Barbadians on Friday said a tearful goodbye to their former prime minister, Professor Owen Seymour Arthur, with a two-hour state funeral service at his hometown St Peter’s Parish Church, more than two weeks after he died from heart complications at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The 70-year-old Arthur, the longest serving head of government, who served as prime minister between 1994 and 2008, was laid to rest at the Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens, a 26-acre cemetery in the constituency of St. Peter’s which he represented in Parliament for nearly four decades.
The body of the former prime minister had earlier laid in state at the Parliament Buildings on Wednesday and Thursday. The casket, draped with the Barbados flag, was closed according to Arthur’s wishes.
An emotional Prime Minister Mia Mottley in paying tribute to her “mentor” and predecessor, said “there is no one who has ever met Owen Arthur who could ignore his presence”.
Mottley, who served as attorney general and held other cabinet positions in Arthur’s government, told the congregation that included Governor General Dame Sandra Mason, cabinet ministers as well as representatives of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments, the diplomatic corps that Arthur’s intellect was large and his personality complex.
“He was fiercely competitive, whether in politics or dominoes or cricket. This should be no surprise to us for his initial defeat by one vote was quickly transformed into a victory and the start of a distinguished parliamentary sojourn in the House of Assembly,” she said, adding that the economist was “consumed by politics and policy”.
She recalled how he had “faced down” the United States government in defence of Barbados’ sovereignty on the now infamous Shiprider Agreement, adding that “he demonstrated that he understood and embraced fully the Barbadian tradition of courageous leadership in the international arena.
“He spoke truth to power, fought for fairness of treatment and stood firm on principle. Indeed, his advocacy for our rights and interests extended far beyond Barbados to embrace small states everywhere. “This was perhaps best exemplified in the way he responded head-on to the unwarranted OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) challenge to our financial services sector. Instinctively and strategically, he knew when and where and how loud to raise his voice, and, to this day, his peers in the cause still remember him with admiration for leading the charge on their behalf.”
Mottley said that Arthur, also recognised that any victory against powerful interests was never absolute, and that small states like Barbados could not afford to drop their guard.
“That is why, even after his retirement from active politics, he never abandoned his advocacy. And that is why he so enthusiastically embraced his last assignment, as Chairman of the Global Commission on Trade and Development Options 2020, where he sought to reimagine the concepts of inequality and vulnerability in ways that would find common cause among the community of nations.”
She said Arthur also had a passion for the Caribbean civilization that led to his working closely with her on so many matters over the years, from the strategic building out of the obligations for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) in 2006 to the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice, (CCJ).
“Few can fully appreciate the intricacies involved in the revising of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, and in activating its provisions to bring the CSME into force. Few can know the joys and frustrations of that incomplete journey, to which Owen devoted so much of his time and energy.
“His genius was to see the big picture and to distil the issues with absolute clarity. In essence, he would set a line of march that most would willingly follow. And not simply because they believed in Barbados but because his views on policy and strategic development were often rooted in sound principles but also in the interest of ordinary Caribbean people.
“Now more than ever we, his successors in regional leadership, have a solemn duty to the memory of Owen Arthur to build upon and finish the task he helped to start. Maybe this passion for the Caribbean was best reflected in his love of Jamaica.”
She said one only needs to reflect on the statements of former Jamaica prime minister P.J. Patterson and former finance minister, Omar Davies on their reflection on Arthur’s death.
“Prime Minister Patterson commented on his love for Jamaica that caused them to feel his loss in a particular way. Omar was more graphic and I quote “Owen was a full Jamaican who happened to have been born in Jamaica.” It is for me to say to Omar – he loved Jamaica bad but he never forget where his navel string was buried!
“I am reassured that it was this commitment to common causes, buttressed by that keen sense of duty of which I spoke, that allowed us both to place the interest of the country as our guiding principle in coming back together in recent times to work on these matters of great national and regional importance. “
Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness in a statement, said “Owen Arthur was the epitome of the Caribbean man. He was considered to be one of the framers of the CSME. We know his work however, as Prime Minister of Barbados for three terms.
“During this period, he led the transformation of the economy and instituted other important changes to make the country more resilient and structurally sound. He was also an astute politician and that was seen in his successes at the polls. The people of Jamaica mourn with our brothers and sisters in Barbados at the passing of a regional leader and great servant of the people,” Holness said.
In her tribute the Barbados Prime Minister said that Arthur eschewed the notion of honours or accolades and that it is instructive that the two medals that adorned his body as he lay in state spoke to the liberation struggles of Caribbean people and the region.
“Those medals were the Order of Jose Marti Medal (Cuba’s highest award), and the Henry Sylvester Williams Award of Excellence from the Emancipation Support Committee of Trinidad and Tobago. Most do not know that it was Henry Sylvester Williams who staged the very first Pan African Congress in 1900,” she said, adding that Barbados will honour him following discussions with his family.
“Owen Seymour Arthur was a man of his times, shaped by the Caribbean civilization of which he was a proud, driven by the adversarial nature of Westminster politics. The adrenalin rush of the cut and thrust constantly energized him. But, at the end of it all, that cut and thrust was not intended to be personal. And because I knew him well, I can say to you that for him it was often not personal.
“And so, on my own behalf I say thank you – thank you Owen for allowing me to grow. Thank you for challenging me constantly, for pushing me hard, and for toughening me for this journey in these extremely challenging times,” Mottley said.
Arthur’s cousin, Dr. Elliot Douglin, who spoke on behalf of the family, traced the former’s prime minister’s life from childhood, saying that he was always determined to help poor Barbadians rise up.
Arthur, who had been named Professor of practice in Economics of Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill, in November 2018, is survived by his wife, Julie, and his daughters Leah and Sabrina and his granddaughter Isabella as well as his siblings, Valmay and Richard.