Barbados’ fifth prime minister and beloved Caribbean statesman, Owen Seymour Arthur, died in hospital on Monday at age 70.
The former PM was hospitalized earlier this month at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados, following heart-related complications.
As expected, leaders from across the region have offered an outpouring of praise for the man who is credited with leading Barbados through one of its most economically turbulent times when he served as prime minister from 1994 to 2008.
Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, who visited Arthur in the hospital on Sunday, said, in an address to the nation, that she was still taken by the swiftness of his passing. She said Arthur “discharged his duty as Prime Minister of Barbados and as a Caribbean leader with distinction” adding that “he shall remain in that pantheon of Caribbean leaders.”
Mottley, who Arthur offered the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture 28 years ago, had nothing but praise for the man whose prowess as an economist and political grit she said were instrumental in Barbados’ development.
“The Owen Arthur that I knew was never overwhelmed by the task at hand. ‘Face it and fix it.’ That was his mantra,” she said. “Indeed, his greatest domestic legacy would be considered by many as the wrestling of unemployment from the horrendous highs of the early 1990s to under 7 percent in 2008…The promise that many doubted at the outset of his tenure was delivered over the three terms—the creation of 30,000 jobs.”
The prime minister continued, pointing out that Arthur’s commitment was not just to Barbados, but to the entire region. “This strong patriotism was anchored by a burning passion for regional integration for the Caribbean civilization. This passion, fortunately coincided with his responsibility as the lead prime minister in CARICOM, for the single market and single economy. I was with Owen in Jamaica when he signed, in early 2006, with tremendous pride, the instrument that brought the CARICOM single market into existence. He was brimming with pride,” she said.
CARICOM Secretary-General, Irwin LaRocque, echoed Mottley’s sentiments, calling Arthur “a strident regionalist and a relentless advocate for the advancement of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). As then CARICOM lead head of government for the CSME, he worked very closely with the CARICOM Secretariat in efforts to advance the process.
“In that regard, he was instrumental in the establishment of a Secretariat Office in Barbados dedicated to the initiative. He also worked assiduously to encourage the private sector to become more engaged in the work to make the CSME a lived reality,” LaRocque said.
The secretary-general said even as earlier this year when he served as an election observer in Guyana for the Commonwealth, the two discussed CARICOM and the CSME, a testament to his “on-going passion and concerns for the region.”
Bahamas Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, in a letter to PM Mottley, called Arthur a “champion of the region” and said the sad occasion is cause for reflection on Arthur’s “remarkable life, his outstanding contributions to Barbados, the Caribbean Community and the international community, these memories will be cherished by all.”
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said Arthur’s death came at a time of severe challenges for the region.
“Having seen him at work in Guyana recently, this Caribbean statesman gave us no hint of an imminent demise because we had become so accustomed to his resilience, grit and wisdom. We received the news with shock and mourn his passing alongside our brothers and sisters in Barbados and the rest of our region,” Rowley said.
On Monday, both Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Nevis Premier and Foreign Affairs Minister of the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis, Mark Brantley posted their sentiments on Twitter.
Holness tweeted, “Today I pause to pay my respects to a man who served Barbados and the Caribbean with distinction, former Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Seymour Arthur. I am truly saddened by his passing. Owen Arthur was passionate about his country and the dream of regional integration. In the 1990s and early 2000s he helped to shape the political scene in the region. I extend sincere condolences to the family of Owen Arthur and the people of Barbados.”
Brantley wrote on Twitter: “Today we learned that the Caribbean has lost one of her most illustrious sons. Owen Arthur was the Prime Minister of Barbados but he was in every way a regional statesman. We extend deepest condolences to his family and the people of Barbados and the wider Caribbean.”
Owen Seymour Arthur was Born October 17, 1949 and raised in the parish of St. Peter, Barbados. He pursued a bachelor’s degree in economics and history at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus in 1971 and in 1974 he earned a Master of Science degree in economics at the UWI Mona campus in Jamaica..
Arthur spent several years in Jamaica as a research assistant, five years at the National Planning Agency of Jamaica and served as director of economics at the Jamaica Bauxite Institute between 1979 and 1981. He returned to Barbados in 1981. During the following five years, he worked in the Ministry of Finance and Planning before returning to UWI. Arthur’s political career began when he served in the Senate from 1983. The following year, he defeated the Democratic Labor Party’s (DLP) Sybil Leacock in the St. Peter by-election.
He led the Barbados Labor Party (BLP) to victory in the 1994 general election and again in 1999 and 2003, and served as prime minister. After suffering defeat in the 2008 general election, Arthur stepped down as party leader making way for the current Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
Arthur is survived by his wife, Julie and daughters, Sabrina and Leah.