Sir Henry Tucker - one of the Island's two most important leaders of the 20th Century

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To many, Sir Henry Tucker, is considered along with Dr EF Gordon as one of the Island's two most important leaders of the 20th Century.

He became Bermuda's first government leader on May 22, 1968 in the first election held under a new Constitution and a two-party system.

Sir Henry, a founder of the United Bermuda Party, piloted the bill in Parliament that gave women the right to vote. As the number two, then the number one man at the Bank of Bermuda, he oversaw its transformation from local bank to international financial institution. He also helped lay the foundation for international business.

Sir Henry attended Whitney Institute, but switched to Saltus Grammar School after the family moved to Hamilton. In 1920, at age 17, he was sent to boarding school in England where he attended Sherborne School in Dorset, which is where his educational ended because his parents lacked the means to send him to university.

He returned to Bermuda in 1922 and found work in the freight department of shipping firm Watlington and Conyers, but the following year, he and close friend Clarence Cooper left the Island to work as labourers in the oilfields of Oklahoma. When no fortune was to be found, Sir Henry returned home and taught at Saltus Grammar School.

In 1924, he met an American nurse, Catherine (Kay) Newbold Barstow of Philadelphia, who was vacationing in Bermuda and followed her to Manhattan - later marrying her - where he found employment with a trust company while taking night courses at the American Institute of Banking.

In 1926, he joined a brokerage firm, but he lost all his savings in the 1929 stock market crash and the firm went belly-up. It was a time, he said, in a Bermuda Sun interview, “when it became commonplace to see people committing suicide by jumping off skyscrapers because they had lost everything in the stock market crash”.

In January 1934, he took up the number two post of secretary at the Bank of Bermuda and shortly after returning home, he became a founding member of the Forty Club - whose members were drawn primarily from the group of merchants whose shops lined Front Street and were known as the Forty Thieves.

In 1938 he was elected to Parliament, as a representative in Paget. At that time only property owners had the right to vote, the powerful white merchants ran the show and only a handful of blacks had seats in Parliament. During the lead-up to the election, Sir Henry said he was opposed to giving women voting rights because it would lead to universal adult suffrage to the detriment of Bermuda.

In 1936, Parliament passed a law that allowed the Bank of Bermuda to establish trusts for wealthy overseas clients. With the incorporation of International Match Realization Company the following year, international business was born.

Working in tandem with the Bank of Butterfield and law firms Appleby Spurling and Kempe and Conyers Dill and Pearman, Sir Henry began travelling the world to attract international business as part of his goal to make Bermuda “the Switzerland of the Atlantic”.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he was appointed to a parliamentary committee established to recommend ways of raising additional revenue after tourism had dropped off. The committee recommended income tax and in April 1940, Sir Henry took an income tax bill to Parliament. It was eventually passed by the House, but was rejected by the Legislative Council, now the Senate.

In 1940, Bermudians learned that a US base would be established in Bermuda as part of the war effort, but land in Warwick and Southampton was being lined up and that would have split the island in two. Sir Henry was a member of a three-man delegation dispatched to Washington DC to present the Americans with an alternative proposal.

On October 27, 1940, the US agreed to build the main base in St. David's as well as on islands off Castle Harbour. On January 21, 1941, Sir Henry, Sir Howard Trott and Sir John Cox flew to London to take part in talks about the Bermuda bases. On April 7, 1941, land for the two bases in Southampton (Morgan's Point) and St. David's was formally transferred to the US.

In 1943, after having an apparent change of heart on voting rights for women, he piloted a Women's Suffrage Bill in Parliament. It failed to pass the House, but he was successful on his second attempt in 1944. Two decades later, he would reverse his position on such major issues as universal adult suffrage, racial integration and party politics.

The Second World War now over, Sir Henry, Sir Howard Trott and Sir Bayard Dill went to Washington to discuss proposals to convert Kindley Field into a commercial airport and a deal was sealed.

In the post-war years, Sir Henry was forced to confront Bermuda's racial problems and the push by black MCPs, who were then a minority in Parliament, for all adults to have the right to vote not just property owners.

Between 1948 and 1953, Sir Henry took a break from politics to devote his attention to the rapidly expanding Bank of Bermuda, but was re-elected to a Parliament in 1953 that had the largest number of black MCPs to date, nine out of total of 36. Weeks after the House convened, a nine-member Inter-racial committee was set up, chaired by Sir Henry with Dr EF Gordon one of four black members. In 1955, Dr Gordon died and Sir Henry was the only white MCP who paid tribute to him in Parliament.

The Theatre Boycott of 1959 turned up the heat on Sir Henry who termed it “a curious affair”. However within two weeks, segregation in hotels and cinemas came to an end.

In 1958, a parliamentary committee was set up to examine an extension of voting rights. Its report, presented to Parliament on April 29, 1960, recommended changes, but fell short of universal franchise. In September 1960, activist Roosevelt Brown organised a series of public meetings that mobilized black Bermudians to campaign for the end of the property vote. A Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage evolved from that.

The year 1963 saw the formation of the Progressive Labour Party and Sir Henry formed the United Bermuda Party (UBP) the following year. He managed to win support from most MCPs which gave the UBP an unofficial majority in the House. He set about recruiting black members including ET Richards.

In the 1968 election UBP won 30 seats to the PLP's ten.

During his tenure as Government Leader, Sir Henry presided over the dismantling of segregated schooling, although Saltus, his old school, opted out of Government's plan to amalgamate black and white schools in 1971 and became private.

He was knighted in 1961 and again in 1972. His tenure as general manager of the Bank of Bermuda came to an end in 1969. He was Government leader for nearly four years.

When he resigned in late December 1971, he sent a strong message to the white minority, with the men who he had lined up to replace him ET Richards, who became the first black person to head the Government and John Swan, who took over his seat in the predominantly white UBP stronghold, Paget East.

He died on January 9, 1986.

* With many thanks to Bermuda Biographies. For more go to: www.bermudabiographies.bm

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Published Jun 16, 2011 at 12:01 am (Updated Jun 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm)

Sir Henry Tucker - one of the Island's two most important leaders of the 20th Century

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