He sacrificed so that we could have
June 28, 1939: Born in Pembroke, the second son of James and Helen Wade
December 1958: Completes schooling at the Berkeley Institute
September 1959: Enters Ottawa Teachers’ College on a teacher-training scholarship
December 29, 1959: Marries Marilyn Edwards
March 26, 1960: Son Gregory is born
June 1960: Graduates from teachers’ college
September 1960: Takes up first teaching post at The Central School
1963: Joins the Progressive Labour Party, enters Queen’s University later that year
March 15, 1965: Daughter Michelle is born
May 1966: Graduates from Queen’s University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and geology
May 22, 1968: Elected to Parliament, but is forced to give up his teaching post
October 10, 1970: Arrested on charges of obstruction after riots break out on Court Street, but is acquitted the next year
November 1, 1970: Elected PLP chairman
1973: Enters Middle Temple law school in London after four years of doing odd jobs
April-May 1976: Flies home to contest an election amid studying for his final exams. PLP picks up four additional seats. Elected deputy leader
September 1976: Passes bar exams
April 1, 1977: Called to the Bermuda Bar, and joins Lois Browne-Evans’s law firm
1977: Marries lawyer Norma Wilson Morant, of Jamaica.
December 1977: He and Lois Browne-Evans are at the centre of the campaign to prevent the hangings of Buck Burrows and Larry Tacklyn. Riots break out
December 1980: The PLP enjoys its best General Election result, winning 18 seats to the United Bermuda Party’s 22
January 1982: Businessman John Swan is elected UBP leader and premier, which puts a damper on the PLP’s election prospects
February 1983: The UBP, with John Swan as leader, wins 26 seats to the PLP’s 14
1985: The PLP is racked by internal bickering over the leadership of Lois Browne-Evans. John Swan calls a snap election in October, which leaves the PLP with only seven seats in the House
November 1, 1985: Lois Browne-Evans resigns as Leader of the Opposition, and is replaced by Wade
1989: The PLP wins eight additional seats for a total of 15 in a February election. Marries Ianthia Simmons on March 18
July 8, 1991: Triplets Ceola, Kamela and Frederick, are born
October 1993: The PLP wins 18 seats to the UBP’s 22
May 14, 1994: Votes in favour of John Stubbs’s Bill to decriminalise sodomy, upsetting the PLP’s Christian support base
August 1995: PLP supporters heed Wade’s call to boycott Sir John Swan’s independence referendum, leading to its defeat. Sir John, knighted in 1990, subsequently resigns his premiership
August 13, 1996: After months of failing health, Wade collapses and dies while leaving his house for the airport
Progressive Labour Party leader Leonard Frederick Wade was a teacher turned lawyer, whose true calling was politics. An early member of the PLP, he served the party in many capacities before becoming its leader. He was Opposition leader for 11 years.
He came of age during a time of major social and political change. Tensions were often high as black Bermudians, who occupied the lower rungs of a tightly controlled society run by a closely knit group of white merchants known as the oligarchy, became more insistent in their demands for equality.
There were battles in the streets, in Parliament and within his own party during those heady years, and Wade was at the forefront of many of them.
Wade was a Member of Parliament for 28 years. He was first elected in 1968, one of 40 MPs who became known as “the Class of ’68” after they won seats in Parliament in the historic May 22, 1968 election. It was the first election held under the new Constitution and two-party system.
On a party level, he was a loyalist who supported the PLP through thick and thin over 30 years and throughout its long and frustrating quest to wrest control of government from the seemingly invincible United Bermuda Party.
Although he died in 1996, two years before the PLP’s first victory at the polls, Wade is credited with laying the groundwork for that milestone, which ushered in Bermuda’s first change in government since the advent of party politics.
Wade, who was universally known as Freddie, was the younger son of Sergeant-Major James Eugene Wade and Helen Wade (née Yorke). His older brother was James Jr, although he and his father were both known as Eugene. James Sr served in Italy and Egypt during the Second World War with a Bermuda contingent of the Caribbean Regiment. After the war ended, James Sr became a bus driver. He worked for the Public Transportation Department for most of his life, retiring as a traffic supervisor. Helen was a domestic worker.
The family spent their early years at Happy Valley, Pembroke, but later moved to Cedar Hill in Warwick. Freddie Wade attended The Central School (now Victor Scott Primary School) and the Berkeley Institute. He passed out of Berkeley at the end of the school year in December 1958, and in September 1959 entered Ottawa Teachers’ College on a government teacher-training scholarship.
His marriage on December 29, 1959 to his childhood sweetheart, Marilyn Edwards, caused him to forfeit the scholarship, for which only unmarried students were eligible. Despite that setback, Wade was able to complete his studies in June 1960. He joined the teaching staff at Central that September. By then he was a father. Son Gregory was born on March 26, 1960.
