It is rare for me to use this blog to share intimate reflections, but permit me to make a worthy exception on this occasion. Like many other Barbadians, I awoke this morning to the sad news of the passing of our fifth and longest serving Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon Prof. Owen Seymour Arthur (1949-2020) at the age of seventy. I will always treasure the short time I knew Prof. Arthur in person, and the longer time I admired him as a Prime Minister.
Prof. Arthur led Barbados under the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) for fourteen years from 1994-2008. My formative years were spent growing up in the ‘Arthur Era’. Those were days when Barbados was not only ranked as the number one developing country on the Human Development Index (HDI), but then Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), the late Kofi Annan, stated that our country “punches above its weight”.
A visionary, Mr. Arthur was easily in the league of great statesmen and nation builders of small States like our first Prime Minister, National Hero and Father of Independence, the late Rt. Ex. Errol Walton Barrow and Singapore’s great Lee Kuan Yew. Mr. Arthur subscribed firmly to those famous words uttered by Mr. Barrow that Barbados would be “friends of all, satellites of none”. He had a deep love not just for Barbados, but was a staunch supporter of Caribbean integration, in particular the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Internationally, many would remember that Mr. Arthur served as Chairman of the Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Small States and Chairman of the Global Conference on Small States. He was also Co-chairman of the Global Forum to deal with the OECD Harmful Tax Competition Initiative.
There were many facets to Mr. Arthur. He was not just a renowned development economist and politician, but a respected academic. Even after formally retiring from the political arena, Mr. Arthur remained highly sought after by governments and organizations around the world as a consultant for his sharp intellect and deep experience as an economist and statesman. He was made a Professor of Practice: Economics of Development by The University of the West Indies in 2018. His latest role was as Board Chairman of the now embattled regional airline, LIAT. He also headed the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Guyana’s General and Regional Elections this year.
But my aim in this short piece is not to give a litany of his plethora of achievements, but to share my personal reflections on the passing of a man I knew personally only for a short time, but deeply admired and respected both as a Prime Minister and as a human being for a long time.
Meeting Mr. Arthur in person in a professional capacity a few years ago, I was immediately struck not just by his quick wit, intellectual brilliance and sense of humour but his down to earth nature. He was a ‘people person’ but not a ‘people pleaser’. He was very opinionated but his views were always a product of extensive research. He was never selfish with his time or knowledge, particularly when it came to young people with whom he enjoyed interacting. He was a mentor to many!
I quickly learnt that he and I shared a love of cooking and reading. One of my fondest memories is when he showed me and a work colleague of mine his vast library of books and his papers which he generously donated to The University of the West Indies. I was also impressed that he kept all his speeches in digital form. I do hope that these speeches, in which he shared his well-informed thinking and reflections on many of the economic and development issues confronting small States, will be published in a book. He had an indefatigable work ethic and a mind that seemed constantly burdened by development matters and his desire to see the Caribbean prosper.
I was particularly humbled when Mr. Arthur told me he was a frequent reader of this blog, Caribbean Trade Law & Development. I will sorely miss our conversations and debates on trade, international affairs, and the global economy. I will miss being regaled with stories of his life and hearing him speak with glowing paternal pride of his two daughters and granddaughter.
Mr. Arthur’s passing is not just a profound loss for Barbados and the Caribbean at this precarious time in our regional development and integration movement, but the world. In our conversations, Mr. Arthur often spoke enthusiastically of the memoirs he was writing about his life growing up and his time as Prime Minister. I sincerely hope that someone in his family will not only finish but publish these memoirs posthumously so at least some of the knowledge he so readily shared with young persons like myself would remain for posterity.
Barbados, the Caribbean and the world have lost a visionary, a giant, a champion of issues facing Small Island Developing States and a true believer in Caribbean integration. I take this opportunity to extend heartfelt condolences to Prof. Arthur’s family. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B is an international trade and development specialist. Read more of her commentaries here or follow her on Twitter @licylaw. All views expressed herein are her personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or entity with which she may from time to time be affiliated.