Owen Arthur — a full Jamaican, who happened to have been born in Barbados

Owen Arthur — a full Jamaican, who happened to have been born in Barbados

Omar Davies

Monday, August 03, 2020

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News of the passing of the former Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur has prompted an outpouring of tributes, particularly with regard to his multifaceted contributions to the strengthening of Caribbean integration and regionalism. His body of work, by which he sought to give concrete form to concepts of regional integration, remains as a testament to the value of his contributions as a Caribbean leader.

Owen's commitment to regional integration was not restricted to conceptual and bureaucratic structures. Particularly with regard to Jamaica, his credentials as a regionalist transcended discussions at official fora, or resolutions passed at meetings of heads of Government. Rather, his life was an embodiment of a Caribbean being.

Whilst it is known that Owen lived in Jamaica for an extended period during the 1970s, very few would realise the extent to which he became fully integrated in all facets of Jamaican society. His period living in Jamaica started as a graduate student in the Department of Economics at The University of the West Indies, Mona, followed by employment at the National Planning Agency (now the Planning Institute of Jamaica), and then as director of economics at the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI).

If I may interject a personal note, his move from the planning agency to JBI resulted from a request from my brother, Carlton — then executive director of the JBI— for a recommendation to fill a vacant post at his institution. He remained in this position at the JBI until his decision to return to Barbados in the early 1980s. The factors which influenced that decision is a story for another time.

Owen became deeply immersed in all facets of Jamaican society and culture. Whilst developing and maintaining excellent relationships with his technical/professional colleagues at the planning institute, his closest “sparring partners” were Miss Sylvie, who ran the canteen; Willie, the chief messenger; as well as Clarkie and Casserly, for the after-work domino sessions. His first wife, Beverley, was a co-worker at the planning agency.

Even after returning to Barbados and entering politics, Owen's deep personal links with his Jamaican friends remained intact. There were occasions when on visits to Jamaica, as prime minister, that he would take members of his security detail with him to visit his friends in deep, rural Jamaica, introducing them to villages they had never visited before.

After his return to Barbados, Owen would lavish hospitality on any of his close Jamaican friends who visited that country. In the heyday of West Indian cricket, each year he would host my brother and me when we went to watch Test matches at Kensington Oval. Our last such visit was to watch the titanic struggle between the West Indies and Pakistan, led respectively by the all-time greats Viv Richards and Imran Khan.

Owen had a deep love for Jamaica and Jamaican culture, including sports. He once proclaimed that the thrashing administered to Calabar by the Winston Chung Fah-coached Clarendon College team in the 1977 Olivier Shield final was his greatest sporting experience. Even years later he could, and would, describe in detail, each goal scored in that epic.

He once confided to me that his dream was to retire to a small bungalow in southern St Elizabeth. Although that dream did not come true, there can be no question that, in his mind, and in the minds of his Jamaican friends, Owen Arthur was a full Jamaican, who happened to have been born in Barbados.

Omar Davies is a former Member of Parliament for St Andrew Southern and former minister of finance and planning.


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