Confrontational, dismissive, vengeful, compelling

  • Forcefully articulated: former premier Ewart Brown looks on during the launch and book signing of Whom Shall I Fear? at the St Paul Centennial Hall this month. The book will be available for purchase at the Bermuda Industrial Union on Tuesday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Forcefully articulated: former premier Ewart Brown looks on during the launch and book signing of Whom Shall I Fear? at the St Paul Centennial Hall this month. The book will be available for purchase at the Bermuda Industrial Union on Tuesday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Ewart Brown has spent so many decades relentlessly striving to rip apart the fabric of the unjust world he was born into, some might wonder what scores were left for him to settle.

It turns out there were quite a lot.

Through 416 forcefully articulated pages of Whom Shall I Fear?, the charismatic former premier has gone the full length to ensure his own account has been pulled even.

Yet, for all his undoubted success as a political leader and doctor, a heavy sense of frustration burns throughout Dr Brown’s memoirs that suggests the biggest itch of all remains impossible to scratch.

The wealthy and powerful white establishment that dominated discussion as he grew up in a politically engaged family in the 1950s is still a thorn in the side decades later, even as he recalls his sweetest moments of glory.

On the night of arguably his most famous victory, when a bitterly intense General Election campaign culminated in the Progressive Labour Party winning on December 18, 2007, Dr Brown exploded in relief and joy as he led the celebrations of thousands of jubilant supporters on Court Street.

That historic night is condensed into a single understated paragraph and summed up: “It was gratifying to lead the PLP to a resounding electoral victory.”

Reflection on the glory is kept to a minimum as Dr Brown explains he “didn’t yet fully recognise the enormous difficulties we’d face” through the intensity of the political opposition.

The white establishment may have been beaten on the night, but, as the 73-year-old states in the opening sentence of his book, “the more you push for progressive change, the more entrenched power pushes back”.

Dr Brown claims to have been demonised more than any other leader by the “Combined Opposition” of rich whites, the United Bermuda Party and The Royal Gazette because of his willingness to fight back.

His critics will argue his confrontational style and tendency to portray seemingly innocuous articles as personal attacks contributed significantly to the combative nature of his relationships with the establishment and media.

But Dr Brown, who recalls being told by his mother to hide from a white policeman as they arrived at a polling station amid racial tensions when he was aged 7, argues convincingly that Bermuda’s racist structures are so deeply rooted that they will not be fixed by shrinking violets.

As it happens, young Ewart risked spanks by refusing to hide from the policeman because “we’re not doing anything wrong”.

This sense of defiance, instilled from such a young age, is a defining characteristic throughout Whom Shall I Fear?

Another common theme is the urgency with which he tried to dismantle the status quo.

His irritation at the perceived failure of PLP colleagues to keep pace brings criticism that will sting far greater than finger-pointing at political opponents such as Grant Gibbons and Bob Richards, and colonial figures such as Sir Richard Gozney, the former governor.

Paula Cox, who succeeded Dr Brown as premier in 2010, openly aimed for a more collaborative style before leading the PLP to a shock election defeat in December 2012.

“I always wished she were able to act more courageously,” Dr Brown says. “It would have been beneficial for her leadership, the PLP and Bermuda.”

Dr Brown recalls how, as finance minister, Ms Cox “regrettably” distanced herself from criticism of her 2010 Budget by claiming to be a mere “cog in the wheel” of the PLP decision-making team.

He also sharply calls out her lack of support as deputy premier during his bleakest political period, when colleagues, including Terry Lister and El James, called for him to resign in the wake of his handling of the cruise ship casino Bill in 2009.

“Paula Cox thought the occasion was right not to challenge directly for leadership, but to convince me to resign in her favour,” he recalls. “She e-mailed me: ‘Now is your time to step aside. I will give you a job in Washington. Don’t fight it’. I thought that was cute.”

Randy Horton, a longtime friend, was sacked as education minister in 2008 for “moving too slowly on education reform”, while Lister showed he was “not destined for leadership” when he caved in to bullying from late party leader L. Frederick Wade and withdrew his leadership bid in 1994.

The Perinchief brothers, Wayne and Phil, were both kicked out of Cabinet because they had not demonstrated “work ethic and effectiveness”.

Dame Jennifer Smith, who led the PLP to its first General Election victory in 1998, but was usurped immediately after winning a second in 2003, is chastised for her secrecy, failure to consult with colleagues and for showing unwillingness to engage with the media, other than for carefully controlled photo opportunities.

Dr Brown says she put the PLP on dangerous ground, “thanks largely to her aloofness, which I always felt was rooted in shyness and which became more marked the longer she was in office”.

After running unopposed for re-election in 2002, Dame Jennifer “seemed to think she had beaten them for good and no longer had to worry about them”.

She “withdrew back into her cocoon”, before being stunned when dissidents, including Dr Brown, engineered her downfall in a meeting at the Hamilton Princess while she celebrated election victory at Alaska Hall.

The party conference that followed at Devonshire Recreation Club, in which Dr Brown emerged as the deputy premier, was “the most raucous and bitter political meeting I’ve ever attended”.

