Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The right choice


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When Errol Barrow, Barbados’ first Prime Minister, invited Branford Taitt to join his Cabinet in 1971, he didn’t leave anything to chance, or so it seemed.
Just in case Taitt was tempted to remain in New York as the country’s consul general instead of returning to his birthplace to be Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce, Barrow flewto New York and attended a grand congratulatory send-off arranged by Barbadian organizations and their hundreds of members.
“I didn’t expect anything like this,” Barrow was overheard at the time as various speakers focused attention on Taitt’s commitment to Barbados’ economic and social development, his insistence that Government offices treat Bajans with respect, his ubiquitous presence in the community, plus his deep interest in education, health and sports, especially soccer and cricket.
Few words of high praise were ignored by the Bajans and Barrow left the city for home shortly afterwards convinced that his choice of Taitt was the right one. Subsequent events proved him right.
When Sir Branford died Friday at 74 after being in and out of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, it was clear that his multifaceted and highly rewarding career as a public official, Cabinet minister, elected parliamentarian, and later President of the Senate had earned him the country’s highest honour, a knighthood in 2010 and dozens of accolades.
In Sir Branford, Barbados had a tireless promoter of foreign direct investment; a man who understood the use of effective public relations to fashion a favourable image of an individual or institution; knew his way around the United Nations, the Pan American Health Organization and other international institutions.
He could move people to distraction with displays of sartorial splendour in his shirt-jac suits; and was as comfortable in the homes of the poor in St Michael West, his parliamentary constituency which routinely sent him to the House of Assembly in elections from 1976 to 1999, as he was at Government Headquarters.
All of those achievements by a man born into a poor family. He received his early education at Wesley Hall School and Combermere and achieved the distinction of singing in the St Michael’s Cathedral Choir when the legendary, late Gerald Hudson was organist.
But the world of politics was perhaps his favourite stomping ground. As Minister of Industry in the 1970s and again in the mid-1980s, Sir Branford employed all the marketing techniques and public relations angles known to the gurus of that business in North America and to which he had been exposed when he headed the island’s Development Board office in New York in the 1960s.
Sir Branford urged local business enterprises to find new ways to do old and profitable things and otherwise to get with it, often triggering their criticisms and negative reactions.
When the DLP lost the 1976 election to the Barbados Labour Party and J.M.G.M. “Tom” Adams, and Sir Branford took his seat as an Opposition member in the House of Assembly between 1976 and 1986, he became a thorn in the Government’s side with his sharp criticisms of its economic programmes and social policies. When he returned to Government following the DLP’s victory in the 1986 election, he was made Minister of Industry and Tourism for a year, before being switched to the Ministry of Health where he remained until 1993. He was made Minister of Foreign Affairs and served until 1994 when the Government changed.
His stint in the Ministry of Health was both rewarding and troublesome. As the longest serving minister, Sir Branford spearheaded the drive to bring high-quality cardiac care to the QEH and he pushed for the expansion of the network of polyclinics in urban and rural communities. Once such clinic in Black Rock is named after him.
But the ministry also led to one his most painful experiences. It was during his stint there that he sought to reopen the St Joseph Hospital in St Peter, a project that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars but was never able to provide the care it was intended to offer. He soon found himself accused of engaging in financial wrongdoing, allegations that lingered over his head for years but were finally removed following a Commission of Inquiry ordered by the Owen Arthur administration.
“I never understood why they went after me in that way when it was known I was innocent,” he complained in New York. “It took them years to admit that I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
In addition to his children – Sharonne, Monique and Branford Jr. – and grandchildren, Sir Branford is survived by his second wife, Colleen, Lady Taitt. His first wife, Marjorie, predeceased him.

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