It was a day of reminiscing for the legislators of the House of Assembly on 3 December as they shared stories and fondness of recently departed Member Emeritus and former Premier Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal.
The fitting tributes commenced with the contribution of Senior Member of the House of Assembly and Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser who served with Hon. O’Neal in multiple administrations.
Hon. Fraser did a chronicling of the almost two decades that he served with Hon. O’Neal and listed highlights. Specifically, Hon. Fraser spoke about the legislative term from 2003 -2007 and said that this was one of the lowest periods in the legislative career of Hon. O’Neal as he explained that he saw the former Leader in a position he had never seen him before.
“We got into the opposition and those years between 2003 and 2007 must have been our lowest years. I have seen Mr. O’Neal in conditions that I have never seen him in before or after. I must have been in the same conditions that I have never been in before or after,” Hon. Fraser explained.
The Third District Representative reflected that Hon. O’Neal was a leader with a vision who never saw some of his plans materialized. “Mr. O’Neal had huge ideas for the Territory, huge ideas, not always having the tools or the timing wasn’t right I should say…but his accomplishments were many,” Fraser added.
The second Speaker was Fourth District Representative, Hon. Mark Vanterpool who said that Hon. O’Neal should be remembered as one who sacrificed most of his life for his people, and the Territory. “It is about sacrifice and he is certainly a good example of sacrifice for his country,” Hon. Vanterpool said.
During his contribution Deputy Premier, Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Hon. Vincent Wheatley described Hon. O’Neal as a great but humble man. “I was always amazed that Mr. O’Neal never let his position get to his head. Whether he was Chief Minister or Premier he would go into the Ninth District visit those widows, older folks whom he knew from many many years and this happened all over the BVI not only in the Ninth – Anegada, Virgin Gorda. He would go to East End, Sea Cows Bay, down to West End or Carrot Bay…Jost Van Dyke; wherever he went he knew people,” Hon. Wheatley stated.
The Minister for Natural Resources said that Hon. O’Neal had great hopes and dreams for the Territory, “He was a determined man, he was determined that he wanted to see Anegada and Virgin Gorda move [forward]and he felt he had the fortitude to do so and that he did for a very long time…”
Hon. Wheatley also mentioned that the former BVI Leader helped to start many organizations here in the BVI such as Red Cross, and Rotary. “40 years in anything is a long time. It’s a very long time. He believed in helping the BVI he had a vision for the BVI. He really wanted to see the BVI move but more importantly he wanted to see the people move along with the development,” Hon. Wheatley added.
Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development, Virgin Gordian Hon. Shereen Flax-Charles referred to Hon. O’Neal as an encyclopedia and a treasure trove of knowledge. “Hon. O’Neal stood as a bastion of true patriotism. He was quick thinking in the way of challenges, unmoving in the face of opposition and honourable in the midst of battle,” she declared.
During the presentations Minister of Transportation, Works and Utilities Hon. Kye Rymer was the only legislator that did not have a personal story to tell about Hon. O’Neal but recalled the words the former Premier said in his last budget debate. Additionally, Hon. Rymer said that Hon. O’Neal improved the standard of life in Territory.
Opposition Member and Sixth District Representative Hon. Alvera Maduro-Caines recalled that many years ago while she was working at a trust company Hon. O’Neal came to her and a few other persons aid after it was discovered that they were unfairly being relieved of their jobs.
Similarly, Deputy Speaker of the House, and At Large Representative Hon. Neville Smith recalled interactions he had with Hon. O’Neal, and said that the first Premier of the BVI will never be forgotten. “They always say you must give someone their flowers while they are alive but I will tell you something Mr. O’Neal will be alive for ever and you could feel his presence right now in this room as we speak because his heart was here…All the words and things we write cannot bring him back but he will be in everyone’s heart,” the Deputy Speaker declared.
Noting that he worked with Hon. O’Neal for years, Minister for Health and Social Development Hon. Carvin Malone stated that it was fitting that he made his tribute to the BVI Statesman. “I cherished the time that I have engaged, my first meeting as I said was through my dad.
“Working with him as a father figure to me, as a friend. We never got to serve in the same house but at the end of the day…we collaborated on many things during my time of presidency when he served; so it is quite fitting that I stand and say…that I value the time and cherish the legacy of our own Hon. Ralph Telford O’Neal,” Hon. Malone said.
Junior Minister of Tourism, Hon. Sharie de Castro noted that Hon. O’Neal did his best to build territorial and regional alliances.
Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Agriculture Hon. Natalio Wheatley stated that Hon. O’Neal “guided the Virgin Islands through many difficult waters.” Hon. Wheatley further declared that Hon. O’Neal does not get enough credit for all that he did to help the Territory weather economic storms.
Premier Hon. Andrew Fahie who served in multiple administrations with Hon. O’Neal said that he learnt a lot from the former BVI Leader. In noting how valuable the lessons were Mr. Fahie announced, “I saw a lot of things in Mr. O’Neal that helped me now to be a better leader than I would have been if I had never met Mr. O’Neal.”
The Premier while pointing out some of Hon. O’Neal’s accomplishments mentioned that there are a number of things that the people of the Territory ought to thank Hon. O’Neal for. He further mentioned that Hon. O’Neal who was the Ninth District Representative for decades did a lot for his District. Specifically the Premier mentioned the North Sound road and the Bregado Flax school.
Hon. Fahie while reminiscing about his time serving with the former Premier said that Hon. O’Neal did not like fanfare and that they knocked heads quite a few times as he tried to get the former leader to consider promoting and publicizing events. “One of the things me and Mr. O’Neal used to clash for was that he didn’t like fanfare. Not that I was an avid fan of fanfare,” Hon. Fahie stated.
In wrapping up the Premier said that the BVI has been blessed that Hon. O’Neal came along because many of the things people enjoy could be credited to Hon. O’Neal. “Many things we do not equate his name to because he did not have the fanfare of putting his name to them.”
Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn said that one of his greatest learning experiences was being able to serve with Hon. O’Neal as a legislator after learning about him in school. “To be in school, to learn about this mythical figure this great man, that is doing so much for the country and to have had the opportunity, to have had the privilege to serve with him was an immense honor for me…I was able to bring my son at one of the Standing Finance meetings so he could meet Mr. O’Neal and get to know who Mr. O’Neal was,” the Leader of the Opposition stated.