ERROL WALTON BARROW, P.C., Q.C.*
Acclaimed as the Father of
Barbados' Independence, Errol Walton Barrow was born in the parish of St. Lucy on January
21, 1920. Over the 15-year period of his Administration ù first as Premier and then as
Prime Minister ù ending in 1976, he was particularly successful in securing many social
changes for Barbados.
A founder-member of the Democratic
Labour Party, Barrow swept to power as Premier in 1961 and held that position until 1966.
He then took the island into Independence from Britain after his party won elections and
he thus became Barbados' first Prime Minister.
Indeed, Barrow was twice Prime
Minister, in 1966 to 1976 and again in 1986 to 1987. He served as Opposition Leader during
part of the interregnum which he interrupted for an academic sabbatical in the United
States and, as he declared, "to recharge" his "batteries".
The son of the late Rev. Reginald
Grant Barrow and the late Ruth nee O'Neal, Errol was the nephew of legendary Dr. Charles
Duncan O'Neal, founder of the Democratic League, and brother of Errol's mother.
In December, 1939, Errol won a
scholarship in Classics to Codrington College but did not pursue those studies. Instead,
he joined the Royal Air Force and served in World War II.
He was personal navigation officer
to the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army at the Rhine between 1940 and 1942. After
his stint in the RAF, Barrow studied law and was called to the Bar, Inns of Court in 1949.
He returned home in 1950 as a practising barrister-at-law and became a member of the
Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in 1951.
That year he won a seat in St.
George for the BLP which moved from 12 members in the House of Assembly to 16, thus
obtaining a clear majority for the first time. But the desire to fashion a new political
force led Barrow in 1955, along with Cameron Tudor and others to form the Democratic
However, he lost his seat in the
1956 General Elections, but returned to Parliament after successfully contesting a
by-election in St. John in 1958.
Such was the quality of his
leadership and impact on Barbados' social landscape that Barrow received many awards while
serving as Head of Government. Among them were an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from
McGill University of Canada in 1966 and the Lions International "Head of State
Award" for "outstanding service to the country" in 1967.
He was guest of United States
President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, was made a Privy Councillor in 1969 and authored
"Canada's Role in the West Indies" (published in 1964 by the Canadian Institute
of International Affairs).
In his first 15-year
administration, says Theodore Sealy in his "Caribbean Leaders", "it seems
that social democracy in bringing the people to be beneficiaries of the new kind of state,
freed as it is from the plantocracy, was the guiding spirit of his administration".
democratisation of the educational
process and expanded free education to all levels - victory against segregation in
the introduction of a National
Insurance and Social Security scheme;
school meals on an improved
improved health services;
accelerated industrial development;
and considerable expansion of the tourist industry.
He took Barbados into Independence
in November, 1966.
F.A. Hoyos in his
Barbados", writes that, propelled by Barrow's defense of the sugar workers' cause in
the country districts, during the deadlock between the Barbados Workers' Union and the
Sugar Producers' Federation over negotiations for increased wages, the DLP won a decisive
victory in the December 4, 1961 General Elections. A crash programme of public works was
introduced to provide relief for the unemployed; roads were repaired, land at Seawell and
gullies across the island were cleared; men were set to work to commence canalisation of
the Constitution River; secondary education was made free in all government schools; a new
deal was arrived at for agricultural labourers and construction began for 30 industries.
Mr. Barrow made Barbados a member
of the Organization of American States and in 1968, with other regional leaders, launched
the Caribbean Free Trade Area, the forerunner to CARICOM.
Having been selected by the people
to lead Barbados into Independence in 1966, Barrow thus brought to an end the long process
of decolonisation. His record of achievement led to his DLP's landslide victory in the
September, 1971 General Elections, capturing 18 of the 24 seats in the House of Assembly.
After 15 years in power, was
defeated in the General Elections of 1976 by a resurgent BLP under J.M.G.M.
"Tom" Adams and spent the next ten years (1976-1986) in Opposition.
In 1986, at the age of 66 years, he
again led his party to power, winning the General Elections by the largest ever margin of
seats in Barbados' history 24-3.
Sadly, Errol Barrow did not live long enough to enjoy
this victory. After only one year in office he died on June 1, 1987. He had, however, left
an impressive record: First Prime Minister 1966-1976; "Father of Independence",
supporter of the UWI and regional unity; designer of a modern system of public budgeting;
architect of the University of the West Indies Campus at Cave Hill, Barbados; creator of
the Barbados Community College; co-founder of the Caribbean Free Trade Association
(CARIFTA); inspiration for lowering the age of majority from 21 to 18 and co-founder of
CARICOM. (It was said of him that "He found Barbados a collection of villages, and
transformed it into a proud nation.")
In reality, Barbados did not have
to fight against Britain to achieve Independence, but in one of his speeches, Barrow
argued that he would not "be found loitering on the steps of the British colonial
office". Many interpreted this to mean that if there was British resistance to the
move towards full autonomy, Barbados would not wait around to beg for it.
Grateful Barbadians observe the birthday of Errol Walton Barrow on January 21 as a
national holiday, and have a constant reminder of his life and service for his likeness is
widely circulated on the island's $50 note, popularly known as "an Errol".
"National Heroes of Barbados", published by The Barbados
Service. Information provided by Government of Barbados.