BAJAN TO DE BONE: Smitten with politics from early age
SIR HENRY FORDE is one of the few Barbadians still alive who was privileged to have played an active role in Barbados’ bid for independence in 1966.
Fifty years on, the man who never lost a constituency election relishes the progress Barbados has made and commends the independence move for the opportunities it opened for Barbadians like himself.
“In many ways Barbados has become a maturing if not a matured society and a more inclusive society and that has been a very positive sign for people like me born in the thirties,” Sir Henry said last week while reflecting on the last 50 years.
He was born into a working-class family in Water Street, Christ Church, “where if my parents did not have food I could get from Ms Thomas or Mr Layne who lived across the road, and likewise with them”.
The Barbados of his early childhood was one where the sense of community was strong, despite the “hard struggle” families endured in those days; where “the concept of father was not only limited to your blood father and you understood people were there not only to protect you but also to correct you”.
“It is a moment in my life that I can never forget,” he said.
Leaving the home of his “blood parents” in his early teenage years for adoption into the prominent Ifill family undoubtedly changed the course of this Water Street boy’s life. The guidance of his step-parents, the late Elise “Madam” Ifill and her husband, Christ Church vestryman Courteley Ifill, together with the influence of his teachers at the Christ Church Boys’ Foundation School, helped shaped the man he became.
Sir Henry enjoyed a long politicaI career.
“I suppose politics got into my blood because Mr Ifill was very much into politics. He was a member of the Congress Party. As a little boy, I would stand outside the house in my nice shirt to welcome people like Sir Edwy Talma, Sir Theodore Brancker, Wynter Crawford and Darrell “DG” Garner when they visited the Ifills.”
The 83-year-old retired politician and still practising attorney reflected on the indelible impression created on him as a young boy meeting and greeting these influential politicians of the day who frequented the Ifill home. From them and other political luminaries such as Captain George Fergusson, he learnt the civility that he thinks is, to some extent, missing from today’s political life.
“I would really advise all those people who are coming to political life to make a contribution, not to waste their time with some of the things I hear sometimes in Parliament. You should always go prepared. At the time I went to Parliament, you had to go prepared,” Sir Henry said.
“There was also not the enmity that I see people reacting with today. You should never believe that you have all the knowledge.”
For seven consecutive elections, the people of Christ Church West chose Henry Forde as their parliamentary representative, reposing the kind of confidence in him that those who have come after have striven to win.
Instructively, the veteran politician said: “Politics is a very tough profession to be in because it calls for service and dedication and it criss-crosses your family life and some people can’t manage that properly.
“If you take it seriously, it really is a satisfying thing. You are giving back. Some politicians don’t bother to go and visit people in between the calling of elections and the holding of the next one. That can’t be right. You have to keep in touch.”
He admits there are regrettable moments of his political career, such as his inability to rebuild the Barbados Labour Party “sufficiently to win an election under me”.
He was leader of the party in Opposition from 1986 to 1988.
“I did not realise, although I was a party member for some time, how broke a party can be. It was very difficult to rebuild the party. I thought that my job was to get the party rebuilt and to bring in young people.”
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and former Prime Minister Owen Arthur are two of whom he is proud and he said: “I regretted that I did not lead the party to victory but I did lead it to strength.”
Sir Henry is regarded as an advocate for women’s rights and was in the vanguard of groundbreaking legislation that helped to place women in advantageous positions, much to the ire of men. Today the women’s champion makes no apologies for his success in getting a fairer deal for women.
He is pleased about Barbados’ progress over the last 50 years though there remain areas for attention.
“I believe at the moment that Barbadians who have made it, and those who have not as well, have a responsibility to contribute more substantially. I don’t think we can continue to say we are looking to Government to do everything.”
He is also not a happy camper with the direction agricultural development has taken.
“I refuse to accept that we have developed agriculture in a way we should be able to make use of the resources of our land. Here in the parish of St John where I live you see fields unploughed. We can do a lot in agriculture in order to bring it in line with our tourism development for the food we need. That really upsets me considerably,” Sir Henry said.
Neither is he satisfied that enough is being done to preserve the work of outstanding craftsmen like his “blood father”, who was a master carpenter and who, like other skilled Barbadians of the day, never received the recognition they deserved for their skill.
Sir Henry pointed to some of Barbados’ historical buildings that bear evidence of the work of craftsmen like his father and said: “Sometimes we destroy these past possessions needlessly, without preserving them to show other generations that there were Barbadians capable of such great feats. We have lost too much; we really cannot destroy any more.”
As one of only four remaining Barbadians who were at the 1966 independence talks, the memories of the fight for nationhood are uppermost in his mind at this time and his desire to see Barbados adopt republic status as a natural consequence of independence remains strong.
“I think we should take the steps,” he said. “Some people say you have to go for a referendum; I don’t agree with that.”
Having legislation on the statute books that addresses financing of political parties, particularly at election time, is another one of his dreams. He suggested party members should give a lot of the party’s financial support with weekly or monthly contributions, though he warned against political patronage from business interests.
“You have to be careful . . . people with money can have an undue influence,” he said.
Politicians of the ilk of Sir Henry Forde are fast departing from the Barbadian landscape. He reckons he will hardly be around for many more years, but is upbeat about the island’s prospects for the future.
“I wish in the next 50 years that those of us who have had the privilege of passing through these last 50 years would leave for those who are coming and benefiting now, some of the history of how we did it, why we did it, the success we have reached.”