BAJAN TO DE BONE: Nov. 30 a personal anniversary
POURING RAIN ON the Garrison Savannah on the night of November 30 drenched his clothes but it could not dampen the euphoria David Stuart felt as a 17-year-old Combermere School cadet marching in Barbados’ historic Independence Parade.
That night as he watched the British Union Jack come down and the Broken Trident go up, he thought of the lesson constantly being drilled into his head by his teachers: you can be anything you want to be.
It was that thinking that led him to apply a year later for one of the two aviation scholarships for 18-year-old boys, offered to the Barbados Government by the British government as an Independence gift.
Combermerians David Stuart and Elvin Sealy were the winners and both went off to Britain to study on the scholarship sponsored by British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), the fore-runner of British Airways (BA), at the time owned by the UK Government.
“That singular event linked to Independence changed the trajectory of my life completely,” Stuart said last week, in his first interview since returning to Barbados after a long sojourn abroad.
“I timed my return to the island to coincide with this 50th anniversary because November 30 has always been an anniversary for me, having won the Independence scholarship.”
Though he has worked overseas for most of his career, he has never lost sight of the place, the people and the institutions which helped to shape him.
“I grew up in a Barbados where education was paramount and having a sense of spirituality was paramount. I was raised by two women – my mother and my aunt – and with an absentee father, it had a positive impact on my life in that when I grew to have sons of my own I decided to be to them what was never shown to me.”
He wanted to be a lawyer “because I thought from an early age that I had been given a gift of speaking and communication, but God had other plans for me,” Stuart said.
He never stops singing the praises of Combermere, neither is he shy to boast about the school’s “certain ethos” which, like every other Combermerian, he believes is “unique on the island.”
“I learnt how to be a man; how to think on my feet and how to roll with the punches at Combermere.”
It is the kind of fortitude that undergirded his will throughout those difficult times in his career when he encountered racism, victimisation and other challenges as a black executive in a white man’s world – and there were many, he says.
Still, he is grateful for the exposure he was afforded.
Barbados took its tourism ambition to the skies, with Prime Minister Errol Barrow entering an agreement with British airline pioneer Sir Freddie Laker and his partners in the 1970s and International Caribbean Airways (ICA) was born.
The airline carried the Barbados flag and was given the designation the national airline of Barbados.
Stuart said: “In 1972 I left the security of BA to work for the national airline of Barbados. It is something that I have never regretted and something that I am very proud to have done, because in that seven-year period I believe I made a robust contribution to Barbados.
Skills and talent
“I was able to put all my skills and training into this brand new airline as the regional manager Caribbean. We started to fly from Luxembourg to Barbados with small aeroplanes and then later Laker introduced the DC10.”
The development opened up new tourism markets for Barbados at a time when most hotels closed during the summer season. Germans started to discover Barbados as an attractive destination and after Prime Minister Barrow successfully negotiated a new aviation deal with the US, the cities of Baltimore and Boston opened up as new markets and ICA took up those routes.
Stuart was sent to the United States to do the marketing survey and was later appointed the airline’s US manager, with his main office in Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
He would return to BA as marketing officer for the Eastern Caribbean in 1981 after Laker closed the ICA Barbados-US route.
Now 68, Stuart has chronicled his career in a book, Limited Skies, in which he details his “black man’s journey through the corporate world” in an effort to illustrate his view that the aviation playing field was not level.
Now that the father of three, along with Pamela, his wife of 43 years, is back in Barbados, he is decidedly retired from the corporate chair but he has certainly has not turned away from business and definitely not laid down the skills he acquired over the years.
As founder of Stuart Marketing and Associates, he plans to make customer service training his focus because according to his observation: “Customer service levels are very poor,” he said.
“We need to understand the customer is your boss; the customer is who pays your salary and we have to give them service. I believe there is a lot of training out there for me to do.”
Now an ordained minister, he also conducts seminars for churches and teaches leadership.
Stuart is old-school and a Bajan to the bone, rattled by those negative trends in the island that are anathema to what he once knew.
“I am back and I want to do whatever I can for this island,” Stuart said.