Wade taught at Central from 1960 to 1963. He was off the island for the next two years, attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and geology from Queen’s at its spring convocation in 1966, but by then had resumed his teaching career in Bermuda. It is believed he completed some courses for his degree by distance learning.
He taught at Prospect Primary School from 1965 to 1966 and, with his newly minted degree in hand, joined the staff of Sandys Secondary School, where he taught from 1966 to 1968.
Even though he had grown up in a segregated world, it was not until he returned home as a newly qualified teacher that he became aware that schools in Bermuda lagged far behind those in Canada, where vast sums of money were being spent on education. As he explained in a November 7, 1985 interview in The Royal Gazette: “My classroom was a [former] manual training centre. It was a basement with improper ventilation. I had a blackboard on an easel, little or no textbooks and whatever we had was out of date, and 45 kids.
“I had been trained in Canada where the conditions were way ahead of what we had. We still had segregated schools at the time and it was the conditions in the schools that really started my interest in politics. If you had a social conscience, you couldn’t just sit by and watch children being wiped out, not only by racialism, but also by the appalling conditions.”
He joined the Bermuda Union of Teachers, hoping to build on its legacy of fighting for better working conditions for black teachers. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that lasting social change could best be achieved through the political arena.
Wade had started his teaching career a year after the 1959 Theatre Boycott ended segregation in movie theatres and hotels. But schools remained segregated and only property owners had the right to vote. Students fortunate enough to win a place in high school had to pay for the privilege because 13 years was the cut-off age for free education.
Changes were in the wind. A law passed in December 1962 had given all adults aged 25 years and over the right to vote. The same year a group of political activists formed the PLP.
The PLP called for reforms that were considered revolutionary, even subversive in the Bermuda of 1963, but were standard in most Western countries — free high school education, old-age pensions, a more equitable system of taxation. The PLP put up nine candidates in the 1963 election, and six, among them lawyer Lois Browne-Evans, won seats in Parliament. Their victory forced the white oligarchs who dominated Parliament to sit up and take notice.
Wade was the 312th person to join the PLP and became the first secretary of the party’s Devonshire branch. He was soon elected to the party’s inner circle, the Central Committee. Possessing both a bachelor’s degree and commitment to the party’s principles, it was only a matter of time before he was being proposed as a parliamentary candidate.
The May 22, 1968 election was a new day for Bermuda. It was contested under a brand-new Constitution, a two-party system and with the voting age lowered to 21.
However, the UBP, which was founded in 1964 by the powerful banker Sir Henry Tucker, trounced the PLP, winning 30 of 40 seats in Parliament. There were two MPs for each of the 20 constituencies and Wade and his mentor, Browne-Evans, won in Devonshire North.
The election that launched Wade’s parliamentary career cost him his job. Parliament had passed a law in 1967 that required teachers to relinquish their jobs if elected to Parliament. Wade said that the law had been directed at the PLP, which had a number of teachers standing for Parliament, but he had no choice but to quit the classroom.
By then, the Wades were a family of four. Daughter Michelle was born on March 15, 1965. Marilyn Wade, a graduate of Shaw Business College in Toronto, had secured a post within government, and the family had moved into their own home on Cherry Hill Park, Paget. It was built the old-fashioned way, with relatives on both sides of their family, and Wade himself, pitching in to get the walls up and the roof on.
With his salary cut to ten pounds for each sitting of Parliament, Wade was forced to take a series of odd jobs. He drove a taxi, cut stone, painted houses, and even had a brief stint selling real estate, a job he said he “despised”. He said in newspaper interviews that aligning himself with the PLP had made him virtually unemployable.
As much as he tried, and despite having a degree in economics, he was unable to find a job that matched his credentials. It was a fate that befell many PLP supporters, who were marginalised by the pro-UBP business community during the Sixties and Seventies.
Finally, in 1973, a year after his re-election to Parliament, he determined he needed to pursue a career that would give him a greater measure of financial independence, and applied to law school.
He was admitted to Middle Temple Inns of Court and spent the next three years shuttling back and forth between London and Bermuda. In April 1976, as Wade was preparing to write his final exams, Browne-Evans, who was then Opposition leader, telephoned him to say an election was to be held in May.
To the horror of his law school classmates, he flew home to canvas. He and Browne-Evans were re-elected in Devonshire North — a PLP stronghold — and the party won four more seats. Wade was elected deputy party leader. Mission accomplished, he returned to London in August to bury his head in his law books. He passed his finals in September.
On April 4, 1977, he was called to the Bermuda Bar and joined Browne-Evans’s law practice on Court Street. The same year, having divorced his first wife, he married Jamaican lawyer Norma Wilson Morant, whom he met in London. When she was called to the Bermuda Bar in August 1977, the Wades made history as Bermuda’s first married couple to both be lawyers.
