Errol Walton Barrow


Dr. Jean Holder

November 24, 2020

From the 2016 Edition of the Ins & Outs of Barbados

Barbados, a small Caribbean island of 166 sq. miles, with a population of just under 300,000 persons, delivers a comprehensive programme of social services to its people that should be the envy of the great United States of America, where candidates for the 2016 Presidential election tiptoe gingerly around the notion that their philosophy should be known as democratic socialism. The socio-political achievements of Barbados are due to its good fortune in having had some wise and statesmanlike political leadership in the two main political parties, the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party which have dominated political life since the birth of the parties in the post 1940 period. This article is about Errol Walton Barrow, who as Premier of Barbados in a DLP Government, decided in 1966 to seek political independence from Britain.  Barrow had no difficulty in defining himself as a Democratic Socialist, which he explained as meaning that every citizen should be provided with an equal opportunity to acquire the benefits offered by the society.

Social Standing

Born on 21st January 1920, Barrow had the good fortune to have been from a family in comfortable circumstances. His uncle was Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal, a medical practitioner and leading political figure, later named a National hero, and his father, an Anglican priest, the Rev. Reginald Grant Barrow, sometimes referred to as “A turbulent priest”. This was because he insisted on delivering sermons about the social evils of the day from the pulpit to the conservative congregations in Parish churches like St. George and St. Lucy. He was finally shifted to be Head Master of the Alleyne School in St. Andrew and later given a tour of duty outside of Barbados, where his message did not change. These influences inevitably produced in Errol Barrow, a person who was committed to social change and public service. The first indication of this was when, having won a scholarship to Read Classics at Codrington College, he opted instead to enlist in the Royal Air force and go off to fight in the Second World War.

LSE and his contemporaries

By the time the war ended Barrow was already 27 years of age. He entered the London School of Economics(LSE) and the Inns of Court, in 1947, to study Economics and Law:  It was at LSE that Barrow met Michael Manley of Jamaica, Forbes Burnham of British Guiana, Pierre Trudeau of Canada, and Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, who  became his life long friends. LSE was regarded then as a cradle of socialist politics. Each of them was to become Prime Minister or President of his respective country and though all were influenced by that great socialist, Professor Laski, each pursued the social policies they felt better reflected the reality of their own country.

Errol Barrow’s first cabinet, from left, DaCosta Edwards, George Fergusson, Wynter Crawford, Errol Barrow, Cameron Tudor, Lester Vaughn and Edwy Talma  Photos courtesy Dr. Jean Holder

Barrow - the politician

Errol Barrow was a totally self confident individual who was proud of his country and took every opportunity to make it clear that he would follow a foreign policy of “friends of all and satellites of none”. There were times when we Barbadian diplomats felt that more diplomatic language would have better suited the particular occasion. No one can forget his reference to US President Ronald Reagan as a cowboy, a remark in respect of which the US Embassy made a formal objection to the Barbados Minister of Foreign Affairs. This was not well received by Mr. Barrow who is reported to have sent a response that would have been seen as even less diplomatic than the original comment.

Addressing supporters at Clifton Hall Great HousePhoto courtesy Massimo Franchi

Barrow and Dame Nita Barrow - his soft side

Although he could be tough in political negotiations, there was a very soft side to him as he showed in his personal relationships. He greatly admired his own sister, Nita; later Her Excellency Dame Nita Barrow, Governor General of Barbados. He often spoke of her considerable accomplishments as an international public servant and I was privileged to be taken by him to visit with her when she was still working with PAHO and lived in Antigua. In spite of this he was very concerned when Mr. Cameron Tudor as Foreign Minister recommended that she be appointed Ambassador of Barbados to the United Nations. He thought it would be seen as some kind of nepotism on his part. Mr. Tudor and Mr. Barrow had the kind of relationship in which he could be dismissive of Mr. Barrow’s concerns, assuring him that people thought of him as Nita’s little brother who gained his fame by his relationship to her, an international figure in her own right.

He had his own way of resolving conflicts. Once when Mr. Barrow and Mr. Forbes Burnham, then President of Guyana, were having some serious disagreements, Mr. Barrow went to the Barbados airport to receive him for a meeting. At the airport he ordered a Whisky and Soda and asked me to take it to the door of the plane. As the door opened and Mr. Burnham stepped out, Mr. Barrow took the drink from me and placed it in Mr. Burnham’s hand with the words  “I brought you your favourite drink”. Mr. Burnham broke into a broad smile saying; “I came here to curse you, but how can I do so now?”  The meetings went well.

Barrow - the collapse of the West Indies Federation, and leading Barbados into Independence in 1966

Ironically, as the Federation of the 10 West Indian countries began to collapse, Mr. Barrow, who had been so critical of  the weakness of the West Indies Federal Government, led by Sir Grantley Adams, now found himself at the very centre of the struggle to keep Barbados and the Leeward and Windward Islands together in a federation of their own. They were referred to by the Press as the “Little Eight”, a form of address which he hated with a passion.

One of the first practical things that needed to be done was to create a sub-regional agency to take the place of the Federal Government in managing the regional affairs of the “Little Eight” both at home and abroad. This led to the birth of the Eastern Caribbean Commission which was based at “Sherbourne”, Two Mile Hill, Barbados.  

In June 1962, an Eastern Caribbean Commission office was set up in London, and this was headed by Mr. Nicholas Taylor of St. Lucia while I was second in command. During the early days, Mr. Barrow had vowed that he and his fellow politiclal leaders from the Eastern Caribbean would “build a monument more lasting than bronze”. However after three and a half years of total frustration, he was forced to admit, from his perspective at any rate, that the time spent in trying to put together an Eastern Caribbean Federation had been wasted, and he was left with no choice but to take Barbados into Independence alone in 1966.

Barrow at the first raising of the Barbados flag

Barrow  -  the man

One of my first impressions from those early days was that Mr. Barrow liked working with young people whom he considered to have ability and be well qualified. He felt that Civil Service Red Tape often prevented the right people from being placed in the right jobs  for the service.

I recall in particular, efforts to prevent the young Branford Taitt from being appointed Consul General in the Barbados New York Consulate because he was only 27 years old even though he was the most qualified candidate available. Mr. Barrow overruled the objection.

In the years that followed, Mr. Barrow as Prime Minister of Barbados was to build a team around him drawn from a generation somewhat younger than his own, including people like Philip Greaves, Richard Haynes, Branford Taitt, Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, Asquith Phillips, Keith Simmons, Maurice King, Wes Hall, George Moe and others now household names in Barbados.

It is very difficult to capture the total Errol Barrow, the man, in an article of a  few words. He was multi-dimensional in his skills and catholic in his interests. He was as comfortable in the sky flying a plane, as he was underwater scuba diving or sailing with the Barbados Cruising Club which he helped to found. He was a competent horseman and certainly the first Barbadian politician to canvass in elections on horseback. Of his immediate family, he is survived only by his son David, the CEO of the Airport Authority. His wife, Carolyn and daughter, Lesley, are both deceased.

Like all of us, Errol Barrow had his faults, but they did not detract from a deserved reputation as an extraordinary person and an outstanding statesman.

I should add that I was also encouraged to write a brief biography of Errol Walton Barrow by his sister, Dame Nita Barrow, who served as one of our Governors General. I hope that her expectations were met.

This includes excerpts from my book: The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, Father of Independence – an Intimate Portrait, The Little Eight Experiment and the March to Independence.