By Carlena Knight
A little more than a week after the death of former Prime Minister Sir Lester Bird, members of the Upper and Lower houses of Parliament hosted a special sitting to reflect on the national hero yesterday.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne worked with Sir Lester during his former colleague’s tenure as Prime Minister and Leader of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP).
“We all know that Sir Lester is easily one of the most talented sons that has graced the shores of Antigua and Barbuda — a multi-talented person who was endowed with many talents in athletics, cricket and also was an intellectual in his own right,” Browne said.
“Someone who provided global representation for Antigua and Barbuda and the Caricom region. In fact, a well-known integrationist, an original signatory to the Treaty of Basseterre, someone who would have made some of the most impressive speeches anywhere in the Caribbean.
“Many of us would have recalled his first speech at the United Nations back in 1981. In fact, when Lester Bird spoke, individuals globally would have concluded that Antigua and Barbuda had a leader that exhibited the type of competence and knowledge of regional and global affairs,” Browne said.
Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, another former colleague of the deceased, told the joint session that “it is never an easy task to speak on someone who helped shape you”, as he revealed it was Sir Lester who influenced his appointment to the Senate several years ago.
Sir Robin Yearwood, a long-time friend of Sir Lester, also reflected thus, “I rise this morning to say farewell to my very good friend, Sir Lester Bird.
“Lester and I became very good friends when we were elected to the House some years ago. He took me under his wings and we spoke maybe for two hours minimum every day.
“His heart was with Antigua and Barbuda. He always looked to see how he can further develop this country. Yes, he made mistakes. He is human but his mistakes were always overcome by the benefits the people of Antigua and Barbuda had received.”
As the tributes continued to flow, another close friend and colleague, Asot Michael, said of Sir Lester, “He had such a brilliant mind. We are indeed, and especially myself, lucky to have been able to share so many years with a wonderful human being.
“Sir Lester was part of our family for more than 15 years. He inspired us and we love him. He was truly an iconic politician in the region. He was a lawyer, outstanding historian with so much knowledge, so much skill as an athlete.
“This beloved national hero stood so tall to be counted in the halls of nation building. He was so humble. He understood humanity and humility. He was a visionary. He had class. He loved his country. He had charm.
“Lester Bird went through a lot but he understood what being a leader took. Personally, he was more than a comrade and leader; he was my mentor, friend and motivating force and I appreciate what he did for me.”
Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Jamale Pringle, also added his voice to the session.
“What was striking about Sir Lester is that he created a balance in sports, academics and his political career. Today, as I stand to give tribute, I am still moved by simple utterances of Sir Lester. I can remember that my first interaction with Sir Lester happened just outside of Carlisle Bay and he said to me ‘this thing called politics is one of the hardest things you are going to do in your life, but I want to leave with you a few words of encouragement. This constituency is a tough constituency but whatever you do don’t do it for praise, do it from your heart and for the love of people’.
“So, for that I wish to convey my deepest sympathies to the family, friends and the people of Antigua and Barbuda for the passing of this icon, Sir Lester Bird,” said Pringle.
Meanwhile, the MP for Barbuda, Trevor Walker, said that there was none like Sir Lester in the role of Prime Minister.
“If I had to characterise him, he would be the Prime Minister that carried Antigua and Barbuda in the most profound way. There was an air around him. He was respected and loved.
“Again, we had fundamental differences but he was always respectful. We have to try and regain and exhibit that kind of respect. We ought to remember him as someone who had wisdom and knowledge. Antigua ought to get back to that level.
“I want to offer our sincere condolences to a family for a man who faced many challenges, but was always revered as a distinctive person in our society, and may his soul rest in peace and may his legacy, the tangible and intangibles — his characters, the way he was always willing to reconcile — be recorded in our history,” Walker said.
He also spoke on the level of respect and the sound relationship under Sir Lester’s leadership between the people of Antigua and sister island, Barbuda.
He revealed that it was the 1995 devastation of Hurricane Luis that truly opened his eyes to the humanitarian aspect of Sir Lester who, without any qualms, is said to have gone above and beyond to ensure Barbudans were taken care of.
Walker said it was this behaviour of making Barbudans feel equal that truly embedded his memory of the man he was.
Sir Lester Bird passed away on August 9 at the age of 83.