Dr Brown says: “People were calling each other names and giving each other the finger from across the room.”

Where the former premier shows admiration for fellow politicians, it is often for a willingness to stand up to the establishment and determination to get results.

Derrick Burgess is lauded as a fighter even though “he sometimes spoke a little rashly”, Zane DeSilva recognised Bermuda’s racism “in all its ugliness”, and Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch is praised for ripping up a speech written by Hamilton mayor Charles Gosling that the PLP found offensive.

He dismisses Alex Scott’s notion that Bermuda should “make haste slowly”. In contrast, Dr Brown told PLP delegates on the night he was elected leader: “If you don’t want change, don’t vote for me.”

With an extraordinary attention to detail, Whom Shall I Fear? provides a step-by-step chronological account of Bermuda politics from the day Dr Brown promised to settle scores and pull accounts, even in 1992, until the present day.

Successes like fast ferries and the Mirrors programme are lauded, while controversies such as the Uighurs, the Lahey Clinic legal battle and long-running police investigation which continues today are discussed at length.

It is, of course, merely Dr Brown’s own unfiltered version of events and the absence of countering views will undoubtedly please his supporters. It will annoy his opponents, but it is unlikely the former premier will care about that.

He vigorously defends the policies under his watch and denies they were the reason Bermuda plunged into huge levels of debt, insisting the PLP maintained public expenditures to “prime our economic pump”.

Accusations of corruption have dogged him throughout his career, he claims, because of “a belief in white superiority in black and white minds”.

The passing of time, however, has allowed for the occasional acknowledgement of shortcomings.

He accepts the media were right to pursue Andre Curtis for providing “unsatisfactory” answers on the disastrous faith-based tourism programme, while his “frustration got the better of me” as he tried to sneak through the cruise ship casino legislation while the colleagues who disagreed with him were out of the room.

While such reflections will fascinate those with a vested interest in Bermuda politics, Whom Shall I Fear? is also a journey about Ewart Brown, the rebellious child who grew up to be one of his country’s most significant political leaders in a time of racial and political change.

That story is well told and has the power to capture the imagination of readers who might never have even heard of Bermuda.

The book also shines a light on the character behind the man who became premier, with some brutally open revelations about his private life.

He reveals that he kept his son, Kevin, a secret from his first wife, Beverly, until he reached the age of 9.

“It always seemed to me that feeling too much about things would drive me crazy, and I had to keep moving forward,” he explains, adding that Beverly’s “justifiable anger” over the secrecy led to a gulf, which ended in divorce.

In 1995, he discovered he had a 13-year-old son, Maurice, who was conceived during a brief fling while he was separated from Beverly.

On receiving the news from the mother, Maureen Pitt, Dr Brown says his first thought was “Maureen who?”.

In some ways, history was repeating itself, as Dr Brown was 13 before his father told him that he had a brother by the name of Philip Butterfield. It later emerged he had another brother, Vincent Hollinsid.

The memoir paints a picture of a devoted and caring father to Kevin, Maurice and his other two sons, Trey and Donovan, but the tribulations of fatherhood have not always been kind.

Maurice was jailed for bank robbery – “I felt a deep sense of failure as a father” – while Kevin was jailed for molesting patients as a doctor.

“I strove to do all I could for Kevin,” Dr Brown says. “I was determined to follow my father’s example of doing right by all of his children.”

The story of his courtship with third wife Wanda is a touching fairytale. Dr Brown remembers struggling to concentrate at a medical conference while feeling like “a kid with a first crush” before she unceremoniously dumped him because of his failure to call for six weeks.

“I was scared of commitment after two divorces,” he says, before revealing Wanda’s friend salvaged the relationship by playing Cupid.

It comes as no surprise that his most sour relationship appears to have been with The Royal Gazette.

Numerous political events are referenced alongside a complaint that the Gazette coverage of the day twisted the facts against him.

He includes a claim that editor Bill Zuill had planned to run a story alleging Mr Butterfield behaved aggressively at a Bank of Bermuda shareholders’ meeting.

Mr Butterfield threatened to accuse Mr Zuill and his source of being racists if he ran the story, with Dr Brown noting: “The story never ran, which speaks for itself.”

Dr Brown defends his decision to cut government advertising and subscriptions of The Royal Gazette in 2008 by claiming online media reached more of the population — a logic that didn’t add up for many within government at that time.

He has still never provided any evidence to support his decision.

His critics will suspect the real reason lies within his oft-stated belief that the newspaper was not giving him a fair shake; many supporters will be glad he did it, regardless of his motives.

A similar split is inevitable when it comes to evaluating Whom Shall I Fear? But as far as Ewart Brown is concerned, love him or loathe him, his views always make compulsive reading.

• Whom Shall I Fear?, published by Rivertowns Books and costing $50, will be available at the Bermuda Industrial Union on Tuesday

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Published Nov 15, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 15, 2019 at 8:00 am)

Confrontational, dismissive, vengeful, compelling

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