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Tribute to Prime Minister Thompson

Tribute to Prime Minister Thompson



Kingsley C. A. Layne, C.M.G.

Former Ambassador of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dean of Caribbean Community Ambassadors to the United States and the O.A.S.

I learnt of the death of the Prime Minister at 5.45 a.m. on Saturday, October 23rd, when I received a telephone call from a colleague in Barbados conveying the sad news. Although the seriousness of his illness was coming home to many people, his passing is nonetheless a massive loss to us all, his family, the Government and People of Barbados, his own Democratic Labour Party (DLP), and the Caribbean Community.

Born in London, England, on Christmas Day 1961, during the first term in government of the DLP, which he would eventually come to lead, David John Howard Thompson showed early signs of leadership potential, and a maturity that belied his age. He received his education in Barbados, to which his family had returned, at St. Gabriel’s Junior School, Combermere, the University of the West Indies, Faculty of Law, Cave Hill Campus, and the Sir Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad. Those who had any sustained contact with Barbados, from the mid 1970s, could not avoid hearing about his formidable debating skills, and his outstanding and assured performances on popular radio and television programmes.{{more}}

A protégé of Barbados’ first Prime Minister and founder of the DLP, the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, PC, QC , at whose funeral he was, portentously, the youngest pallbearer, David Thompson was a child of the Party. He was a member of its youth arm, and president from 1980 – 1982, and the popular choice to replace the leader in the 1987 bye-election for the St. John’s constituency, which he has won on six consecutive occasions, with huge majorities.

In government, he was appointed Minister of Community Development and Culture in 1991, presiding over the establishment of the Barbados Youth Service and the Youth in Business Programme; Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, 1992-1993; and Minister of Finance, 1993-1994, where he was responsible for the restructuring of the sugar industry and the offshore financial sector.

He served as General Secretary of the DLP, 1987-1994, and became party leader in 1994, following the defeat of Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford in a parliamentary vote of no confidence. As party leader he lost elections in 1994 and 1999, and a bye-election in 2000. He relinquished the leadership of the party and parliamentary opposition in 2003, but returned in January 2006, when the then leader defected to the ruling party. He dedicated himself to the preparation of the Party for the next election cycle, and was duly rewarded when the DLP won 20 of 30 seats in the general elections of January 2008.

David Thompson was a committed regionalist, like his mentor, Errol Barrow. I first encountered him personally when he was invited to give a series of talks to the fledgling Young Democrats of the New Democratic Party of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, by its founding president, Hon. Jerry Scott, in the mid-1980’s. He was inspirational and secured the enduring admiration of the participating youths. I was subsequently accorded the opportunity to meet with him during his frequent visits to Washington, DC, on official business, courtesy the Embassy of Barbados. These were always interesting meetings of the mind. I recall one delightful occasion, when I was invited by Ambassador Joseph Edmunds and his wife Lucy Mohammed-Edmunds of St. Lucia, family friends of David and Mara Thompson, to share a casual evening with them at their residence in Washington. The guest of honour was in vintage form, and the full range of his repertoire, sports, current affairs, politics, history and sardonic humour, was on display in the intimate and relaxed atmosphere. I will never forget that particular encounter.

The inevitable outpourings of condolence and sympathy will never supplant the great personal and national reality of this staggering loss. Only confidence in the future, to which he dedicated his life, work, and abundant human and intellectual qualities, and our enduring faith in Almighty God, could possibly suffice.

In Philadelphia, Pa., where I was when I received news of the passing of the Prime Minister, a solemn moment of silence was observed in his honour at a West Indian wedding celebration. The Bajans in the audience expressed their appreciation, and reminded us that, whatever our everyday disagreements and challenges in the Caribbean Community, there is a durable “oneness” that transcends them all.

Farewell, David, dear Prime Minister, and thank you for your life’s work.

His wife Marie-Josephine Mara, née Giraudy, children Misha, Oya and Osa-Marie, his parents and siblings, and the people of Barbados can take great solace in the breath and depth of the contributions of their beloved one in his short terrestrial journey. Yours is the legacy, to honour and uphold.