Sir Lester Bryant Bird, who served as the second prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, has announced his retirement from active politics.
Sir Lester, who was born on February 21, 1938, served as prime minister from 1994-2004, replacing his father, Sir Vere Bird.
“I know that, in as much as my brain has much to contribute, age has taken its toll on my physical capacity. It would be unfair to impose upon the readiness of the people of Rural East to maintain me as their representative,” Sir Lester told the Parliament on Tuesday.
“The time has come for younger legs and more agile hands. That is why, I announce today in this Honourable House that I will not seek re-election, and that at the end of this term, I will leave representative politics,” said Sir Lester, who was first elected to Parliament in 1976.
“I believe our partnership of more than 40 years has been a story of transformation, of accomplishment and of progress. The people of Rural East gave me the opportunity to serve our nation in many important ministerial positions – tourism, energy, economic development, foreign affairs – and as prime minister.”
Sir Lester said that he intends to remain available as an adviser to the government should the need arise and used the occasion to endorse his niece, Maria Bird-Browne, the wife of Prime Minister Gaston Browne, as his successor.
“I do not intend to end my representation of the people of Rural East without ensuring that my successor is someone who I personally believe will be good for each of its residents, good for the constituency, and good for the country. That is why I commend to the people of St John’s Rural East, Maria Bird-Browne.
“I do so not only because she is my niece. I do so because she has shown the humility and the compassion to be a people’s representative,” Sir Lester said, telling legislators he is confident that his successor will stand up for, and with, the people of the constituency and be a credit to the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) government.
In 2014, the British-educated lawyer, was one of four persons to be conferred with a knighthood during the Ceremonial Parade to mark the 33rd anniversary of the island’s political independence from Britain.
Sir Lester was named Knight of the Most Exalted Order of National Hero (KNH) for his contribution to national development as an outstanding sportsman, lawyer and parliamentarian and joined the ranks of his father and cricket legend, Sir Vivian Richards, as the only other living national hero.
“I feel after years of having made such an input into the development of this country in sports, in law and in other matters pertaining to the development of this country, I am proud that this is being done,” Sir Lester said then.
But in recent years, Sir Lester’s health has become a matter of concern and he was hospitalized in November last year.
“He had a bad bout of the flu, was severely dehydrated and was running a fever and because he is extremely diabetic the doctor is not taking any chances,’ his daughter, Rika Bird later told reporters at the time.
In the Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Browne thanked the almost 80-year-old politician for his contribution to the socio-economic development of the two-island state and called for a special sitting of the House to be convened to “celebrate the achievements and contributions.
“There is no doubt that Sir Lester would have made the second largest contribution towards the socio-economic development of this country. He has spent over 40 years in this honourable house and we believe, based on his longevity of service, his achievements . . . that we should offer no less than a special sitting to celebrate his contributions to the development of this country.”
Browne also called for the naming of an appropriate monument in Sir Lester’s honour, adding that he had something in mind but would await consensus from his Cabinet colleagues.
The next general election is constitutionally due in 2019 but there is widespread speculation that the polls could be held before that date.