Swan: my best achievement was uniting the people
He was Bermuda’s longest-serving premier and a successful businessman — but Sir John Swan said that his proudest achievement was to unite the people.
Sir John was speaking at a dinner hosted by the Hamilton Princess&Beach Club to mark Black History Month on Saturday evening.
The United Bermuda Party premier from 1982 to 1995, who was credited for establishing Bermuda as a major offshore financial centre, said he was still working on healing divisions.
He said: “I’m trying to get to the stage where we are seeing Bermuda not as black and white or as nationalities but as a country that gives recognition to the progress that we have made.
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge the past but if you carry the baggage of the past it becomes the anger that prevents you from moving at the speed you can move.
“This island is probably the most integrated society in the world. We have to be able to get along.”
Sir John stressed the importance of nurturing the future generation and instilling in children a sense of pride and belonging.
He praised Paget Primary School’s Black History Museum in which he was featured, and told how he invited the students into his home while they were researching his life.
He said: “I took them in my car, they came to my office and they were fascinated when I took them to my home and showed them where I live.
“When I drove into the school to see the museum, I got the biggest reception you ever wanted to have and I can tell you, they just went wild.
“How do we treat our young people to give them a sense of purpose and a sense of relationship?
“If that happened in every school in Bermuda — it doesn’t matter if its BHS or Saltus — I think kids would have something to absorb. It becomes part of their culture.”
Sir John chose the Salvation Army to receive proceeds from the event.
Guests at the dinner included politicians from both sides of the spectrum, business leaders, hoteliers, educators and those working in the third sector.
Dennis Lister, Speaker of the House of Assembly, described him as “a real statesman”.
“We have not always seen eye to eye on issues but we always had reasonable conversations around the issues,” Mr Lister said.
“I admire the fact that he can be balanced in that regard.
“I think that the example he has set of being a statesman is one that is good for the country.”
Robert Horton, retired permanent secretary, has known Sir John all his adult life and described him as a “significant role model for all Bermudians”.
“I had the privilege of working at the Cabinet Office during the last year of Sir John’s premiership,” he said.
“I was enormously impressed by his commitment and his caring nature. He never failed to go the extra mile to help people.
“He was extraordinary. He wanted a better Bermuda and was unwavering in his efforts to have that dream realised. In large measure he did. He made a huge contribution towards a better Bermuda.
“He is also a great personal friend and he married a Somerset lady.”
Tom Butterfield, founder of the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art, said: “There is nothing that the man has not done for the benefit of Bermudians be they black or white. He is really the last statesman that Bermuda has and I don’t see anyone filling his shoes any time too soon.”
Ann Francis, a long-term friend, said Sir John had always been “positive and ambitious”.
“He has been an exceptional and all inclusive contributor. He was an unsung hero in a certain era because he helped a lot of people you wouldn’t have expected him to help.”
Colin Pearman, owner of Pearman Funeral Home and long term friend, said: “He has helped so many people in so many different ways. He has made an unending contribution to Bermuda.”
Dennis Tucker, former managing director for the Sonesta Beach Hotel, said: “He has always been a role model for me. He is someone that I have looked up to and have tried to emulate since I was a young boy. He has made a wonderful contribution to this island and hope he is around for many more years.”
A celebratory dinner for Dame Jennifer Smith, the Progressive Labour Party’s first premier, was held earlier in the month.
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