite the shortness of the time during which he occupied the Prime Minister’s chair that he would continue to make an impact on Barbadian although he is no longer with us in body. We share the hopes and prayers of Barbadians that he should rest in peace.
Our prayers are also for his parents, wife, daughters and other close relatives who are feeling the pain of his loss.”
Canon Llewellyn Armstrong, a retired Episcopal Rector in Brooklyn, described Thompson as “a very young, bright, articulate and strong leader” who was making headway in implementing his programmes since becoming Prime Minister at a very difficult time.
“We have been blessed with very strong and good leaders and I know that Barbadians will certainly miss him and it doesnÕt matter about their political persuasion,” Father Armstrong said.
“Every day when I said my devotions I had included him, every single morning. I received the news of his passing with great sadness,” Jessima Murray, a resident of Toronto for more than 40 years, described Thompson as an excellent representative for the people of St. John, her birth place, adding he was on his way to being a highly successful leader of the island.
“Those of us who came from St John considered the Prime Minister to be a man of the people and he certainly functioned as such as a Cabinet minister, Opposition Leader and in more recent times as Prime Minister. He did so in a fashion that made all of us proud of him,” she added.
“His extended illness caused by pancreatic cancer came as a shock and although we knew that the odds might have been against him we prayed for his well-being. Now, that he has gone our regret is that he didnÕt have more time to fulfil the promise. But that’s God’s will and we can only wish his wife, children, parents and siblings strength and comfort at this time.”
“Winston Lewis, owner of the popular Culpepper’s restaurant and caterers on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, was feeling such a deep sense of loss that he placed a photograph of the Prime Minister outside of the popular eatery, publicly drawing attention to his untimely passing while letting people know what he meant to the Barbadian community.
“He was really a distinguished gentleman and we consider it an honour to have been able to welcome him to the restaurant,” said Lewis, proprietor of Best Barbados Food Corporation. “He came in with some members of his Cabinet and his down to earth approach endeared him to everyone. I once met him in Miami and we had a long conversation about life in general and we hardly discussed politics. That told me that outside of politics and being Prime Minister he was an ordinary guy. I put up the picture of him outside of the restaurant to let everyone passing the busy street know what has happened and that we are in mourning.”
Shirley Lashley, the owner of a prominent Caribbean barber shop on Brooklyn’s Rutland Road, said that Thompson’s death, although not a total surprise because of his grave illness, had left “us in a state of shock” and regret.
“I know David from way back. We served on the General Council of the Democratic Labour Party at the same time and he was as genuine a person as you can find,” Lashley said.
“Even though some people didnÕt think he was like that, some considered him somewhat aloof; that wasn’t the case. Far from it. He was a decent man and had a memory out of this world. He was committed to the Democratic Labour Party and to the people of Barbados. That’s why we have been so affected, first by his illness and now his death.”