Thursday, April 18, 2024

‘Political giant’  passes away


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TWENTY-FIVE DAYS after celebrating his 85th birthday, Barbados Labour Party (BLP) stalwart Lionel Seymour Craig passed away yesterday morning at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).
He was rushed to the QEH just after 3 a.m. after complaining of chest pains and having difficulty breathing. He died around 9:30 a.m.
His wife Tracy was too distraught to speak yesterday but close friend Clyde Griffith said he was not feeling well over the last several days and last week was particularly difficult for him.
Craig, who is a recipient of this country’s second highest award – the Companion Of Honour – for his outstanding contribution to national service during his political career, had a heart condition.
He had bypass surgery in 2001 from which he made a strong recovery, but suffered a heart attack last February, just prior to the last general election.
Craig served as a Cabinet minister from 1976 to 1986, once acted as Prime Minister and replied to the 1973 Budget on behalf of the Opposition in the House of Assembly.
He was first elected as a senior Member of Parliament for the St James constituency in 1966 when there was double member constituency representation.
After single member constituencies were introduced, he successfully held the St James North seat until vacating it to contest St Michael South in the 1986 general elections. He failed in that bid against Erskine (now Sir Lloyd) Sandiford and retired from elective politics.
Yesterday, Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley described Craig as a giant in the politics of St James and Barbados for more than three decades, and an important and loyal member of the BLP.
She said his death marked the end of an era as Craig was one of the few remaining links with the founding father of the BLP, Sir Grantley Adams, being the last member of the BLP’s 1966 parliamentary group.
“He was the consummate politician who knew how to connect with people and how to represent them . . . . He brought his tremendous people skills as a successful insurance agent to the task of representing people and improving the lives of ordinary Barbadians, especially the aged,” said Mottley.
She said Craig was a prolific and energetic Minister of Housing between 1976 and 1981, being responsible for major housing developments at Haynesville and Bagatelle extensions, Ferniehurst, Rosemont, Wotton, West Terrace and Oxnards, just to mention a few.
Griffith, himself a former BLP Cabinet minister, described Craig as “one of the sharpest political brains this country has ever known” who was fearless even taking on his colleagues, but always loyal to his leaders.
Another close friend and former BLP Cabinet minister, Nigel Barrow, said Craig was one of the people who could be relied on in the BLP, while another colleague, Sir Henry Forde, said “he was always sincere, he always had something to contribute”.
Though he had an illustrious political career, Craig was sometimes dogged by controversy given the candid manner in which he spoke. The most infamous of his statements was made in the House of Assembly back in July 1979 which was dubbed, the “Let Them Starve” speech.
Then the Minister of Labour, Craig was incensed about talk being bandied about accusing the ruling BLP of victimisation, while DLP supporters were bragging that they were still working and reportedly said, in part: “Anything with DLP, if you breathe, you cannot eat as far as I am concerned. It is as simple as that. This is a war.
“If your name is Douglas Leopold Phillips, by accident DLP, and you miss and approach me and I see it just in your face; no dice.
“This is the ball game which we on this side must play now, and I will tell you why; we have been accused unfairly in this country of victimising people.”
Craig later apologised on the floor of the House for the statements.
Reflecting on his life back in 2010, Craig said he was blessed.
“If I were to assess myself, I would say I am a person who has had God’s richest blessings because I came from the Garden Land as a barefoot boy, went to school barefooted, and ended up in life sitting with the cream of the international, regional and national scenery. I am an achiever in my own way.”
He is survived by Tracy whom he married in 1995, their daughter, and a son from his first marriage.


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