• Today
    October 23

  • 03:31 PM

‘Sleepy’ a man of many sides

ERIC SMITH, ericsmith@nationnews.com

Added 17 July 2016


Sir Frederick Smith and Lois Lady Smith – love, trust and fidelity kept them together for 58 years. (FP)

FOR BARBADIANS OLD enough to remember, the picture of an erect Sir Frederick Smith marching with war veterans at the Remembrance Day Parade always struck a patriotic chord. Those even older who followed politics in the late 1970s will recall him while he served as Leader of the Opposition in 1978. That was the time he took an unflinching stand by resigning after what he felt was a deliberate attempt by the Government to frustrate him in his role in Parliament.

That incident caused Cameron Tudor to write in his Men And Matters column in the NATION newspaper in April of that year: “That Parliament took no opportunity to take note of his service to the nation, and to thank him in its name is an omission of grievous import. That it allowed him to leave in angry humiliation is worse than an omission; because it is a blunder.” 

Sir Frederick, well known as “Sleepy”, a sobriquet he got on entering secondary school, took a stand and never seem bothered about that episode.

His actions and focus over many years were certainly those of a man conscious of his environment, whether socially, economically or politically. He spoke what was on his mind, even when it upset others. Who can forget his statement that he would have liked to have been made Governor General? His comments left many aghast at the idea that he would openly express such a desire.

But many people also had a retort: If Sleepy became GG then Government House without diminishing its character and dignity would have been a totally different place.

Sleepy was without doubt a people’s person. He never forgot the people in Market Hill and St Helen’s, St George, or those in St Andrew and certainly not those whom he represented in the St Michael South Central riding. He understood the importance of rubbing shoulders with the ordinary man, and yet he commanded their respect.

Sir Frederick, who passed away last Monday, had lived an additional 22 well lived years past the expected three score and ten and was fortunate to have shared 58 of those with his Jamaican-born wife Lois Lady Smith, a medical practitioner. She stood loyally beside him, yet under the radar, over his many years of public service.

In an article in EASY magazine he noted that she was the force keeping them together, adding that “fidelity, loyalty, trust, confidence, truth are basic qualifications for a solid marriage”.

Sir Frederick was among the first generation of Barbadian political leaders, along with Sir Grantley Adams, Errol Barrow and Sir James Tudor, who fashioned the transition period from colonialism to Independence from Britain. In his later days he was still looking to the future and was convinced this island should become a parliamentary republic.

It was a struggle in those early years, both professionally and in politics, despite what may have been seen as a privileged position.

“You can look and see that Sir Grantley Adams had to struggle to survive as an attorney and Errol Barrow had an extremely difficult time as well . . . . [Sir Grantley also] had to survive and take work from wherever he could get it. Barrow gave me some of his work on which to cut my legal teeth, but through it all we had our eyes set on helping people. That was our motivation.

“We saw it as an opportunity to make a difference, and that was particularly true of Barrow, who had hell getting ahead. Bright Barbadians had to look anywhere for jobs, any place where they could make an honest living using your skills and training.”

On his retirement from the local judiciary he noted: “I endeavoured to see that justice was given impartially and that those who came before me were treated fairly.”

As a captain in Barrow’s team, Smith played a significant role from the early 1950s. He was from a family who made full use of the educational opportunities and excelled in many areas of national endeavour. They were obviously propelled by their father, Cecil Smith, a schoolmaster who had made a name for himself in both St George and St Andrew. Without exception, all the children showed scholarship, and the boys became household names in Barbados. But it was Sleepy who took the spotlight and made a decisive difference to national life.

it was under his stewardship as Attorney general that the disestablishment of the Anglican Church took place, but perhaps even more importantly, legislation was passed for the establishment of the National Insurance Scheme and the Central Bank.

Significantly, when Sir Frederick stepped away from elective politics in 1978 he did not disappear from national life as has happened with so many former prominent politicians. His life of service took important steps as a judicial officer across the region and at home. His role as president of the Grenada Court of Appeal and more so leading the court which dealt with the murderers of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and his supporters will help to define his judicial standing.

He was very unique amongst local politicians in that with his nephew Allan Smith he co-authored his memoir Dreaming A Nation, which reflects on this island’s  journey to nationhood. Richard Drayton, the Rhodes Professor of imperial history at King’s College, London, notes in the foreword, memoir, “brimming with ‘Sleepy’ Smith’s wit and humour”, provides “glimpses of aspects of 20th century Barbadian private and public life which neither historians nor novelists have yet recorded”.

Sir Frederick had the qualities people like in their leaders: scholarly, a military background, a man of the people, and morally upright. His was very active in the Methodist Church, being one of its long-standing lay preachers.

But of all the accolades and tributes, he clearly treasured the naming of a secondary school in his honour during his lifetime as being the most significant.

He said: “To have a school named for you is a distinct honour, and I am delighted and humbled by the act. To have that institution called Frederick Smith Secondary School is an unbelievable honour.

“It’s an honour I really appreciate. I can die happy now.”

Such was the man who was from a passing era.


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Should the current age of retirement (67 years) be increased?