Norma Wade joined Browne-Evans’s law firm as well, before joining the government court system in 1981. She brought to the marriage a son, Yusef, whom Wade adopted. The two subsequently divorced. Now Norma Wade-Miller, she moved up through the ranks to become a puisne judge. Meanwhile, in 1983, Wade became a partner in Browne-Evans’s practice, which was renamed Browne and Wade Chambers.
Wade by then was an experienced parliamentarian, seasoned in the cut and thrust of debate in the House of Assembly. Things were more turbulent on Parliament Hill in the early days of his career and Wade was often in the headlines.
In July 1969, a little more than a year after he was first elected to the House, about 60 dashiki-clad youth, who had attended a Black Power conference that week, packed the public gallery in Parliament and were ordered out for heckling. PLP MPs, including Wade, walked out in protest.
In October 1970, riots broke out on Court Street on the eve of a visit to Bermuda by Charles, the Prince of Wales. Wade was arrested for obstruction and thrown in jail for five days, although he protested that he was merely trying to calm the angry crowds. Two days after he was released from jail on bail, Wade, then PLP public relations officer, received a standing ovation at Devonshire Recreation Club. He told the party faithful that the root causes of the riots were the UBP’s failure to address social conditions, including drugs.
At the PLP’s annual conference at the end of October, he was elected party chairman. Wade was formally charged with two counts of obstruction, arising out of the riots, but he was acquitted by a Supreme Court jury the next year.
Things had calmed down by the time the Prince arrived. The pro-independence PLP boycotted the royal visit, saying it was a relic of colonialism, and a waste of money. It was typical of the rhetoric of the times. Predictably, the UBP condemned the PLP action as “ill-mannered” and “petty”.
It was one of several verbal clashes Wade would have with UBP leader Sir Henry in Parliament. The Prince mentioned the ruckus, and seemed to acknowledge more reforms were needed when he told a black-tie Speaker’s Dinner: “I do hope the problem facing Bermuda will be overcome now and in the future.”
In December 1977, Bermuda was again convulsed by riots after the hangings of Buck Burrows and Larry Tacklyn; Burrows for the murder of Sir Richard Sharples, the Governor, and Tacklyn for the murders of supermarket owner Victor Rego and his book-keeper, Mark Doe. Wade and Browne-Evans figured prominently in the public campaign to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
As the 1980s approached, the PLP seemed to have settled comfortably in the role of the perennial bridesmaid of politics, although it was moving closer to the altar. Changes adopted by the UBP government in the wake of the 1978 Pitt Commission, which investigated the causes of the 1977 riots, and the 1979 Constitutional Conference, were advantageous to the PLP. In 1980, it won 18 seats to the UBP’s 22.
There would, however, be no wedding anytime soon. In January 1982, John Swan replaced David Gibbons as UBP leader and premier, and attracted to the UBP fold numerous blacks, some of them PLP supporters. In an election in February 1983, Swan and the UBP solidified their hold on the Government, winning 26 seats to the PLP’s 14.
A 1985 battle within the PLP over the leadership of Browne-Evans proved to be even more disastrous for the party’s fortunes. Wade was a Browne-Evans loyalist, but a group of rebels pushed for her to be replaced because she had yet to win an election. Swan, taking advantage of the party’s disunity, called a snap election for October 1985. It left the PLP with only seven seats in the House.
A summer of discontent ended with the expulsion of the PLP rebels, who went on to form the National Liberal Party. In November 1985, Browne-Evans resigned as Opposition leader and Wade was elected as her replacement.
Wade set about rebuilding his fractured party. Often criticised as someone who lived in the shadow of Browne-Evans, once he was at the helm of the PLP ship, his talent as a political thinker and strategist began to emerge.
Realising he had to widen the party’s appeal to attract, in particular, a greater number of middle-class blacks, he toned down the 1960s rhetoric and also began reaching out to the business community, who were traditionally UBP supporters, to reassure them that they had nothing to fear from a PLP government. Slowly, his efforts to transform the PLP into a credible government-in-waiting began to bear fruit.
In the 1989 election, the PLP regained its lost ground, and picked up eight additional seats, and in the 1993 election, the PLP won 18 seats to the UBP’s 22.
Wade also posted some notable victories in Parliament. On the first day of the 1993 parliamentary session, he foiled Sir John Swan’s bid for UBP MP David Dyer to become Speaker of the House. With support from three UBP MPs, the PLP, with Wade in the driver’s seat, outmanoeuvred Sir John, who had been knighted three years earlier, to elect Ernest DeCouto as Speaker, the first of Portuguese ancestry. It was an embarrassing defeat for Sir John and Dyer.
