By Kadeem Joseph
The historic Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground served as the backdrop for scores of mourners to pay their final respects to Sir Lester Bryant Bird – a national hero, former prime minister, the ‘comeback kid,’ the political juggernaut credited for being “the father of modern Antigua and Barbuda.”
Since his passing on August 9, residents have been reminded about his political exploits and diligence, not only in Antigua and Barbuda, but in the regional integration movement and further afield.
However, Sir Lester’s daughter Donyelle Bird-Browne told those gathered for the ceremony that the former prime minister was for her and her siblings, a father.
As she delivered the eulogy to the rapt audience, she spoke of “a young boy who reveled in the freedom allowed running barefoot through the streets and playfields of the Ovals and Ottos section of St John’s” as he was raised by the late father of the nation Sir V.C. Bird Snr and Lady Lydia Bird at their Tanner and Temple Streets home.
As her voice blanketed the stadium, piercing through the quiet of the onlookers, Bird-Browne acknowledged that the task of encapsulating the life of any individual, let alone someone who served as “such a giant in our history,” was not easy.
And as she addressed those gathered, her father’s casket before her, draped in the national flag, she said Sir Lester was a man who gave much to his country, work, friends and family. It is for this reason she explained that she would not be speaking in mourning of his death, but instead in celebration of his life.
“Here was a life destined to demand notice, a life that exemplified brilliance… a life that burned bright so that the paths of others were illuminated on their way,” she added.
Among his many accolades and accomplishments, she reminded the audience that Sir Lester introduced the Education Levy in 1994 which became a model for other countries, as well as the Antigua and Barbuda International Institute of Technology (ABIIT) IN 1997, offshore gaming and the Ministry of Social Transformation, to name a few.
Bird-Browne also credited her late father for providing more housing lands for constituents in Rural East, a point that was met with applause by supporters who had gathered.
“My father was living proof of how inspirational and perfectly imperfect a person could be,” she added.
His daughter said that as a husband and a father, Sir Lester loved and showed commitment in the only way he knew, that being when he fell short, he acknowledged when he failed, accepting his culpability and asking in turn for acceptance of “his frailties without judgment.”
“When the inevitable ebb and flow of life resulted in my siblings and I having a disagreement, I will forever remember his firm, heavy-timbered voice, with an exaggerated version of his American twang saying, ‘Come on guys, give me an aspirin, show me some generosity of spirit,” she stated. “He rarely raised his voice, and never, ever raised his hand in the traditional Caribbean culture of discipline. He didn’t need to. Just knowing that we had disappointed him in some way was punishment enough….”
She told the captive audience, that instead of faking perfection, he insisted on sharing his doubts, fears and miscalculations with his children, along with his victories.
Sir Lester’s daughter remembered him as being sincere, loyal, earnest, believing in peace, love, and hope, with a deep respect for intellectual prowess.
Bird-Browne said her late father was not only able to laugh at himself, but also noted that forgiveness was important to him, even in the face of betrayal.
“Over and over again he would forgive, and over and over again, he would remind us that tolerance and understanding must flourish and grow,” she added. “He reminded us that in politics, forgiveness and numbers matter.”
His daughter also underscored the pain of losing a parent, underscoring that it changes everything, and adding that the price of love is grief.
She said her family’s prayers and thoughts are with all who mourn her father’s passing.
Bird-Browne closed the eulogy with an admonition to her peers and the next generation, while borrowing her father’s famous phrase, “let me be pellucidly clear,” which was greeted by laughter and applause from the audience.
“My father’s vision, his dreams and work can be yours too. Use it as an example and a charge for the best within us. We have a responsibility to ourselves and others around us to walk that path that he illuminated for the benefit of our country,” she said.
The near three-hour long ceremony saw tributes from the Antigua and Barbuda Trades and Labour Union, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party Choir, and the St John’s Rural East Constituency Branch.
Vocalist Arlen Seaton, and Director of Culture and pannist, Khan Cordice, delivered a stirring rendition of the song, ‘My Way.’
Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle also made presentations.
At the close of the ceremony, Sir Lester’s body, guided by an outrider-led convoy, made its way to the St John’s cemetery where he was finally laid to rest next to his mother.
Supporters of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party and other residents dotted the procession route, waving flags and shouting as the fallen former prime minister was taken to the cemetery.
Also on the route were students of Sir Lester’s alma mater – the Antigua Grammar School.
The state funeral service and subsequent burial marked the culmination of three official days of mourning for the National Hero.
May his soul rest in peace.