The man who would become this country’s longest-serving Prime Minister and a champion of regional integration was laid to his final resting place on a bright, warm Friday evening following a six-hour procession and funeral punctuated by an outpouring of love and appreciation by hundreds of Barbadians along the route from south to north and all along the west coast where the sun set on Owen Seymour Arthur of Benn Hill, St Peter.
Arthur’s body was interred at the Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens in St Peter, the first occupant of the newest cemetery just beyond his hometown.
Draped in the Broken Trident, the casket made its way along the west coast with stops at Battaleys, St Peter where it was transferred from hearse to gun carriage. At Alexandra School, the cortege was joined by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Cabinet members and other dignitaries.
The faces of scores who lined the streets reflected the state of a sorrowful nation while many whipped out their smartphones to capture the moment for posterity.
Inside the St Peter Parish Church where the requiem for the state funeral was conducted, Prime Minister Mottley made an announcement of plans to permanently etch the memory of the man most responsible for shepherding her to high office.
“At the appropriate time, after consultation with his family, I will announce plans to honour Owen Arthur, posthumously, in a way that he richly deserved, but steadfastly refused to accept during his lifetime. We can and we will do so in a manner that respects his dignity and reflects his patriotism,” she told the congregation that included Governor General Dame Sandra Mason, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson and former Prime Ministers Freundel Stuart and Sir LLoyd Erskine Sandiford.
In her tribute, Mottley struggled to hold back tears as she reflected on her relationship with Arthur, opening her comments with a lyrical extract from a song by Grammy award-winning R&B singer/songwriter Gladys Knight that declares: “You are the best thing that ever happened to me.”
”Owen was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she told the congregation, the nation and beyond who followed the service on television, radio and social media.
Mottley thanked Arthur for allowing her to grow and for challenging her constantly, pushing her hard and toughening her for this journey in these “extremely” challenging times.
She recalled the many conversations she had with her former boss over the last year where they discussed the challenges facing the country and the region and shared experiences.
“Above all, we acknowledged the reality that we are truly in a relay race. I remember his abiding words to me: “Mottley – This is a lonely journey.”
She added: “Our success in the HIV programme was a stellar example of his courage and his willingness to walk that lonely road.”
She also took the opportunity to address the disappointment of some Barbadians who were displeased that the casket was sealed, as he had instructed, breaking from traditional viewing of the body lying in state.
Mottley told Barbadians that the former Prime Minister loved simplicity and privacy and she asked citizens to respect that.
The late Prime Minister’s daughters and granddaughter were then placed in the spotlight by the Prime Minister.
She declared: “Owen loved and believed in his daughters, Sabrina and Leah – he always spoke of them with great fondness and tremendous pride.”
“I believe, Leah, he lived vicariously through you in his desire, after so many years of diligent practice, to finally be in a position to be called to the bar,” she said as she looked in her direction.
“And, to Isabella, you are too young to know how your grandfather influenced many and transformed the lives of many. That is why I wanted to show you where your grandfather sat in both times of victory and in times of defeat (he was well familiar with that twin companion) – for those are the lessons from which you Isabella will draw your strength in years to come.”
But the atmosphere inside the historic St Peter Parish Church was not altogether mournful.
Dr Elliott Douglin, one of Arthur’s cousins, delivered a light-hearted eulogy that brought peals of laughter from the congregation which included present and former parliamentarians such as Chris Sinckler, Anthony Wood, Rommell Marshall, Stephen Lashley, Haynesley Benn – his cousin who once challenged him on the political hustings in their home constituency – and Ambassador Elizabeth Thompson, his first Minister of Health when he took the reins of power in 1984 but whom he would later dismiss.
Dr Douglin recalled that young Owen Arthur loved cricket and seldom could anybody in the village get him out.
“But if they did, the cricket done,” the cousin quipped.
He again remembered that as a boy, Arthur liked livestock to such an extent that he would tie a rope around a rock during the day and pull it up a nearby hill and then brought it back down in the evening.
This drew even more laughter.
The specially invited attendees seated in the church along with those watching from giant television screens under large tents outside the sanctuary were also treated to a visual tribute which essentially showed Arthur the family man enjoying happy times with wife, children and grandchild.
But though it was a moment of heartbreak and loss for the late Prime Minister’s widow and other family members they, like the hundreds in their midst, conducted themselves with a sense of quiet, dignified control inside the church and at the graveside.
At the burial site, specially erected tents accommodated the family and other official mourners as constituents and other Barbadians converged on the site and spread out across the grounds of the Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens to pay their last respects
As the cortege wound its way gently uphill through Mile-And-A-Quarter and Benn Hill, the people who Arthur represented from 1984 to 2018 were out in their numbers along that route.
Toddlers in strollers, adolescents, middle-age folk, the elderly, the disabled, all took up vantage points to say farewell to their beloved former MP and man from among them.
Along that same route where the largest numbers seemed to have congregated, it appeared as if every other person was snapping photos with their phones.
Dozens were also observed taking the tough trek up Benn Hill, some elderly people with walkers, in order to be present at the burial site to witness Arthur going to his final resting place.
At the site, wreaths were laid by Arthur’s widow, Julie, Prime Minister Mottley, Arthur’s daughters, granddaughter Isabella and other relatives, former Senior Minister Dame Billie Miller and other dignitaries.
Before the casket was lowered into the grave, the flag that draped it was removed, folded and presented to his widow in honour of tremendous service to the country.
The body was then committed to the earth followed by a three-volley gun salute and the band of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) played the Last Post ending with Reveille. [email protected]