Remarks by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, Testimonial Banquet in Honour of former South Abaco MP Robert Sweeting, Abaco Beach Resort:
THE PRIME MINISTER: Holy writ advises us that it is a good thing to give honour to whom honour is due; and Leonardo da Vinci tells us that he who sows virtue reaps honour.
So I am very happy to be here with you this evening to participate in this testimonial banquet in honour of a man who has all his life sowed virtue and who is well deserving of honour.
I congratulate the organizers of this wonderful event, all those who have contributed in any way to its success, and all of you for being here this evening.
And I thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to pay tribute to an Abaconian, a man of Man-o-War, a great Bahamian, my friend, our friend, Robert Percival Sweeting.
Robert loves Abaco â€“ including the Cays, most especially Man-O-War and I believe he can find his way around it blindfolded.
He loves the people of Abaco, and they love him. Even those with whom he has had his disagreements still respect him.
He happened to have been born in Nassau but he grew up right here in Abaco, attending school at Man-O-War Cay where his parents made their home.
Then he married a fine lady from Hope Town, Margaret Russell, and started his own family. Today they are proud parents and grandparents.
Robert sowed virtue all his life and contributed mightily to the progress of Abaco as a businessman and land developer.
He has been involved in community affairs as a member of the Abaco Concerned Citizens Committee and the Abaco Chamber of Commerce, and has contributed to the development of sports as well.
Robert Sweeting exemplifies the best elements which contribute to the building of a stable community and a strong nation.
He is an exemplary family man, a hardworking, enterprising and contributing citizen. He is mild-mannered and soft-spoken but he has rock-solid integrity and strong character.
Because of his gentlemanly demeanour, there were a few in the political arena who may have been foolish enough to mistake that for something else.
They soon found out that Robert Sweeting could more than hold his own, and that he was not to be intimidated or cowed by anyone when he was defending his cause, when he was speaking up for Abaco and The Bahamas.
Robert is generous, and those who have been fortunate enough to count him as friend or colleague also know that he is fiercely loyal.
One of his great loyalties has been to his political party, the Free National Movement. From the early days of the party Robert was a loyal member, supporter and activist who never failed to do his part when the chips were down.
Even during the Seventies — which was a tumultuous and divisive decade for the Opposition â€“ Robert remained loyal and never lost heart.
While some went off in different directions, Robert was among those who â€“ like the Thompsons, Jack Albury and others â€“ never wavered in their commitment to the FNM.
When the FNMâ€™s founding Leader, Sir Cecil Wallace Whitfield, suffered a humiliating defeat in 1977, many forsook him and fled, but Robert remained a strong FNM.
He was in the minority in his community on Man-O-War Cay at the time. He suffered abuse, but he never relented.
I became Leader of the party in 1990 and in 1992 a third parliamentary seat was created in Abaco. Robert and many others stepped forward to seek the partyâ€™s nomination for that seat.
Since no consensus was at hand we decided to hold a sort of primary among FNM members and supporters. When the votes were counted Robert had not won. Perry Cook got the largest number of votes.
Captain Leonard Thompson turned to me and said:
â€œRobert has been a faithful servant of our party. Itâ€™s his turn. Tell the people that he is your choice and they will go along with that.â€
I told Captain Thompson that although Robert was indeed my choice, I couldnâ€™t do that because the people had already voted. But you know Captain Thompson; he insisted.
We spoke to Perry Cook and he agreed that it was Robertâ€™s turn. So he and I told the group what we thought and the people agreed.
Perry was ill at the time but didnâ€™t know it. He lived long enough to celebrate Robertâ€™s election as an FNM Member of Parliament and the first FNM administration. He passed away months after the election.
Robert told me that he only wanted two terms in the House of Assembly. So near the end of his second term he announced his retirement and made a moving farewell address in the House.
I recommended him for the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2001, an honour he deserved for his service to the people of Abaco and The Bahamas. From the bottom of my heart I thank you Robert for your service and I thank you Maggie for supporting him.
Like Robert, I had also hoped not to run in 2002. But when Robertâ€™s intended replacement defected to the other side and I saw how the campaign was going, I came to the conclusion that both he and I would have to offer again so that we could hold both Abaco seats for the FNM.
