Arthur – a man among men
By Dorian Bryan
This year, 2020 has become one of the most disturbing years, filled with disruptions and loss.
Adding to this was the loss of former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Professor Owen Arthur, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 70.
Arthur represented one of last remaining links to a political age where while the battles in the house of assembly were brutal, the friendships and level of professional respect, extended to the personal connections which lasted well after the time in parliament ended.
Arthur was a fierce competitor in politics. He gave no inch, was always well prepared, had a lust for knowledge and was able to recall statistics and events in a way which made sure than those whom he faced off with had to raise the levels of their performances. It made for a better level of political debates and a whole host of politicians who came after should thank themselves lucky to have seen this political force in action.
It is hard to put into words the impact which the presence of a man like Owen Seymour Arthur had on the life of this country, but let me try right now in this space.
As a politician, Arthur was among a breed from a generation which is quickly headed to glory, who was able to grasp the short and long-term impacts of political actions. He was able to see the talents in anyone and was willing to reach into any area of public life to pluck talent and use it for the interest of the country. That is why he was able to make so many lasting friendships during his life and continues to receives so many heartfelt tributes from across the political spectrum.
Over the next few days, we will hear about the political triumphs which Arthur had. Becoming a senator in 1983, before winning a by-election in 1984, then becoming opposition leader in 1994 and then being politically astute to engineer a successful no-confidence motion which toppled the Sandiford administration, with Democratic Labour Party members crossing party-lines to help the motion to pass. Arthur saw the signs of discontent and his timing was perfect.
He was a political beast who performed well on stage. His campaign platform speeches often left opponents in the dust and he generated an energy which was contagious. Few politicians had this gift. National Hero the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, David Thompson and now Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley – also note that all of those mentioned had the Prime Minister’s office in common. The crowd would eat up every word and each political salvo which he delivered. That was the case in the 1999 campaign when he routed the DLP with a 26-2 whipping, which was only bettered by PM Mottley with her 30-nil drubbing of the DLP in 2018, some 20 years later. Clearly the current PM learnt well.
His economic gravitas is unchallenged. He was able to communicate challenging economic issues in a way which many could understand. He realised that people needed help to achieve their goals to move from poverty into the middle class and his background in rural St. Peter, no doubt, played a role in how he approached his work as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs and as leader of this country for 14 years.
Being in this job, one gets the chance to meet people and to have to write about them. I started this work, during the final seven years of Arthur’s tenure as Prime Minister. That means I managed the 2003 campaign which saw the resurgence of the DLP after the 1999 debacle and the concurrent re-emergence of Thompson as a potent political force. Arthur realised this and saw the issues between then Opposition Leader Clyde Mascoll and Thompson and made sure that he aimed his fire at the latter, whom he saw as the real threat to his tenure as PM.
I had the occasion of interacting with Arthur, as PM, in the run-up to the 2007 ICCCWC2007. Having returned from a CARICOM Heads of Government in February of 2006, the Prime Minister decided he wanted to do an impromptu tour of Kensington Oval. I was at home on that Sunday morning, chilling out, until I got a phone call from his office and then from GIS, indicating that I was invited to cover the tour. I had to get quickly ready, get my photographer and head down to the Oval. The Prime Minister then arrived, with a frown on his face, jumped out of MP2 and simply said to everyone gathered, ‘Leh we go’.
That was where the photograph of the Prime Minister without a helmet on a worksite was taken. The Prime Minister’s only concern was a report from the CWC Organising Committee to CARICOM leaders that Barbados was not where it should have been in terms of its preparedness at the Oval. That was unacceptable to a leader who demanded that Barbados punch above its weight and size. He demanded to hear why delays were being experienced and reminded those in charge that this almost $150 million dollar investment was no joke. It had to be done and since he said it – it was done.
I also remember as we walked around the Oval, the PM stopped in front of where the current main scoreboard sits and asked the media for advice as to if he should bring Mascoll into the Cabinet and about a possible reshuffle. We thought he was kidding, but he was serious.
That level of assurance was also visible when Barbados bid for the finals of the 2007 ICCCWC. That night when Barbados won the bid, he was not surprised. He knew that we as a country can achieve whatever we wanted, if we worked hard and believed in ourselves.
As I wrote this tribute, his words are timely. Often you can doubt yourself or deviate from a plan when faced with opposition, but if you remain committed, you can achieve anything.
Rest Easy, Owen Seymour Arthur – former PM, Professor, father, leader – the 5th and longest serving Prime Minister. You have represented this country and yourself with dignity.