Hugh David Joey Harper was remembered as spending his whole life advocating for the rights of the disenfranchised.
In glowing tributes, mourners who gathered at Sharon Moravian Church in St Thomas for his funeral, recalled a magnetic personality and the life’s work of the former chairman of the Barbados Child Care Board.
The 75-year-old father of two and husband to Evelina King-Harper held numerous positions throughout his life as president of the Barbados Council for the Disabled and the Barbados Association for the Correction of Learning Disabilities, member of Amnesty International, Barbados Advocate columnist and radio personality.
But he was eulogised for his most prized title of chief executive officer of the Barbados Labour Party to which he devoted 55 years of his life. He contested the St Michael East seat in 1991 against then Democratic Labour Party candidate Joseph Tudor.
Fellow BLP stalwarts bade final farewell to Harper in a casket draped with the red and yellow party flag. Party leader and Prime Minister Mia Mottley, BLP chairman and Minister of Housing, Lands and Rural Development George Payne, Attorney General Dale Marshall, Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde, Minister of Transport and Works William Duguid, Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations and other Members of Parliament joined the list of those saying goodbye to a cherished party member. Former Senior Minister Dame Billie Miller and Sir David Simmons, who held the posts of Attorney General and Chief Justice, were among Harper’s contemporaries joining the ministerial mourners.
Speaking on behalf on the BLP, Prime Minister Mottley praised Harper for unwavering loyalty to the party even as he suffered through illness.
“His faith in the Barbados Labour Party and his loyalty to the Barbados Labour Party were absolute; whether he disagreed with you as a member, his commitment to the party never once wavered and it is testimony to the man but also to what he believed in,” she remarked.
Mottley shared that she first met Harper upon her entry into politics in 1988 and throughout his political life remained a constant supporter of the vulnerable and an advocate for their rights. During her tribute, the Prime Minister spoke of Harper’s selflessness and kind-heartedness.
“Joey believed in the underdog, Joey believed in fighting for justice, Joey believed in helping those who were most vulnerable whether it was in the work he did at the Child Care Board in defending children against circumstances…. He fought for the children,” said the Prime Minister.
“As president for the Council for the Disabled he fought for people who could not help themselves, and if you happened to be in conversation or argue long enough with Joey, you would know that whether it was the small black man… the manufacturer… the person who was left out or put outside, Joey was willing to come down on the side of those who needed help and those who felt they had been unfaired,” she continued.
Also paying their respects were Leader of the Opposition Joseph Atherley and Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn. Entertainer Antoine ‘Brudda Daddy’ Williams gave a tribute in song with a performance of “Where’er You Walk”, and David Greenidge performed “Jerusalem”.
Harper’s nephew, Dr Llewellyn Harper, eulogised his uncle’s wit and sense of humour. He described his beloved uncle as “a hardworking, modest, knowledgeable, inspirational and creative gentleman” who would always willing to champion for a cause and help those in need.
“Joey was a social activist and he didn’t fail to write his views and let them be known,” Dr Harper commented. “We always remember him as a person that would give willingly and unselfishly. As long as it was worth something to someone he would give it.”
Dr Harper said his uncle was totally committed to any endeavour in which he participated, including the executive management of the BLP to which he boasted of being “a card-carrying member for 55 years”.
“Once he said, if he served his God with the same fervour that he served the Barbados Labour Party, he would be assured of a place in Heaven.”
Child Care Board Director Joan Crawford recalled that Harper was a man who acknowledged his faults and strived to overcome them. He often acknowledged that he was not the best father he should have been to his own children but wanted to equip the nation’s parents with the tools to ensure that those who came after him did better, she said, adding that he wanted to improve future generations of Barbadians through positive parenting.
“He would readily admit that he was not the perfect parent but one could see he made efforts to ensure that parents coming behind him were equipped as best as he could,” Crawford said. “He always stressed that children are the future of this nation.”