(JAMAICA GLEANER) – Former Prime Minister of Antigua Sir Lester Bird has died.
He passed away this morning at the age of 83.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne described Bird as a “great son of the soil” who was a distinguished leader.
Bird was Antigua’s second prime minister.
A statement from the Office of the Prime Minister said that all flags in the country will now be flown at half-mast.
Bird will be accorded a State funeral.
Five things about Sir Lester Bryant Bird:
1. Began his political career in 1971
2. Was first a Senator
3. Served as prime minister from 1994 to 2004
4. Was chairman of the ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party from 1971 to 1983
5. Won a bronze medal for the West Indies in long jump at the 1957 Pan American Games
Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, said, beyond any doubt, Bird was the architect of modern Antigua, responsible for successfully transitioning the country from an economy dependent on a defunct sugar industry into one of the leading tourism centres in the world.
“Under his stewardship, Antigua and Barbuda became a high-income country, transforming the quality of jobs and housing and introducing high-end tourist resorts. When he lost the general elections in 2004, Antigua and Barbuda had the lowest rate of unemployment in the Caribbean of five per cent. Many people had the luxury of two jobs.”
In his later years, Bird played golf but his passion was cricket.
“At a different time, he might have been selected to represent the West Indies,” said Sanders.
He also said the former prime minister was a committed regionalist, who was highly instrumental in establishing the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States serving twice as its Chairman – the first time he was not yet Prime Minister, but such was the confidence that leaders of the Eastern Caribbean reposed in him.
He strongly influenced the decision to turn the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority into a Central Bank that serves its member states.
Sanders said that in the wider Caribbean, Bird was a giant.
It was under his leadership as chair of CARICOM that with Jamaica’s P J Patterson and Barbados’ Owen Arthur that the Regional Negotiating Machinery was established for collective bargaining with the European Union.