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ERROL WALTON BARROW, P.C., Q.C.*
(1920-1987)
 

Barrow

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 first as Premier and then as Prime Minister 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 Labour Party.

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".

Barrow achieved:

  • democratisation of the educational process and expanded free education to all levels - victory against segregation in education;

  • the introduction of a National Insurance and Social Security scheme;

  • school meals on an improved nutritional basis;

  • 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 "Builders of 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".

*Source: "National Heroes of Barbados", published by The Barbados Government Information Service. Information provided by Government of Barbados.

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