Wednesday 2 December, 2020

Mourners given a glimpse into the personal life of Owen Arthur

A glimpse into the private life of former Prime Minister Owen Seymour Arthur was afforded to many at the state funeral on Friday.

During his funeral service at the St Peter Parish Church, Dr Elliot Douglin, one of Arthur’s first cousins, told those present he was selected for the task of rendering the reflection, well before the former PM took ill.

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Arthur, the first son and second child of seven other children, was a product of the union of Frank Arthur and Iretha Roach. Douglin revealed that Owen was “his mother’s favourite” child and she was credited with teaching him to cook, being hard working, honest, caring and the best that he could be.

A lover of Anglican, liturgical traditions, Arthur attended All Saint’s Anglican Church, St Philip-the-Less Anglican as well as the St Peter Parish Church where his state funeral was conducted.

In showing how Arthur valued family even amidst a life of politics Douglin shared:

“Haynesley Benn, a maternal cousin, would later muster the courage to contest the St Peter seat against Owen but that never diminished the family unit or love. All it did was to make Haynesley Benn better known for his audacity and daring spirit.”

This was met by a reception of laughs from the congregants.

His father, known for his stubborn determination, whose favourite phrase was “equitable distribution and include everyone” would have an indelible impact on Arthur which would be later manifested in his Politics of Inclusion. He was exposed to political meetings from as young as age five.

“With such strong personalities surrounding him, the little Owen developed character qualities of hard work, honesty and a quiet but indomitable spirit to excel. Like all of us, his many cousins, though born in poverty and what would be called the lower socio-economic class, we never focused on poverty or class but on educational and holistic progress, not nearly for the sake of self but especially to be quipped to serve others, to help others and to build up the nation” Douglin summarized.

Douglin told stories of a younger Arthur, relayed to him by his Owen’s older sister Valmay. One such snippet of the former PM’s childhood spoke to his tenacious determination at age three to be a livestock rearer, where he would tie a rope around a rock which he pretended was his cow, staking it out to graze during the day and religiously bringing it back home at night. It was these quips that showed a softer side to the man and drew bouts of laughter from those who gathered to remember him yesterday.

“Who would have thought that quiet little boy, walking from his father’s Uncle Frank’s humble dwelling in Rose Hill up the hill to All Saint’s Primary was a Prime Minister in the making,” Douglin reflected.

While attending the Coleridge and Parry school, Arthur’s love for History and Latin developed and he later transferred to Harrison College to complete his sixth form education. It was here that he benefitted from the tutelage of Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford.

“Neither one could have imagined that they were to make history 28 years later when the student would snatch the Prime Minister-ship from the teacher by a No-Confidence vote,” Douglin shared in his reflection.

A lover of West Indian cricket who, Douglin said, was a good batsman and “would seldom really get out and if he did get out play would done” Arthur possessed a similar love for West India unity.

As stories of Arthur were shared, they chronicled his years from his humble beginnings to his magnanimous rise to national and regional recognition, a holistic picture was painted of a man who was more than an astute economist and politician, in addition he was remembered as a barber, a chef and a gardener. Those present heard about Arthur the devout sibling, parent, grandparent, husband and countryman at heart. The address delivered by Douglin was both insightful and inspirational.

As the son of “poor parentage”, his mother being an agricultural worker and his father being a carpenter/joiner, Arthur went on to become the fifth Prime Minister of Barbados and a champion of regional integration.

His only surviving siblings are Valmay, Patricia and Richard. Arthur also leaves to mourn his wife, Julie, his daughters, Sabrina and Leah and granddaughter Isabella.

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