Since the attainment of Independence, Barbados has been served by six native Governors-General. Sir John Stow, our last colonial governor between 1959 and November 29, 1966, was appointed our first Governor-General at the achievement of Independence, and he continued in that position until May 1967.
In the intervening years, Barbados has been served by Governor-General Sir Winston Scott – the first native representative of the British monarch. He was followed by Sir Deighton Ward, Sir Hugh Springer, Dame Nita Barrow, Sir Clifford Husbands and Sir Elliott Belgrave. They have all served with distinction and performed their assigned roles admirably.
Despite the Governors-General’s largely ceremonial role, the holder of that position still remains one of the most important individuals in our monarchial system and wields significant clout. In addition to representing the Queen [or king] on ceremonial occasions, the Governor-General may appoint and discipline public servants or pardon convicted felons. Of course, much, if not all, of what the Governor-General does in practical terms, is usually done with the acquiescence of the Government of the day.
Over the past 50 years, it has been noticeable that a number of our Governors-General have tended to be emotionally and physically removed – at various degrees – from the average citizen. They are not politicians and by definition of their role, tend not to be caught up in the hurly-burly of everyday social intercourse.
In the past their individual personalities have endeared them to the public at differing levels of appreciation. Sir Deighton’s humility and pleasant manner made him a very popular individual for many. Dame Nita, perhaps because of her background in nursing, came over as a very caring individual and was also hugely popular.
On the flip side of the coin, however, one particular Governor-General’s practice of forbidding police officers from sheltering from the rain in his private verandah where they were on duty, created a public hue and cry at a particular period of our history. He was not considered a people’s Governor-General and seen as even more removed from John Public than the perception already held of that office.
And then there is Sir Elliott Fitzroy Belgrave.
It should surprise no one, and it certainly would not surprise us, if at some stage this proud son of St Peter is not considered the greatest Governor-General produced by Barbados in its first 50 years of Independence. It would also come as no surprise that when the annals of the island are recorded, people speak in glowing terms of his influence on Barbadian society, rather than make perfunctory reference to the traditional functioning of his office.
The truth is that since 2012 Sir Elliott has shown himself to be a Governor-General with a difference. While others in the past might have been accused of not visiting the trenches but sticking slavishly to their constitutional roles, and within their cloistered ramparts, Sir Elliott has broken that mould with refreshing relish.
Whether it be the crime situation in the country, industrial disharmony, disquiet in the education system, or simple inter-personal relationships, Sir Elliot has not been averse to speaking his mind, offering advice and demonstrating leadership. This, all in the effort to ensure that social equilibrium is maintained in the country that he holds dear to his heart. This is the same love of country and desire for societal stability that he often demonstrated while performing with distinction as prosecutor and judge in the highest court in the island.
But perhaps what will prove his most lasting contribution to the island is his interaction with the children in our primary schools.
One cannot begin to emphasise the importance of these visits to schools across the island, their present impact and potential future influence. At the age of 85, his energy and commitment to this exercise have been inspiring. At a time when our young people are frequently exposed to negative behaviour and unsavoury characters, the significance of his message to primary school children at this early stage of their development may be measured for decades to come.
Always a frank and effective communicator, Sir Elliott has used himself as an example to inspire thousands in our school system. Standing monthly before several precocious youth has been a man reared in humble circumstances who through self-esteem, education and focus, has risen to lofty heights. If his story and his message resonate with just one little boy and girl at each school he visits, the miles he has travelled over the last three to four years would have been worth it.
Sir Elliott has put a face to the office of Governor-General hitherto not seen. Long may he continue!