Owen Arthur was a man of the times and for the times in which he served.
This is how Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley says Barbadians ought to immortalise this country’s longest serving Prime Minister, a man, who through his economic prowess and astute understanding of politics, shepherded the country out of one of its toughest periods in its contemporary history.
Speaking to the nation on Monday, hours after the passing of the man she often referred to as her mentor, Mottley reminisced on her 32-year relationship with Arthur, noting that he was a man that poured his entire being into the development of the country. In her moving remarks, Mottley made it clear that Arthur’s legacy was one which could not be overstated.
“The Owen Arthur that I knew was never overwhelmed by the task ahead. Face it and fix it was his mantra. Indeed, his greatest domestic legacy would be considered by many as a wrestling of unemployment from the horrendous highs of the early 1990s, to under seven per cent in 2008.
“It seems like an archaic economic achievement, but it meant real things to real Bajans in real ways. The promise that many doubted at the outset of his tenure was delivered over the three terms, the creation of 30 000 jobs,” said Mottley, who pointed out that this attribute of devotion to country had not faded even after he opted to exit the political arena.
“When it came to our country, Owen defended Barbados with ferocity that reinforced to many that he understood that those who went before had set a very high standard for the defence of our country, and he was therefore duty-bound to continue in the same vein,” she added.
The Prime Minister said that Arthur’s love for country was almost matched by his love for regional integration, and as a true regionalist, he was especially proud of the part he played in the forging of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
“This strong patriotism was anchored by a strong passion for regional integration for the Caribbean civilization. His passion fortunately coincided with his responsibility as the lead Prime Minister in CARICOM for the single market and economy. I was with Owen in Jamaica when he signed with tremendous pride in 2006, the instrument which brought the CARICOM single market into existence. He was brimming with pride,” she said.
She also praised him for his ability to break down the most complex of economic issues so that the average man on the street could understand. It was for this reason Mottley considered the title of Professor of Practice to be one of the more fitting to be conferred upon the son of St Peter, who rose from humble beginnings to dizzying heights as both a statesman and an academic.
“Owen was first and foremost a teacher, who took the most complex economic issues and stripping them down to be understood by the average man and average woman in the shop. His keen sense of history and of politics shared daily with an emerging class of politicians that he would claim responsibility for bringing into public life. As I said earlier, a man of the time and for the time in which he served,” she said.
On a personal note, Mottley opened up about her gratitude to Arthur for the confidence he reposed in her by appointing her Minister of Education in 1994, a portfolio many deemed too large for a first-time Member of Parliament.
“My thoughts go back to the morning of September 6, 1994, that was 26 years ago, when Mr Arthur called an offered me the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture. He also offered Liz Thompson the Ministry of Health. We were described as being too green for the task of these large ministries and that he needed to appoint more seasoned individuals.
“Owen advised us to ignore those comments and to get on with the task as he believed we would succeed. He believed in Barbados and what we could achieve. That reinforcement of what we could anchored us on a journey for which I shall always be grateful… On behalf of the Government and people of Barbados, we say thank you to Owen Seymour Arthur.”