“Errol Walton Barrow – 1920 to 1987”


On Errol Barrow Day 2017, we remember the Father of Independence. 

PROCLAIMED THE FATHER of Barbados’ Independence and most remembered for providing free education, Errol Walton Barrow is also recognised with a day in his honour and his likeness on the $50 bank note.

He was born in the parish of St Lucy on January 21, 1920, the son of the Rev. Reginald Grant Barrow and the former Ruth O’Neal.

He was the nephew of the legendary Dr Charles Duncan O’Neal (another National Hero), his mother’s brother and founder of the Democratic League.

He secured many social changes for Barbados, especially during the 15-year period of his administration, first as Premier and then as Prime Minister, ending in 1976.

A founder-member of the Democratic Labour Party, Barrow swept to power as Premier in 1961 and on November 30, 1966, he took the island into Independence from Britain, thus becoming Barbados’ first Prime Minister. This was his greatest achievement.

Barrow was Prime Minister twice, from 1966 to 1976 and again from1985 to 1987. He served as Opposition Leader during the interregnum, which he interrupted for an academic sabbatical in the United States and as he declared, “to recharge” his “batteries”.

He had won a scholarship in Classics to Codrington College in 1939 but instead joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and served in World War II and became the personal navigation officer to the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army at the Rhine between 1940 and 1942.

After his stint in the RAF, Barrow studied law and was called to the Bar, Inns of Court in 1949, returning home the following year as a practising barrister-at-law. In 1951 he became a member of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), winning a seat in St George that same year.

But the desire to fashion a new political force led Barrow in 1955, along with Cameron Tudor, Frank Walcott and others, to form the Democratic Labour Party.

However, he lost his seat in the 1956 General Elections, but returned to Parliament after successfully contesting a by-election in St John in 1958.

In his first 15-year administration, Barrow achieved expanded free education to all levels; the introduction of a National Insurance and Social Security scheme; school meals on an improved nutritional basis; improved health services; accelerated industrial development; and considerable expansion of the tourist industry.

In 1986, at the age of 66, he again led his party to power, winning the General Elections by one of the largest ever margin of seats in Barbados’ history, 24 seats to 3. Sadly, Errol Barrow did not live long enough to enjoy this victory. After only one year in office he died on June 1, 1987. He had, however, left an impressive record.

In January 2007, Barbados again recognised its Father of the Nation by unveiling a larger-than-life statue of his likeness in Independence Square that looks across the Careenage to the Parliament building in which he served faithfully.

This article was first published on April 28,  2008.