On February 19, 2018, I was surrounded by a room full of people in a church hall at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, NY. Everyone was dressed in formal attire and seated at their tables, conversing with one another. The host of the night approached the microphone and requested that everyone stand up from their seats and create an open path to make way for the man of the hour.
He wore a blue suit and tie with a yellow rose pinned along the left side of his collar. Trailing behind him and at his sides were six tall men wearing black suits, all with earpieces. As the gentleman separated from the six men, he then made his way up to the podium to deliver a speech. As he looked out into the audience, he maintained an upright posture, and with his deep voice he began to speak to the people of the political and economic status of their hometown, Barbados.
Freundel Stuart was the prime minister of Barbados from 2010-2018 under the Democratic Labour Party, born and raised in St. Philip, Barbados. He is a lawyer and practices criminal justice and corporate law. Fruendel, a man of humble beginnings, is often portrayed by those who know him well as “very erudite and politically astute.” According to Walter Edey, the author of Barbados Today, Stuart is “one who brings a philosophical approach to most issues.”
He grew up in a one-room chattel house in the countryside of St. Philip; a house without running water and electricity. When he was nine years old, he lost his father, so he and his sister – his only sibling – were raised by his mother.
In 1960, when Freundel started secondary school, his mother worked as a maid for a mere $5 a week. He attended Boys Foundation School, and at the time, the school fees were $20 per term. It was very hard on his mother. The Democratic Labour Party, which gained power in 1961, abolished the school fees in 1962; Freundel luckily received the rest of his education free, which took away a great burden from his mother.
His mother had profound influence on his career. She made sure he kept the right company and taught him the importance of being content with the little they had. She taught him the importance of personal integrity and of setting high standards for himself. His mother passed away when she was 83, but it is these core values that have guided him and continue to guide him throughout his life.
Freundel realized the importance of education at an early age, so after his early education, he earned a degree in political science and history at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. He further went on to pursue a degree in law at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad, West Indies. This motivated man realized that one must get into public life in order to bring relief to people who need it most. And so, Freundel joined the Democratic Labour Party in 1970.
He has been a minister of home affairs and an attorney general before he acted, as Prime Minister David Thompson became ill. The challenging thing for Freundel was the fact that he was appointed as Prime Minister during the decade of the financial meltdown in 2007. As Freundel stated:
“I became Prime Minister at a time when Barbados was feeling the full effects of the global financial meltdown, and I had to try to keep Barbados stable.”
He ruled the country during the meltdown for exactly seven years and seven months of his ten-year term. His main concern was protecting the Barbados Dollar (the exchange rate) and keeping Barbados stable. Most people did not understand this former prime minister, as he was perceived as too reticent.
According to former Council General of Barbados Lennox Price: “People believed that as a leader of the country he should have communicated with the public on a more regular basis especially regarding major issues. For instance, the south coast sewage is a case in point. People believed that he should have held press conferences outlining the problem with the plant and measures that the government was implementing to address the problem. It was felt that his lack of communication with the populist was a contributing factor to his party’s defeat. They did not like the fact that he laid off public workers.”
Freundel Stuart, after being prime minister of Barbados from October 23, 2010 – May 25, 2018, lost the elections in 2018 with a unanimous defeat. Being a prime minister from humble beginnings, he never lost the common touch. He remained humble and approachable.