Prime Minister Gaston Browne on Monday described Sir Lester Bird as a “great son of the soil” as he led the country in mourning the death of the island’s second prime minister.
A statement from the Office of the Prime Minister said that all flags will be flown at half mast, beginning immediately, and that planning commence for a state funeral at an agreed date.
It said that the “sad occasion took place this morning(yesterday) at about 6 a.m. (local time)”, and in a personal statement on his Facebook page, Prime Minister Browne extended “sincerest condolences to the family of our national hero, Sir Lester, who transitioned to the great beyond”.
“Sir Lester was a great son of the soil, who contributed significantly to the socio-economic development of our nation. May his soul rest in peace and rise in glory,” Browne added.
The statement from the Office of the Prime Minister said that “Antigua and Barbuda has lost one of its most distinguished and heroic sons”.
Sir Lester Bryant Bird, 83, began his political career in 1971 when he was nominated to the Senate. He served as the island’s second prime minister from 1994 to 2004. He was chairman of the ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party from 1971 to 1983.
Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, said beyond any doubt, Sir Lester is 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. “
Sir Lester was a keen sportsman, he played golf in his later years, but his passion was cricket. He was a superb pace bowler with a strategic knowledge of the game.
“At a different time, he might have been selected to represent the West Indies. His early triumph for Antigua, and the West Indies, was to win a bronze medal for long jump for the West Indies at the 1957 Pan American Games.”
Sir Ronald said that the former prime minister was a committed regionalist, who was highly instrumental in establishing the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), 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 so well today. He was convinced that the structures of unity and functional cooperation should be maintained in the OECS, because the small size of the countries required unity for strength in regional and international bargaining.
Sir Ronald said that in the wider Caribbean, he was literally and figuratively a giant. It was under his leadership as chair of CARICOM that, with Jamaica’s P.J. Patterson and Barbados’ Owen Arthur, the Regional Negotiating Machinery was established for collective bargaining with the European Union.
“Known for his bold oratory, his annual speeches at the UN became a ‘must listen’, often reported by the international media. He fought tirelessly for a bigger voice in the international community for small states.
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Nothing great or hero about him.
And nothing great and hero about you either!
Here are some interesting, memorable, nonpolitical snippets on the “fine sporting life” and times of Sir Lester Bryant Bird by the late Leonard “Tim” Hector who said “between 1969 and 1975, Lester and I were the best of friends.”
“In his youth Lester Bird came under the influence of Dr Blackett, the legendary (Antigua) Grammar School master, the classical scholar, and a virtual martinet. One of the enduring mind-pictures of my youth was to see this tall, slender Lester Bird, sleek trim, riding on a vespa with the short, squat, severe, Dr Blackett. Even then Lester was an effusive extrovert, endowed with the gift of gab, while Dr Blackett was a reclusive introvert.
“He was always a bon vivant, gaily floating through life, his hours given up to play, to open haunts and sedentary living.
“Lester’s being was in sports, of any and every kind. The play-field was his be-all and end-all. Running and jumping, ball games of any and every kind, Lester Bird took to them like a duck to water. Lester was a fast bowler of great speed and good line.
“I am told that as a U.S. University student abroad, on an athletic scholarship, he continued his bon vivant ways, seeking open haunts and that he was a linebacker of some merit.
“Before I left here (for Canada), Lester was my boyhood friend and star. He was the best athlete at my school, AGS: one of the best footballers in the land, playing at left wing or at what was then known as center half. He was also the fastest bowler in Antigua, in the Leewards, and probably in the West Indies, save for Roy Gilchrist. When I saw Wes Hall in 1958, I knew Lester was faster. Lester was then too, the best long jumper in the West Indies, and when he went abroad I learnt he produced, in practice jumps better than Ralph Boston’s, then the premier long jumper in the world.””
Those names in the snippets, except Sir Wes Hall, passed over..
Latin, Requiescat in pace, translates, Rest in Peace.
Condolences to All!
Update: Ralph Boston is alive.
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