FROM THOSE WITH rank to the ordinary citizen, Barbadians and visitors alike will today pay final respects to this country’s late Prime Minister David John Howard Thompson during a state funeral.
Thompson died on October 23 after losing the fight against pancreatic cancer, with which he had been diagnosed earlier this year and which had forced him to reduce his workload and seek medical treatment in the United States.
Following his death, there has been an unprecedented outpouring of praise for his contribution to the political life of this island.
From early this morning, crowds are expected to gather outside the funeral home of Downes & Wilson at Eagle Hall, St Michael, to watch the pomp as the soldiers and police lead the gun carriage taking Thompson’s body through the streets of the densely populated urban corridor. The procession will begin at 8:35 a.m. and move down Barbarees Hill, before turning right onto Westbury Road and then left to Kensington Oval.
Today’s ecumenical service at the historic Kensington Oval will be attended by regional heads of Government, the head of the Organisation of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza; a United States presidential delegation; and a number of celebrities, including local singing sensation Rihanna, who flew in yesterday from the United States, and former West Indies captain Brian Lara, who will be here as an official member of the Trinidad and Tobago delegation.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding of Jamaica will deliver a special tribute on behalf of CARICOM.
However, some regional leaders will not be attending. These include Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, whose country is today observing its national day. He said yesterday from Roseau, “ My thoughts and prayers are with the Government and people of Barbados, but I regret I cannot be there since national duty calls.” Also absent will be Prime Minister Stephenson King of St Lucia, which was ravaged by Hurricane Tomas earlier this week.
The service will begin with musical tributes, performed by choirs including those from Thompsons former schools St Gabriel’s and Combermere, while popular entertainer and St John constituent Adrian Clarke will render a song. Of the service itself, a cross-section of religious leaders will participate, with Anglican Archbishop of the West Indies the Most Reverend Dr John Holder delivering the address.
Hartley Henry, the main who played a key role in helping Thompson and his Democratic Labour Party to capture the 2008 general election, and who eventually became his political adviser, will deliver the first of two eulogies, the second being given by attorney -at-law Brian Clarke.
It will be an occasion when political differences are set aside as former Prime Minister, now Opposition Leader Owen Arthur, will join with President of the Senate, Branford Taitt and Speaker of the House Michael Carrington, along with the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, as the chief mourners.
At the conclusion of the service, the cortege is expected to snake its way to St John, passing places which impacted positively on Thompson during his short 48 years on earth. Among these will be Combermere School and several districts in St John, the constituency which he represented in Parliament for 23 years.
While special arrangements have been made to accommodate Thompson’s loyal constituents at Kensington Oval during today’s service, plans are also in place to ensure those unable to attend the service have an opportunity to view the ceremony and committal. A big screen has been erected at the Gall Hill playing field to facilitate people wanting the watch the ceremony.
Schools, the Barbados Community College and the University of the West Indies will be closed today, as will many businesses across the country in order to allow as many people as possible an opportunity to witness the event, which will be televised live locally, regionally and internationally and aired on radio.
Schoolchildren will play an active role today with a number of them lining the route of the procession leading to the service at Kensington Oval and then in St John on the way to the burial.
By 1:30 p.m. Thompson should have been laid to rest in the specially prepared grave in the churchyard of the St John’s Parish Church; and this Anglican church and cemetery, already popular with visitors, is expected to gain in popularity. (ES)