Gloria McPhee

Bermuda has lost another of its peaceful warriors from the sometimes turbulent political period of the 1960s and 1970s.

The late Gloria McPhee, who died this weekend, was an iconoclastic and independent-minded politician, who was part of the outstanding class of 1968 that revolutionised Bermuda politics as the Island entered the era of universal suffrage and political parties.


Bermuda has lost another of its peaceful warriors from the sometimes turbulent political period of the 1960s and 1970s.

The late Gloria McPhee, who died this weekend, was an iconoclastic and independent-minded politician, who was part of the outstanding class of 1968 that revolutionised Bermuda politics as the Island entered the era of universal suffrage and political parties.

Former MP Julian Hall rightly quoted a description by the late Sir Henry Tucker of Mrs. McPhee as the United Bermuda Party's "secret weapon", and that she was, defeating then-Progressive Labour Party Leader Walter Robinson in 1968 and then holding her seat in 1972 and 1976, when her running mate the late Dr. John Stubbs was defeated.

Mrs. McPhee, Bermuda's first female Cabinet Minister, was subsequently a leading force in the UBP's Black Caucus, which was formed as UBP MPs became increasingly disturbed that the then-Government was lagging in its commitment to social reform and opening up opportunities for black Bermudians.

So disillusioned did she become that in 1980, she nominated Opposition Leader Lois Browne Evans for her Devonshire North seat in a general election that the UBP only narrowly won.

That signalled the end of Mrs. McPhee's participation in active politics, but she remained busy behind the scenes, both as a letter writer and as an occasional caller to this writer's office.

Indeed, only a few months ago she raised her concerns about the impact of global warming and climate change on Bermuda, and it is ironic and unfortunate that our series on the issue should have been started just after her death.

Mrs. McPhee was a courageous and independent politician, in much the same way that colleagues like Dr. Stubbs, the late Dr. Stanley Ratteray, Harry Viera, C.V. (Jim) Woolridge and Dr. Clarence James were and are. While it is fashionable today to claim that black Bermudians joined the UBP "for what they could get", this is deeply unfair. For many, it would have been easier to join the PLP and avoid the accusations of being Uncle Toms that followed.

For the most part, these men and women were conservative, and that in large part motivated them to join the UBP and to force change from within the old establishment. Few were from what was then generally considered to be the "Forty Thieves", and they all had a fierce passion for Bermuda and an abiding belief that Bermuda could only progress if it did so as a truly integrated community in which the races worked together to eliminate their differences.

This was the fundamental difference between the UBP and the PLP then and now, because the latter party has a regrettable tendency to look at politics via a prism in which race is the sole factor, and fails to recognise the differences and similarities that individuals have, regardless of the skin colour that they were born with.

Despite the use of Mrs. McPhee's name as a UBP dissident, she never veered from her fundamental beliefs.

She had a unshakeable commitment to building and maintaining the dignity and worth of the black Bermudian, but she never veered from her commitment to an integrated Bermuda, and she certainly had deep concerns about the direction in which Bermuda was going before her untimely passing.

It is also fair to say that she probably would have looked at the quality of today's House of Assembly with some dismay. It is all too easy to look at the past with rose-tinted glasses and it is true that obituaries perennially gloss over the human weaknesses we all have in abundance, but it is undeniable that the members of today's House of Assembly are a far cry from the stellar statesmen and women who occupied seats in the House during Mrs. McPhee's era. That is as true for the PLP as it is for the UBP. Apart from those named above, the House today lacks leaders of the calibre of Dame Lois Browne-Evans and the late Eugene Cox and Frederick Wade, both of whom were part of the Class of 1968.

Today, as too many of these great leaders pass on, having left a legacy of which all Bermuda should be proud, they leave the question: Will Bermuda see their like again?

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