The passing of Wendell Callender, a former politician, social activist, writer and educator, not only reminds us of the need to cherish people while they are alive, but his death is a timely reminder that democracy does not thrive unless there are people who test it and are committed to maintaining it.
Now some may say that we are ascribing too much credit to the humble man who felt he could achieve anything to which he put his mind.
The 70-year-old may be known to younger Barbadians for his spirited discussions on social media on matters of politics, law, education, culture and social issues.
He was not one to shy away from offering his opinion on topical issues, even if his was counter to the general sentiment. Callender stood with the island’s two major political parties, and successfully contested the Christ Church East seat in 1994 under the Barbados Labour Party banner.
However, in a demonstration of his unwillingness to blindly tow the party line, he returned to his roots in the Democratic Labour Party in an attempt to regain the Christ Church East seat in the 1999 election.
What is most noteworthy about the late Callender also was his commitment to memorialising the various travails of party politics in Barbados from the viewpoint of a man who was on the inside, as well as a keen political observer from the outside.
Callender, who wrote several books, was in the political hustings across several generations of politicians. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of political titans such as Sir Harold St John, Branford Taitt, Owen Arthur and David Thompson. But he was also around with contemporaries such as Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
The graduate of the University of the West Indies was the principal of the Caribbean Training Institute, executive director of the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association, deputy head of the Cooperative High School, and also served at the Barbados Tourism Authority and the Central Bank of Barbados.
What we most want to cherish about Wendell Callender was his contribution to keeping democracy alive and his attention to documenting the party politics of Barbados and its noted participants.
Some of his works included Living Black in Barbados 1961 to Present, Politics: Heights and Valleys, and his most recent work dedicated to the life and times of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, titled: Rt. Hon. Owen Seymore Arthur, Against the Odds.
Among his last posts on Facebook in October were comments on the removal of pollster Peter Wickham as host of the Down to Brass-tacks radio call-in programme on Voice of Barbados, as well as the Inter-American Development Bank schools survey debacle.
We are in serious times in politics on the global area as well, with the former United States president Donald Trump still spreading his lie that he was cheated out of the presidency and now has gone as far as to suggest that all laws including the US Constitution should be thrown out the window and he be installed as president again.
The American news networks are going crazy with wall to wall coverage about the danger that Trump poses to democracy and the fact that members of the Republican Party, save a few, seem afraid to confront Trump about his obsession with totalitarianism, even after he encouraged the January 6, 2021, violent attack on the US Capitol.
From the relative safety of the Caribbean, we look on with great concern and question if there are not enough Wendell Callenders to be found in the Republican party, prepared to speak truth to power, putting political expediency behind what is morally and ethically right.
Wendell was aware that walking away from powerful political parties and criticising them in public would have repercussions not only for him but his family. Still, he went boldly.
In his many calls over the years to the radio programmes, Wendell was prepared to tell it like it is, but doing so in a respectful way. Without much fuss, Wendell played his part in ensuring Barbados’ democratic norms and we are stronger for his efforts.