All hail Sir Branford
Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The passing of Sir Branford Mayhew Taitt represents the fall of another icon in the history of Barbados’ political culture. That it happened on the eve of the 2013 general election may be instructive and has greater significance than it was afforded.
Sir Branford Taitt could perhaps be considered among the last of the titans. His death was overshadowed by the 2013 poll. Had his passing taken place before the call of the date, one might have gotten a better sense of his greatness as an outstanding Barbadian and, to my mind, as the great human being that he was.
As a young man following Barbados’ politics, I was always impressed by Branford Taitt’s oratorical skills. It was at this level of political intrigue that one got a glimpse of Mr Taitt’s heart. He used to refer to me as “young Farley” and he always had a word of encouragement. I recall his stint as Minister of Trade and his fight with David Seale, now Sir David. It was his confrontation in the area of trade and his clashes with “Roebuck Street merchants” that saw the supermarket shelves going bare at one point during the 1970s.
On the political platform, Sir Branford was outstanding and devastating to his opponents, who even though they were his friends, became “political minced meat” once they got into his skin. I recall the resonance of his voice across many of the stomping grounds of his political party. Branford literally bestrode our politics like a colossus. Tall though he was, Sir Branford never looked down on anyone as inferior, whether in life or in the political arena.
My interest in political debate and discussion was triggered by the oratory of this great man. Whether it was his addresses to the United Nations or his voice resonating across the political night sky, or even a casual conversation, the depth of his convictions was always clear. Even when the St Joseph Hospital saga threatened to tarnish his otherwise unblemished record, Branford emerged as a man who had done no wrong. It is my hope that the report of the St Joseph Hospital Commission Of Inquiry has been be interred with his remains.
He has been called many things. He has been described in many ways. For some he was one of Barbados’ most outstanding sons. To others he was a true patriot. To me, his 47 years of service represent a period of selfless sacrifice as a nation builder. It is unfortunate that our politics sometimes does not allow us to express genuine comments about our political opponents until they are deceased.
But when Sir Branford is stripped naked of all the accoutrements of political and governmental office, what remains is the profile of a great human being. I do not remember him just for what he did, but more so for who he was.
As Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce (1971-1976), he traded many blows and his clashes with merchants were perhaps legendary. As Minister of Tourism, his tour of duty was characterized by a passion for Barbados’ image which he felt must transcend just sea, sand and whatever else.
As Minister of Health (1987-1993), Branford doctored many of the issues affecting the sector with his charm even when his oratory was not enough to raise an issue from its deathbed. As Minister of Foreign Affairs and as a diplomat, he stood tall, to the extent that even “dope in the diplomatic pouch” or the “canine exploits” of others in the corps could neither boggle his mind nor bite into his skin.
His illustrious career as an astute political representative of what he used to call “the good people of St Michael West” is more than instructive for current and prospective politicians who are genuinely interested in caring for people as opposed to feathering their political and material nests. When he returned to the Senate in 2008 as the President of the august chamber, the young members were feasting at the feet of a “Gamaliel” without perhaps recognizing it.
In conclusion, while consensus as to the true metal of this man was impossible in the cut and trust of our politics and in its hustings, if at all it is possible to remove our partisan blinkers, one would have to agree that “there goes a man who literally bestrode Barbados’ politics like a colossus” and one who could “walk with kings and not lose the common touch”. The heartening reality is that Sir Branford knew his God, evidenced by his continued membership of the choir and of St Leonard’s Anglican Church and his acknowledgement of the One greater than himself.
It is my hope that St Peter would give him easy passage through the Pearly Gates and induct him into the celestial choir in which his tenor and baritone will harmonize with my mother’s alto. All hail Sir Branford!
• Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education, and a social commentator. Email [email protected]