So notwithstanding his farewell speech in the House and notwithstanding the fact that I did not consult him, I announced at the contract signing for the new Port of Marsh Harbour that both he and I would offer again in the 2002 general elections.
I counted on his loyalty and he did not let me down. I was made to understand that his family, most especially Maggie, was not happy about this turn of events, but Robert agreed to continue to serve. And we held Abaco for the FNM when all but five other constituencies — three in Grand Bahama, one in Eleuthera and one in New Providence — forsook us and fled.
We were a small minority in the new House of Assembly and I must confess I wasnâ€™t much help to our Members in the House. I considered myself retired, so, during House debates, I would speak and more often than not leave.
For two and a half years Robert, Alvin, Ken, Brent, Lindy and Neko took the full brunt of PLP gloating, victimization, smear attacks and full-throttled frontal attacks. Robert took the best they had to offer. And he stood tall.
He was a tenacious debater, focused and determined to be heard and listened to and the record shows that he gave more than he got.
I remember the message relayed to my wife by a close relative of Robert one night just after I had left the precincts of the House: â€œTell â€™ubert they are killing Robert.â€
She was concerned that Members of the Government of the day were abusing her relative on the floor of the House of Assembly. She need not have been concerned. Robert matched them blow for blow notwithstanding their overwhelming majority at the time.
Today four of the FNM seven who held the fort as it were between 2002 and 2007 â€“ Alvin â€“ then Leader of the Opposition, Ken, Robert and I are here. Brent and Lindy send best regards. Brent is in Europe on vacation, Nekoâ€™s presence is required in Freeport and Lindy has gone on to service in the Church.
We are joined tonight by Alvin Smith, Speaker of the House of Assembly, Tommy Turnquest, then Leader of our Party, and Dion Foulkes, then Deputy Leader, as well as by our current Party Chairman Senator Johnley Ferguson and new Member of Parliament Brensil Rolle.
And Michael Barnet, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs is in the house .
All have come to say thank you to you, Robert, for your years of selfless service to our Party and to our country. Thank you.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
There are those who stand on the side and scoff at the political process, who refuse to risk the hazards of the political arena, and who paint all politicians with the same unflattering brush.
But the life and service of Robert Sweeting and others like him give the lie to these false representations. Robert was in every respect an honourable and conscientious Member of Parliament.
He had an enviable attendance record through three terms in the House. He was a good MP and a full participant in our parliamentary caucuses and in Parliamentary debate.
He also served with distinction as Chairman of the New Providence Port Authority and caused a number of important improvements to be carried out in that department.
Robert always looked after the interests of Abaco. On those occasions when I was preoccupied with national issues, Robert made sure that the people of Abaco were not ignored; and I mean all of Abaco, including my own constituents in North Abaco.
Robert is a fair-minded man, and I believe that even our opponents came to recognize that and to respect him for it.
He has his opinions on matters and despite his gentle nature he is not shy about expressing those views.
I told you earlier how I drafted Robert to run in 2002. But there is a sequel to that story as Robert returned the favour.
Robert knew that I did not want to return to the leadership of our party for the 2007 election, but he was one of a core group who exerted unrelenting pressure on me to return to office. So weâ€™re even now, Robert.
I know that his dear wife Maggie was quite concerned, after I agreed to come back, that I would try to twist Robertâ€™s arm to get a fourth term out of him.
But no, I didnâ€™t do that. I respected his wish that time and so he went off on to a well-deserved retirement from the House of Assembly.
As life would have it, the man whom Robert defeated in 1997 and again in 2002 had, by 2005, joined us. And in one of those great twists of fate that man, Edison Key, became our standard bearer and Robertâ€™s replacement as the FNM representative for South Abaco in Parliament.
But I must give fair warning however, that now that Robert has time to rest I will be looking for some other way that his talents can be put to use again in the further service of our country.
I hasten to promise you Maggie that I will make sure that any new call to duty will not require his too frequent attendance in Nassau.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Permit me to end with a quote from Alexander Pope:
â€œHonour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part; there all the honour lies.â€
Robert Sweeting has always and in all things acted well his part in the service of his party, his island home and his country. Honour lies with him.
I salute him, and I am proud to call him my friend. Thanks for everything, Robert. And thank you Maggie.
And thank you, ladies and gentlemen.