Lammie: a wronged soul
A big-hearted, courageous, proud, boastful, brash, generous man who enjoyed life and loved people around him: Lionel Seymour Craig. – Harold Hoyte, Editor Emeritus, Nation Newspapers, Eyewitness To Order And Disorder, KHL Printing Co., Singapore (2012)
TO HAROLD HOYTE’S nearly all-encompassing description, I would add that “Lammie” was also a contradiction cocooned within a paradox.
It came to me when Craig, one of the most partisan politicians I’ve ever met, stunned almost the entire nation by accepting Barbados’ second highest national award, the Companion of Honour (ChB) in the 2009 Independence Honours List, from the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), whose entire membership he was willing to starve 31 years earlier.
That Craig would subsequently blame his intemperate outburst and certainly one of the most controversial speeches ever made in the House of Assembly, on anger and frustration served to confirm that in spite of himself, Craig was, after all, only human.
Still, given the highly partisan nature of local politics, it would have taken someone from another planet, completely unaware of the depth of feeling in Craig against the DLP who would’ve bet that he would accept a national honour from that party.
Yet, there are those who would point out that Craig not only offended the membership of the DLP but also hurt some very powerful people in the BLP who it appeared had determined that despite his decades of yeoman service and loyalty, he would not be recognised at the national level by any BLP administration.
That Craig subsequently apologised in a newspaper and later in the House itself seemed not to be enough to assuage the anger and humiliation felt by the BLP hierarchy.
It is also one of those little ironies of political life that a politician as astute as David Thompson would seize the opportunity to grind the noses of the BLP into the dust of shame by offering the national award to Craig in a kind of political tit-for-tat with his opponent Owen Arthur, who as Prime Minister had upstaged the DLP by erecting a monument to the founder of that party Errol Barrow in Independence Square.
As Hoyte reported, Craig said he had made his now infamous comments “under duress” and that he had spoken against a background of frustration and distress because of the manner in which his party was repeatedly being wrongfully and unjustly accused of victimisation inside and outside of the House.
“But,” said Craig, “the truth and the reality of the situation was that the BLP Government had been bending over backwards to be more than fair and not just to its critics and opponents, very often to the annoyance and at the expense of its own supporters, in practising ‘open Government’.”
Craig, however, clearly had the support, confidence and loyalty of Prime Minister Tom Adams whose father, Sir Grantley, he had served so well in and out of the House, and together they resisted all calls for his resignation or dismissal from the Cabinet.
Our interaction, professionally and socially, prior to the controversial speech that indirectly led to my being banned “for life” from covering Parliament by Speaker Burton Hinds in 1978, was always lively and straightforward – in the clichéd Americanism, he was known as one who shot from the hip.
Craig earned my admiration when he became Leader of the House and proceeded to treat all MPs and House staff with a courtesy and professionalism that belied his fiery, fearsome platform reputation. Indeed, he was not for the silly one-upmanship that afflicted others who hated to share information with the Opposition and took delight, it appeared to me, in surprising opponents with matters to be debated in the House of Assembly on the morning of the sitting.
As a member of the BLP which had endured 15 long years in Opposition, Craig was painfully aware of the handicap under which his colleagues and backbenchers would labour with inadequate notice of the day’s business.
Craig, who died Sunday at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), was born February 13, 1929. He received his early education at Roebuck Boys’ School and the Barbados Academy, and thereafter, according to him, at the “University of Life”.
He became one of the best known and, evidently, more successful insurance salesmen with an infectious “hail-fellow-well-met” approach combined with street smarts that, in the hyperbole, would have persuaded Arabs to buy sand.
Some of those who worked with him closely in the political arena spoke often of his admiration for, and belief in, Sir Grantley Adams and his commitment to the BLP.
Craig often reminded me that he was no fly-by-night Labourite but had in fact joined the BLP on September 10, 1961, mere weeks before the December 4 general elections which swept the party out of office in favour of the newly formed DLP.
Parenthetically, the legend sprung up among party people and supporters – which I suspect Craig himself did not disavow – that he had joined the BLP on the morning after the election.
He entered elective politics in 1966, the so-called Independence elections, to contest the St James constituency under the then double-member system in tandem with Ellsworth Holder, the junior member, replacing C.B. Searles on the BLP ticket.
Craig topped the poll ahead of Holder by ten votes as the pair relegated to third spot Ellison Carmichael, of the DLP, who in 1956 ran for the Progressive Conservative Party (PCP), to restore the BLP’s primacy in the parish, and to begin an association that lasted until 1986 when he left for an ill-advised, hubristic challenge to Erskine Sandiford (who would become Prime Minister a year later) in St Michael South.
That gesture, which ended his career in elective politics, was typical Lammie Craig: courageous, proud, boastful and brash.