20th Anniversary Of h. Lavity Stoutt’s Passing

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First Chief Minister of the British Virgin Islands H. Lavity Stoutt

First Chief Minister of the British Virgin Islands H. Lavity Stoutt

KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY MRS. LORNA SMITH, OBE, MA, TEP 

SOUNDING THE CLEAR TRUMPET TO BUILD A NATION 

I’d like to thank the organizers of this Ceremony for inviting me to give this address as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the passing of a national giant.

I begin by saluting his immediate and extended family. 

We may well argue about whether or not the BVI is a nation, but whichever side prevails, the irrefutable truth is that the late Hon. H. L. Stoutt, was the greatest single contributor to who or what we are as a people today. 

For the next few minutes please allow me to tell you how he did it and why he did it. 

Mr Stoutt was one of my mentors from High School days.  I also had the privilege of working with him as his Permanent Secretary for many years right up until his untimely passing. 

In that capacity, I came to know him as Chief Minister; diplomat; brilliant tactician; a friend. 

He was all these things to the people of the BVI and more. He was a man who contained multitudes; a man who understood in the words of the late Dr Martin Luther King ‘the fierce urgency of now’. 

And today, as we reflect on the totality of his life and his accomplishments; as we consider what he meant not just to us as individuals – but to our entire community – symbolized by the solemn march we just completed, its fitting to speak to H Lavity Stoutt, A Nation Builder.

I have therefore entitled my address ‘ Sounding the clear trumpet to build a nation.’ 

How did Mr Stoutt build this little Nation we call the BVI?

1st Corinthians asks: “For if the trumpet shall give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself to battle?” 

In these words we are reminded of the essential truth, that as a community, we need the clear sounds of leadership, if we are to achieve great things. 

While we can all accomplish certain feats as individuals – ultimately, if we are to be a community, a great country– then it requires the sound of clear trumpets that summon us together and drive us to higher purposes. In this regard Mr. Stoutt always sounded the clearest of trumpets to build this nation. 

Nation building calls for using information effectively and for developing infrastructure to promote social harmony and economic growth. Just ask Beverly Hodge, then Mr Stoutt’s private secretary and the person who perhaps knew him best professionally, how often I would be called in to be told  ‘Lorna, I want to make a broadcast tonight …’ You see he was a firm believer in the public’s right to know what their government was doing at all times.  Furthermore often Mr Stoutt spoke for all Ministries to ensure a consistent message. 

He was a man of the people in every respect.

He was chosen to lead. And we have heard  a lot about his vision.

But vision is more than simply having a plan, or even having a dream. It is about having the clarity of mind to see a potential future – and then having the practical wisdom to make that future real.

His vision was for the BVI to become a thriving, first-world economy and he pursued this vigorously with practical wisdom. 

It is difficult to exclude an area of life that that was not touched by this. To give you a flavour of from whence Mr Stoutt took this country: Envision BVI in 1960: a subsistence economy: like most of the Caribbean the population enjoyed little if any running water, rudimentary electricity, as a child I certainly bought kerosene from Mr Remy Smith  for our lamps, there were a very few telephones, no road network to speak of, a secondary school that accommodated less than 100 students.  You catch my drift? 

Fast forward to1995, the year  Mr Stoutt passed, at the young age of 68: the BVI had become a solid first world economy with one of the highest per capita incomes and with all the attendant amenities! I can sum up Mr Stoutt’s accomplishments by juxtaposing two facts: He first entered the Legislature to be sworn in on his horse Sonny. By the 1980’s the Cadillac was his vehicle of choice! 

Mr Stoutt was relentless in the development of our tourism industry. He gave every support to our top hotels while never forgetting the importance of our smaller locally-owned properties to our economy. Today he would be beaming with pride at the modern, elegant facility that Marias by the Sea has become, for example! 

He welcomed investors and made sure that the environment was right for them to thrive and prosper.  With Mr Stoutt at the helm, the BVI became the sailing capital of the world, a position that we will hopefully always maintain. 

Recent negative themes like ‘the invaders are coming” must cause Mr Stoutt to roll over in his grave. Such words would never cross his lips! You see he understood the importance of investment – be it from the BVI or from beyond – to getting the economy moving. 

Today there are many who find it fashionable or expedient to associate themselves with the late HL. Truth be told, for years they secretly hoped that his contribution to this territory, in the words of Shakespeare ‘would be interred with his bones’ This may be a bit harsh to say but in the words of the late Bob Marley ‘ who the cap fits…’ Mr O’Neal I could not be referring to you as you were always at his side. Hon Fahie I am not referring to you either! 

The fact that we commemorate his birthday with a pubic holiday today is a powerful reminder of the strength of his family and this community, that refused to  be denied. Let’s give them a hand for their persistence 

He indeed helped to pioneer the creation of our first Social Security system, so that no BVIslander would ever face the fear of destitution in their golden years.  But therein lies an essential lesson: no one including Mr Stoutt had the monopoly on original ideas.

If an idea would result in a better BVI, he made sure that it came to fruition, so he joined forces with the Leader of the Opposition – at the time Hon. Ralph O’Neal –  and the rest was history.  

In August of last year we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the IBC Act which catapulted the BVI onto the world stage in international financial services.  Although Mr Stoutt may not have piloted that Bill through the House, all of us who saw the Exhibition put on the BVI IFC would recall seeing him striding proudly through the Hong Kong Airport leading his delegation in 1989, to promote the BVI as a top drawer, world class international finance centre in Asia and beyond. And we continue to  move forward in financial services following that historic trip.  Mr Stoutt the nation builder, would be proud to know that we have advanced his dream by now establishing an office there. 

The Premier spoke eloquently about Mr Stoutt’s contribution to our political maturity. I would only add that for Mr Stoutt constitutional advancement over the years, went hand in hand with economic – as opposed to political – independence. You see for him true independence meant economic independence. 

