Our man for all seasons

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October 03, 2011

"And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?" Sir Thomas More

Last week, we discussed conflicts of interest and foreshadowed that this week we would address the Public Disclosure Act.  However, events over the weekend have overtaken our best intentions and therefore we will defer the dialogue on disclosures by our legislators to another installment in the very near future.
This week, however, we would like to Consider This ... Given his nearly six decades of service to The Bahamas, can our current Governor General, H.E. Sir Arthur Foulkes, in the Bahamian context be considered 'our man for all seasons?'
A Man for All Seasons is a play that was written by Robert Bolt in 1954.  The plot is based on the true story of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century chancellor of England, who refused to endorse King Henry VIII's wish to divorce his aging wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, who could not bear him a son, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, the sister of his former mistress.  The play portrays Sir Thomas as a man of principle, envied by rivals such as Thomas Cromwell and loved by the common people and by his family.
The play struggles with ideas of identity and conscience.  Thomas More argues repeatedly that a person is defined by his conscience and fears that if he breaks with his conscience, he will be damned to hell.  However, his associates and friends are more concerned with holding onto their own temporal power.  Thematically, there are some striking similarities between the lives of Sir Thomas More and that of Sir Arthur.  More about that later.
Sir Arthur Foulkes was born in Mathew Town, Inagua, May 11, 1928, son of the late Dr. William A. Foulkes and Julie Foulkes nee Maisonneuve.  Educated at public schools in Mathew Town and Nassau, he first worked at The Nassau Guardian, joining The Tribune in 1948 as a linotype operator.  He then took up journalism under the tutelage of editor and publisher Sir Etienne Dupuch, who made him a reporter and later appointed him news editor.  Subsequently, he was a columnist for The Guardian and The Tribune and, from 2002 to 2007, resumed his popular column, "To The Point", in The Tribune.
Using his journalistic skills, Sir Arthur became the founding editor of Bahamian Times, the official organ of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) from 1962 to 1967.  It played a pivotal role in the campaign for Majority Rule, which was achieved in the general election of January 10, 1967.
He was one of the founders of the National Committee for Positive Action, a think tank and activist group within the PLP which supported the leadership of Sir Lynden Pindling and contributed significantly to the achievement of Majority Rule.
He drafted the PLP's petition to the United Nations Committee of Twenty-Four (on decolonization) and was a member of the Delegation of Eight which presented the petition in 1965.  Sir Arthur wrote many political documents over the years and contributed to the manifestos of both major political parties.  He drafted the first platform of the Free National Movement in 1971.
Sir Arthur was noted for his stirring oratory in the 1960s and was elected to Parliament in 1967, serving first as minister of communications and then minister of tourism in the PLP Government.  He also presided over the complete Bahamianization of the management of BaTelCo, the national telephone corporation.
It was on his ministerial watch in 1968 that a Bahamas-based airline, International Air Bahama, flew to Europe for the first time and Sir Arthur was instrumental in enabling black Bahamian stewardesses to work on international flights not only to America, but in Europe as well.
In spite of his efforts on behalf of the PLP, Sir Arthur's conscience led him to become a leading member of the Dissident Eight, Members of Parliament who rejected the leadership of Sir Lynden in 1970. Sir Arthur then became a founder of the Free National Movement (FNM) in 1971, and was appointed to the Senate in 1972 and 1977.  He was re-elected to the House of Assembly in 1982.
Sir Arthur attended many international conferences over the years and in 1972 was one of four opposition delegates to The Bahamas Independence Constitution Conference in London.  He drafted the opposition memorandum for the conference.
In the 1970s, when opposition forces in the country seemed hopelessly splintered, Sir Arthur, together with Frank Watson, the late Bazel Nicholls and others, initiated arduous negotiations which finally resulted in a united opposition under the leadership of Sir Kendal Isaacs in time for the 1982 elections.
In 1992, after the FNM became the government, Sir Arthur entered the diplomatic service of The Bahamas as high commissioner to the United Kingdom and ambassador to France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the European Union (resident in London).  He represented The Bahamas to the Commonwealth in London, and the African Caribbean Pacific Group in Brussels, was permanent representative to the International Maritime Organization and also doyen of the Caribbean diplomatic corps in the United Kingdom.  He founded Friends of The Bahamas, a London-based association.
In 1999 he was appointed the first Bahamas ambassador to the People's Republic of China and ambassador to the Republic of Cuba.  Both these posts were nonresident.  He is a founding member of the China Bahamas Friendship Association.
In 2001, Queen Elizabeth II named him a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG).  On 14 April 14, 2010, Sir Arthur was sworn in as the eighth Bahamian governor-general of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, upon the retirement of Governor-General the Honorable Arthur Dion Hanna.  In recognition of his ascendency as governor general, Queen Elizabeth II elevated Sir Arthur to the status of Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG) in June 2010.
So, then, what are some of the similarities between Sir Thomas and Sir Arthur?  Both had passionate love for their countries.  Both were long-serving servants of the state.  Both had deeply-rooted and firmly-abiding moral compasses, and both endured degrees of vitriolic opposition in the face of adamant adherence to their beliefs and consciences.
Sir Thomas defied King Henry VIII when he vehemently objected to the King's expediencies relative to his divorcing his first wife and proposed second marriage, which put King Henry in direct conflict with the papacy.   At another key point, Sir Thomas More testified before an inquiry committee and Norfolk attempted to persuade Sir Thomas to sign the Act of Succession.  When Sir Thomas refused on principle, the Duke of Norfolk tried to persuade him to relent, adding that, "Frankly I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not.  But damn it, Thomas, look at those names ... You know those men!  Can't you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?"  It was then that Sir Thomas asked whether his colleagues would join him if he is damned to hell, "in the name of fellowship".
No doubt Sir Arthur must have appreciated Sir Thomas' anguish, when after fighting fearlessly alongside Sir Lynden, he found that he could no longer not only not support him, but that his conscience moved him to form a political party in opposition to those with whom he had fought.  The years after leaving the PLP were some of the most arduous and tortuous for Sir Arthur and his family who constantly confronted the intense and vicious ire of some of the warriors with whom he fought for freedom.  It was not as easy for him to be in opposition as it was for some other professionals who flourished in their occupations.
Despite this, Sir Arthur was never bitter, never angry, never dejected.  To the contrary, he became not only a warrior for political and social change, but a peacemaker, a reconciler, a statesman, and a true servant of the Bahamian people - in short, a man for all seasons.
This weekend, another historic milestone was marked.  On Sunday, October 2, Sir Arthur received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Saint John's University.  The Doctor of Laws, first conferred in 1773, is the most frequent honorary doctorate awarded to persons who have distinguished themselves in general service to the state, to learning and to mankind.  Never before in its 155 year history has Saint John's University conferred an honorary doctorate on any Bahamian, although almost 700 Bahamians have passed through that institution, not to mention the thousands who have traversed the halls of St. Augustine's College, which was founded in 1945, along with the Monastery, by Saint John's.  Very many of these graduates have excelled in various fields of endeavor, at home and abroad.
Luckily for The Bahamas, in the end, the tale of these two extraordinary men differs.  Sir Thomas More lost his head to the state while Sir Arthur became our resident head of state.  And now, Sir Arthur blazes yet another trail by being the first Bahamian to be conferred with a Doctor of Laws by Saint John's University.  What fitting achievements for our man for all seasons!

Click here to read more at The Nassau Guardian

News date : 10/03/2011    Category : Opinion, Nassau Guardian Stories

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