By Carlena Knight
It was a sombre day at Spring Gardens Moravian Church yesterday as the country bid farewell to a true daughter of the soil, Dame Edris Bird.
With Covid-19 protocols in place, family members, friends and dignitaries – to include Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez and former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer – rendered tributes, hymns, and sweet words to remember the educator.
One such tribute came from a longtime friend Dr Claudia Harvey. She recalled their first interaction at the University of Toronto while studying adult education.
“Dame Edris Bird belonged to a pantheon of Caribbean adult educators who were determined to give people ‘second chance’ education. Edris held pride of place within this group. Edris was among the most selfless and entrepreneurial of them all, as evidenced by the networks she built, the scholarships she made available to the Antiguan students, and the experts she brought to Antigua,” she said.
“Dame Edris, you have enriched us with your presence. You inspired us with your bubbling energy and enthusiasm, whether you were hustling around the university centre or, with fading sight, organising Glaucoma Week from a wheelchair. You entertained us with your stories, your laughter, your parties. We will miss you but we will always be glad we were blessed to know you,” she added.
The University of the West Indies open campus where Bird worked for some time also paid tribute.
“Dame Edris Bird used her position as resident tutor to encourage anyone she encountered to better themselves by continuing their studies. She truly invested in building the Caribbean region through the edification and enlightenment of its people,” an official said.
“The chancellor, vice-chancellor, pro-vice chancellor, staff, students and alumni of the University of the West Indies extend heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Dame Edris. The university community will be forever indebted to her for the sterling service and loyalty that she dedicated to our regional institution. May her soul rest in eternal peace.”
Bird was born on April 26 1929 and passed away at the age of 91 last month. She was the mother of three children, twin daughters Dr Jillia Bird and Jacqueline Bird, and a son Clement Bird.
Bird began her education at the Antigua Girls High School (AGHS) and was among the first group of indigenous Antiguans to attend. She taught at the Spring Gardens Moravian School from 1947 to 1949, after which she attended the Teacher Training College in Trinidad.
She was among the first graduates of the University of College West Indies and, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1956 from the Mona campus of UWI, she returned briefly to her homeland and taught at the Antigua Gramma School.
From that position Bird went on to become the resident tutor for the UWI open campus in Antigua, then known as the Department of Extra-Mural Studies and later the School of Continuing Studies. She served from 1965 to 1990.
Dame Edris pursued her studies further having gained a Masters degree in Education from the University of London and a Doctorate in Adult Education from the University of Toronto.
Bird was one of the pioneers of early childhood education in the country and received an Honorary Doctorate from Mt St Vincent University in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1994 for spearheading the first ever early childhood training of teachers in Antigua.
Her love for the arts led to the introduction of open-air theatre. In addition to that, with the assistance of her daughter Jillia, they formed the Antigua and Barbuda Glaucoma Support Group.
Dr Bird has been honoured three times by the government of Antigua and Barbuda with an OD (Order of Distinction), followed by the GCM (Grand Cross of Merit) and most recently she was conferred Dame Commander, the Most Distinguished Order of the nation in 2019.