TRIBUTE BY PRIME MINISTER
OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS
AT STATE FUNERAL FOR WARREN J. LEVARITY CMG.
CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL
NOV. 20, 2014
Today we assemble to bid farewell to one of the heroes of the Peaceful Revolution; a man of great courage who, at the age of 28, went up against the power and might of one of the great bastions of the Old Guard, the Bethell family – that’s Bethell with two L’s. It was the 1960 bye-election in Grand Bahama and in the end, like David of old, the man we lay to rest today triumphed against enormous odds.
This same man – the man in whose honour we gather today – would go on to play an influential role in the National Committee for Positive Action – the NCPA – the group that radicalized the Struggle for Majority Rule, infusing it with the youthful energy and passion and ideological genius that would help drive the PLP to victory in January of ‘67.
And it was this same man, this same Warren J. Levarity, who would go on to serve in the very first cabinet of the Majority Rule era as the Minister responsible for the Family Islands, or “Out Islands” as we used to call them back then.
What an historic group that was! Consisting of just 11 men, these freshly minted cabinet ministers posed for a group photograph with the then Governor, Sir Ralph Grey, on the patio of Government House right after they were sworn in.
I had occasion to look at this photograph just recently – almost 48 years after it was taken. And it filled me with a great deal of nostalgia because it brought home so graphically, so visually, that they are nearly all gone now, gone on to glory, these men of valour and high purpose who had the distinction of making history as the members of the very first black cabinet in Bahamian history. And Warren was among them.
Indeed with Warren Levarity’s passing last week, the Hon. A.D. Hanna has now become the Last Man Standing. He’s the only one left, the last surviving member of that very first cabinet of the Majority Rule era; the very first cabinet to be entrusted with the dreams and aspirations of the sons and daughters of Africa who in 1967 finally came into their own, having elected their own, to lead them to the promised land.
But Warren’s contribution to the development of the modern Bahamas didn’t end with the attainment of Majority Rule, nor did it end with his service as a minister of government in the first Majority Rule cabinet, nor did it end with his representation in Parliament as the member for West End & Bimini.
In what must be reckoned as another contribution of major significance to national development, Warren Levarity also became one of the Founding Fathers of the Free National Movement. In doing do, he helped ensure the survival of the two-party system that lies at the very heart of our constitutional democracy.
That was no mean feat either, because in the interval between the General Elections of 1968 and 1972, with the rapid decline of the United Bahamian Party and the withdrawal of most of its leading lights from public life, there grew up in the country a fear that the two-party system might itself become a casualty of the PLP’s ascendancy.
But such a fate was avoided with the emergence of the FNM and its absorption of the UBP. In the result, the two-party system not only survived, it would go on to flourish as never before. When we look back at this critical period in our history, credit must necessarily be reflected on persons like Warren Levarity and his colleagues who were responsible for securing this reality.
Warren was no ordinary politician. He was a master political strategist and tactician, especially when it came to Family Island politics. He understood people, and he understood the collective consciousness of Family Island communities in a way that set him apart. He was a deep thinker who took great delight in following the moves – and then developing counter-moves – on the political chessboard. He was a man of wise counsel. And he imparted that counsel to his leaders, initially in the PLP and later in the FNM – in a way that was always forthright, always clear, and always compelling in its simplicity, its honesty, and its logic.
But political gamesmanship was not what Warren Levarity was about. In public life he was, first and foremost, a loyal and patriotic Bahamian who wanted to see a better Bahamas for all his people; a Bahamas built on a solid foundation of freedom, of racial equality, of social justice, and equal opportunity for all.
That’s what Warren wanted to see. It’s what drove him. Its what inspired him. It’s what led him to join that “happy band of brothers” – and sisters way back in 1950’s and into the 60’s, when the Lynden Pindlings’ and the Arthur Hannas’ and the Milo Butlers’ and the Clarence Bains’ and the Cecil Wallace-Whitfields’ and the Carl Francis’s and the Arthur Foulkes’s and the Jeff Thompsons’ and the Doris Johnsons’ and the Georgianna Symonettes’ and the Eugenia Lockharts’ and the Marguerite Pindlings’ and the Beryl Hanna’s – and o’ so very many others – were joined together as one, in common struggle against a common foe. And in that number Warren was to be found also, standing tall and strong.
But politics does not define who or what we are. It is but one way in which we express who we are. The real person, lies deeper, much deeper, way beyond the rhetoric, way beyond the honours and public acclaim, and way beyond the exalted station that ministers of government hold in the body politic.
And so it was with Warren too. Way beyond the politics, lay the real man. He was a dedicated family man who loved his wife and children; a man who in later life shunned the public spotlight altogether and sought instead only the peace and serenity of family life and a small circle of friends. He was a man secure with himself and his legacy, in no need of public approbation, seeking neither thanks nor material rewards for what he had done and the many sacrifices he had made.
I got to know a little of that side of Warren from an early age. Although he was much older than I was, we lived not far from each other in the Valley in the late 50’s. And in those days, before the advent of television, it was one, big neighbourhood that we all belonged to, where the living rooms of each other’s homes were accessible to a degree that can scarcely be imagined by the younger generations today. The Valley back then really was a village, a loving, tightly knit, mutually reinforcing village in which we were all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and in which the bonds of friendship drew the village ever closer to those who lived within it. Such was the village – the Valley – to which both Warren and I belonged.
And I also knew Warren’s wife, Vera, before they were married because she happened to live next door to my Uncle W.W. Allen on the Fort Hill (Fort Fincastle).
Later, when I became the M.P for Centreville, Warren’s brother, Lionel, was among my constituents.
I got to know Warren a lot better when I joined the NCPA. He and Arthur Foulkes and Jeff Thompson were major figures in the organization at that time and, over time, I came to appreciate what a man of compassion and wisdom Warren Levarity really was.
Later, our political paths diverged when Warren became one of the Dissident Eight and not long thereafter one of the founders of the Opposition FNM.
But one of the things that I always found so endearing about Warren was the complete absence of any personal malice due to political differences. In opposition to the PLP he remained as well disposed to his former colleagues in the PLP as he had ever been – none of this nonsense, this stupidity, we hear so much of nowadays, where people stop speaking to each other and fill their hearts with an angry, hateful spirit because of political differences. I just don’t get it. And I know Warren never did either.
I found out just recently that Dame Marguerite and Warren Levarity not only shared the same birthday but that every single year, all down through the years, right up to the end, they always made it a point to call each on their birthday, to wish each other well, and to reminisce about the old days. No cameras or microphones about, just two kindred spirits reaching out to each other, across the gulf of their political differences, in a spirit of friendship and goodwill that trumped everything else. We need more of that in our country today!
As for Warren, he has run the course. He has finished the race. He has gone on to glory now, leaving our nation better than he found it, having made his mark upon it in a way that will endure throughout the ages.
On behalf of all my colleagues in the Government, on behalf of the Bahamian people and on my own and Bernadette’s behalf, I extend to you, Vera, and all your children and grandchildren and wider family, our deepest condolences, and the thanks of a grateful nation for the life and service of Warren J. Levarity.
He was a good man and a great Bahamian.
May he rest in peace.