A centennial for a peaceful warrior

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October 4, 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Trenton Richards, Bermuda's first Premier.

Born to a family of teachers, in Berbice, British Guiana, young Edward also took up the family vocation, although he secretly longed for a career in law. Soon after qualifying as a teacher, he received word that his sister, Pearl, was shipwrecked in Bermuda while en route to Nova Scotia. She had found a job teaching at the Elliot School and encouraged her younger brother to join her. He took one look at the dot on the map and instantly dismissed the idea.

Soon, however, the restlessness of youth and the taste for adventure overcame his initial reluctance and he arrived in Bermuda in 1930, aged 21 years, to teach Math, Latin, English and Sports at the Berkeley Institute. During his tenure at the Berkeley, he taught and influenced many students who would later become prominent Bermudians.

  • <b>Sir Edward Trenton Richards, former Premier of Bermuda </b>

    Sir Edward Trenton Richards, former Premier of Bermuda


October 4, 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Trenton Richards, Bermuda's first Premier.

Born to a family of teachers, in Berbice, British Guiana, young Edward also took up the family vocation, although he secretly longed for a career in law. Soon after qualifying as a teacher, he received word that his sister, Pearl, was shipwrecked in Bermuda while en route to Nova Scotia. She had found a job teaching at the Elliot School and encouraged her younger brother to join her. He took one look at the dot on the map and instantly dismissed the idea.

Soon, however, the restlessness of youth and the taste for adventure overcame his initial reluctance and he arrived in Bermuda in 1930, aged 21 years, to teach Math, Latin, English and Sports at the Berkeley Institute. During his tenure at the Berkeley, he taught and influenced many students who would later become prominent Bermudians.

Having grown up in a racially integrated school system in British Guiana, he was appalled by the racial segregation he found at all levels in Bermuda. He determined he would do something about it. While teaching at Berkeley, he "moonlighted" at the Bermuda Recorder newspaper, which, at that time, was the only publication offering opposition to institutional racism.

As Associate Editor, he wrote many stinging editorials criticising the status quo, in his usual lofty writing style. Later, he acted as the Recorder's very own war correspondent when he was in London in the 1940s. His most important student was Madree Williams, of South Shore, Warwick. He steadfastly claimed that he didn't notice her until after she'd graduated from the Berkeley; nevertheless they were married in 1940. They were blessed with three children, Patricia, Bob and Angela.

A few years after marriage, "E.T.", as he was known, got the chance to study law. He received the acceptance telegram in the late afternoon and had to settle his affairs and board the sea plane which left that very night. The Second World War was raging in Europe at that time and E.T. had plenty of close calls during the Blitz in London.

In 1946 E.T.'s good friend and union leader, Dr. E.F. Gordon, was in London unsuccessfully attempting to give his petition which outlined the unjust social and economic conditions in Bermuda to the Colonial Secretary.

However, E.T. was instrumental in enabling Dr. Gordon to get the audience he needed through a contact in the lodge. In 1947 Whitehall issued a directive recommending change to Bermuda's discriminatory laws. Shortly after returning home and setting up his legal practice, E.T. was approached by Martin Wilson, head of the Warwick Parish Association, a political action group seeking to dismantle Bermuda's segregationist system.

Wilson wanted to back him in a bid for a seat in the Bermuda Parliament. E.T. was reluctant at first because it meant taking time away from his nascent legal practice. Eventually he agreed and was successful in the general election of 1948.

In the 1950s, the winds of change were blowing in Bermuda. The Bermudian version of apartheid was being challenged at every level. With E.T.'s eloquence, analytical abilities and knowledge of the law, he soon became the leader in this fight at the legislative level. This was prior to party politics in Bermuda and matters were often examined and driven by Joint Select Committees. E.T. was elected chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Race Relations which, after years of delaying tactics by segregationists in Parliament, finally recommended that racial discrimination in restaurants and hotels be outlawed.

While the catalyst for this capitulation was the Theatre Boycott, the hard work that the Race Relations Joint Select Committee had put in was the legislative hammer that squashed overt discrimination in public places in Bermuda.

The winds of change were also sweeping the world and E.T. noted with dismay how racial polarization had caused much of Georgetown, Guyana's capital, to be destroyed by fire. He did not want that to happen in Bermuda. Political parties were forming in Bermuda. The PLP had formed, led by some of his former students. They wanted him to join, but he was troubled by their strident, racially polarising and left wing rhetoric.

He sought another solution; one that could bring the races together and build on what Bermuda already had, instead of tearing it down. He talked to Sir Henry Tucker, a man whom he had grown to respect from their time on that joint select committee on race relations.

Shortly thereafter the United Bermuda Party was formed with Sir Henry as leader and E.T. as deputy leader. E.T. was knighted by H.M. Queen Elizabeth in 1970. Sir Henry Tucker retired after being Government Leader for four years and Sir Edward succeeded him. A year later the Bermuda Constitution was updated and the Government Leader became Premier making Sir Edward Bermuda's first Premier.

The first eight years of UBP rule saw major changes in Bermuda's society and economy. It was during these years that the foundations and much of the structure of the "miracle" economy were built. The last vestiges of school segregation were removed and huge portions of the government budget were devoted to education. The concept of jobs first being offered to qualified Bermudians was enacted into law. A large black middle class emerged.

Sir Edward was Premier during the period when extremists murdered the Governor, Police Commissioner and ADC. He received many death threats. It was a difficult period in Bermudian history. However, he always had a firm belief that he would, "Die in his bed." Sir Edward Richards retired from politics in 1976 and died, "in his bed", in May 1991 at the age of 83. He was a warrior for change and equity, a Peaceful Warrior for racial harmony and understanding.

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