Wade stopped Sir John in his tracks again in 1995 when the Premier made a surprise bid for an independence referendum, believing he could rely on support from the PLP. Wade instead called on PLP supporters to boycott an August 1995 referendum, which ensured its defeat as well as Sir John’s resignation as premier.
Wade was accused of being motivated purely by self-interest; observers opined that Wade was not about to be upstaged by Sir John, who, if the referendum had been successful, stood to become the first prime minister of an independent Bermuda.
Wade was strongly criticised by independence supporters within his own party, although others believed that by taking the stance he did, he skilfully exploited divisions within the UBP.
On the other hand, Wade drew praise for having courage and progressive views the previous year when he voted in support of John Stubbs’s Bill to decriminalise sodomy between consenting adults.
Wade risked incurring the disapproval of the Christian support base within the PLP, but the stance he took demonstrated consistency in his support for human rights for all disadvantaged groups, not only those who were black.
Politics had come at great financial sacrifice for Wade. PLP obligations, which involved party meetings on week nights, and parliamentary sessions on Fridays, while trying to earn a living, hampered his ability to develop a successful law practice.
Yet, he had some indulgences. He enjoyed sport, jazz and yachting. Even though he was on the opposite side of the political fence from Sir John, he purchased his yacht, Mistress, and renamed it Mandela. It was a symbol of the PLP’s support for Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, which was in full swing during the 1980s.
He also married a third time. On March 18, 1989, Ianthia Simmons became his wife. On July 8, 1991, they became parents of triplets, Ceola, Kamela and Frederick.
Health problems would take their toll. Wade had a heart scare in 1986, which required treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Maryland, but a more serious problem was polycystic kidneys, the same disease that had killed his mother in 1963 at the age of 46.
As the PLP’s fortunes rose, Wade’s health declined. He was ailing for the better part of 1996, although only his family and the party leadership realised how seriously ill he was. In 1996, he collapsed and died on his doorstep at age 57. He was leaving his home for the airport to take a flight to Malaysia to attend a Commonwealth parliamentary conference.
Wade lacked charisma and was not a compelling speaker, but he was no waffler. His speeches in Parliament were direct and to the point. He was also an everyman who stayed in touch with his constituents. He moved to Roberts Avenue, in the heart of his Devonshire North constituency, from the 1970s.
Wade was not a founder of the PLP, but he inherited the mantle of the pioneers who helped push Bermuda, often at great personal and financial sacrifice, on the path towards racial equality for all its citizens and responsible government. Until Jennifer Smith’s victory in 1998, he had come closer than any previous PLP leader to an election win.
There was recognition of this at the tributes paid to him after his death, and at his funeral at the Anglican Cathedral, which was attended by people from all walks of life, political persuasion and races. He received full military honours for having served in the army as a cadet. He is buried at St John’s Church, Pembroke.
Both his father and his brother have since died, his father in 1999 and his brother in 2004. In April 2007, the PLP government renamed the airport as LF Wade International Airport in his honour.
“You can’t make any changes unless you take political action. It’s the people in Parliament who determine what happens in a country.”
“I know some Bermudian whites who have lived here over 50 years who don’t know where Berkeley Institute is. Some of them in government have never been around Pond Hill. They are just not interested.” — Mid-Ocean News, April 4, 1970
“We will continue the job of bringing young and new faces into the PLP while, at the same time, encouraging people to bring to the party their talents and skills to benefit the ordinary man.” — on being elected PLP leader, The Royal Gazette, November 2, 1985
“I decided I would take my chances and I would survive. For the four years, from 1968 to 1972, I drove a taxi. I cut stone, I painted houses and then I finally decided I had better retrain. I decided to go into law. I had always had an interest in law, and I had friends who were lawyers. And in 1973, I went off to London to qualify.” — The Royal Gazette, November 7, 1985
“People who have power tend to know how to hold on to it. They also have more money.” — Wade’s take on why the PLP was still in Opposition, Mid-Ocean News, March 11, 1988.
“When I joined the PLP, I was 23. While other people my age were working a second job and worrying about building a home and a future, I was out registering voters, writing press releases and trying to build the PLP.”
“Even though I had a degree in economics, I felt there was no employment for me in Bermuda — even with my education. I applied for jobs in keeping with my education, but in those days when you were in the PLP, it was like you had the plague.
“The powers that be were not able to give me employment, especially since I had to be in the House on Fridays. I decided law was a good profession with politics, so I left to study law in 1973.” — Mid-Ocean News, March 2, 1990
“I banish stress from my life. Everything can wait. Nothing has to be done right this minute. We have a habit of creating artificial deadlines. I had a very serious illness. I realised then that we should not take ourselves too seriously.” — from L. Frederick Wade, In Words and Pictures, by Dale Butler
• Courtesy of Meredith Ebbin and bermudabiographies.bm
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