Although he had the distinction of being one of the Pioneer Students in Secondary education, he was not fortunate enough to graduate.  But could we ever find a man anywhere as passionate about education?  For Mr Stoutt education was the single most important tool to move the BVI forward.  A favorite phrase of his was : ‘if you think education is expensive, try ignorance’ 

It was in 1968 that Mr Stoutt as Chief Minister and Minister of Education cut the ribbon to the Comprehensive School: for the first time every child in the BVI had the opportunity to receive a high school education. 

I mentioned Mr Stoutt the diplomat at the beginning: I wonder how many of you know that he was instrumental in persuading the UWI to accept students with ‘O’ Level passes, as at the time ‘A’ level subjects were not taught in the BVI! 

Mr Stoutt loved his Lord and was a passionate local preacher. He also loved music. It was a life long dream that the High School should not only have its own band but that students should excel in music.  And excel they did!  I can tell you he would have loved the Stingrays rendition of ‘You are my sunshine’ and ‘Tenessee Waltz. Thank you Mrs Parsons for insisting that the students render it! It was wonderful! 

He had a great sense of humour and as Elton Georges, also one of Permanent Secretaries would tell you: he enjoyed the jokes he told even more than his audience! 

Needless to say he loved to dance! There was also not a man or woman who came close to him when it came to dressing. And you may well ask what does his dressing have to do with nation building. I would answer in today’s lingo “he represented well!” 

But let us not attempt to canonize Mr Stoutt: he was one of the greatest leaders born, but he was not a saint.  Like all of us he had his shortcomings as Elroy Turnbull’s recent article carried in the Beacon I think recently reminds me.  Although some might choose to consider his response on the occasion to be righteous indignation! 

Many people view the establishment of the HLSCC as Mr Stoutt’s crowning achievement.  I really don’t! The College was but one more of the many essential projects that this great man saw as critical to nation building.  Another of his favorite phrases was ‘ A college is a must’. And funnily stickers bearing these words mysteriously appeared everywhere in the lead up to the building of the College. I wonder if people like Mrs Eilene Parsons had a hand in that ! 

The College was indeed a huge achievement – Mr O’Neal you would recall in the face of great opposition to boot, including from the UK – but there were so many others.  

Here was a man of tremendous courage and single-minded in his goal; a man not easily fobbed off.  The HLSCC  stands as a monument to the future of these treasured islands, as education will always be the key to our economic growth. 

Finally I reflect on Mr Stoutt the leader, in nation building.  He was a man of passion and compassion, a man who sought after excellence in all he did, there were no half measures:  

He saw the need for a college and he went after the best architect in his mind, the best contractor and the most competent people to make it happen.  It is true to say that this quest for excellence transcended politics. He was not building a political party. He was building a nation.

 This morning we sit in the shadow of the CAC designed and built by TAHAL an Israeli company in the early 90’s.

Mr Stoutt took a lot of flack for this building as he wanted the best possible administration complex.  Today this building has become perhaps the most iconic structure in the territory.  

More importantly it houses every Government Ministry rather than having them scattered all over Road Town and operating in an inefficient manner.  

Mr Stoutt respected civil servants, he valued their competence and experience and never forgot to say thanks to them. As we would say today, he would never dream of throwing them under the bus! He always took responsibility for his actions, as the elected representative of the people. 

In all these areas and many, many more – Mr. Stoutt sounded a certain, a clear trumpet for our community. 

He brought us together – and following his lead, we all accomplished more than many would have thought possible. 

And he did all that without ever losing his humility and basic decency. 

In the words of Rudyard Kipling: ‘He walked with kings but never lost the common touch.’ 

Even as he sought to accomplish great feats, he never stopped finding the time to help people with even the smallest problems.  

He was a pro at pouring oil over troubled waters.  People entered his office eating wire and invariably left smiling. 

It would take Mr Stoutt nearly an hour to cross the street to his Office because he made time for everyone. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is his legacy to us: the truth, which he embodied, that great leadership can be coupled with great humanity. 

He set for us an ideal that we can all try to live up to. 

Mr. Stoutt had a grand vision for the BVI. He sounded his trumpet and we all followed him on a path that has led us to our current strength and prosperity. 

But we all have a long way to go. 

If Mr. Stoutt was still among us he would not let us become complacent. Yes he would be happy with our progress but he would remind us that ‘life is not a destination, its a journey’. Minister Walwyn, he would applaud this Government ‘s many efforts at nation building, particularly those expressed through our beautiful national dress and our powerful and evocative national song. 

But he would look around and say we must now make our country’s prosperity more secure.

 We must make our community crime-free. We must make sure that our young men and women are on a path to keep the momentum of development going.  

And so in ending this address let us hear that call as Mr. Stoutt’s trumpet still sounds clearly.

Years ago I was privileged to speak to the Legacy of Mr Stoutt at an annual Prayer Breakfast organized by his Children. I began that address with the words of the late Martin Luther King, taken from his “I HAVE A DREAM” speech: 

Quote: …’I would like to live a long life… but I am not concerned about that now…(God) has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I have seen the promised land.  BUT I MAY NOT GET THERE WITH YOU.’ 

As I reflect on Mr Stoutt’s life, those last eight words: BUT I MAY NOT GET THERE WITH YOU is evocative of Mr Stoutt’s call to continue to build the nation, that he carefully and courageously carved out. 

Its been nearly twenty years since his passing but each day we continue to hear him say: we still have work to do and must get on with it. 

And so let us hear that call as Mr. Stoutt’s trumpet still sounds clearly.

For the sake of his memory and the Territory we love, I hope we will heed that sound and continue to work together for the future he envisioned for us all.

 

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