(CMC) – Barbadians today said a tearful goodbye to their former prime minister, Professor Owen Seymour Arthur, following a two-hour state funeral service at his hometown St Peter’s Parish Church, more than two weeks after he died from heart complications at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The 70-year-old Arthur, the longest serving head of government, who served as prime minister between 1994 and 2008, was laid to rest at the Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens, a 26-acre cemetery in the constituency of St Peter’s which he represented in Parliament for nearly four decades.
The body of the former prime minister had earlier laid in state at the Parliament Buildings on Wednesday and Thursday. The casket, draped with the Barbados flag, was closed according to Arthur’s wishes.
An emotional Prime Minister Mia Mottley, in paying tribute to her “mentor” and predecessor, said “there is no one who has ever met Owen Arthur who could ignore his presence”.
Mottley, who served as attorney general and held other cabinet positions in Arthur’s government, told the mourners, that included Governor General Dame Sandra Mason, cabinet ministers as well as representatives of Caricom governments, that Arthur’s intellect was large and his personality complex.
“He was fiercely competitive, whether in politics or dominoes or cricket. This should be no surprise to us for his initial defeat by one vote was quickly transformed into a victory and the start of a distinguished parliamentary sojourn in the House of Assembly,” she said, adding that the economist was “consumed by politics and policy”.
She recalled how he had “faced down” the United States government in defence of Barbados’ sovereignty on the now infamous Shiprider Agreement, adding that “he demonstrated that he understood and embraced fully the Barbadian tradition of courageous leadership in the international arena.
“He spoke truth to power, fought for fairness of treatment and stood firm on principle. Indeed, his advocacy for our rights and interests extended far beyond Barbados to embrace small states everywhere.
“This was perhaps best exemplified in the way he responded head-on to the unwarranted OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) challenge to our financial services sector. Instinctively and strategically, he knew when and where and how loud to raise his voice, and, to this day, his peers in the cause still remember him with admiration for leading the charge on their behalf.”
Mottley said that Arthur also recognised that any victory against powerful interests was never absolute, and that small states like Barbados could not afford to drop their guard.
“That is why, even after his retirement from active politics, he never abandoned his advocacy. And that is why he so enthusiastically embraced his last assignment, as chairman of the Global Commission on Trade and Development Options 2020, where he sought to reimagine the concepts of inequality and vulnerability in ways that would find common cause among the community of nations.”