A fierce champion for justice’
Walton Brown was remembered by his colleagues and opponents yesterday as a champion for justice who fought peacefully for the underdog.
MPs and senators made a string of tributes to the Progressive Labour Party MP at a joint sitting of the legislature called after his shock death this week.
Government members recalled how Mr Brown’s passionate support for the PLP’s core values helped shape the party and inspired many of them into action over social reform.
Opposition MPs noted that, while their ideologies may have clashed, Mr Brown’s respectful personality kept debate unusually agreeable in an age of division.
David Burt, the Premier, told the House of Assembly at its temporary venue Veritas Place: “A profound voice of the people has been silenced by death — an empty seat declares that Walton Brown will no longer grace us with his presence.”
Mr Brown, a PLP member, senator, MP and Cabinet minister, died suddenly at his home at the age of 59 on Tuesday.
During the 3½-hour sitting yesterday, MPs and senators reflected on his wide-ranging passions as an independence campaigner, activist and political observer, and his talents as a lecturer and author.
Labour minister Lovitta Foggo told the House: “Walton was a fierce champion for justice. He was a champion for the rights of all.
“He was a champion for the underdog and he worked tirelessly to try and bring about change in our society.”
Several MPs recalled Mr Brown’s role as an Opposition MP helping to organise protests against the One Bermuda Alliance government, particularly over the Pathways to Status controversy of 2016.
Mr Burt said: “I remember speaking to Walton, and he said quite plainly and simply ‘if you do not take action, this will pass’.
“It’s because of him it did not. This country owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
However, OBA members recalled that they were able to work alongside Mr Brown despite his strongly differing views.
OBA deputy leader Leah Scott said: “In 2016, when we had the immigration issues, when the OBA was in power, during the time of protests, for the two or three days that the protests went on, Walton and I talked every single day with a view to trying to find a resolution.”
Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, said: “I could approach him at any time, and sit with him, and discuss the beauty of the island that we serve, and what was the best way to serve it.”
Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, said he struck a bond with Mr Brown at a young age through their shared interest in political science.
Mr Roban recalled how he joined Mr Brown’s committee to push for independence. He said: “His brilliant mind and ability to articulate clearly the message he was strongly committed to was a gift, and made him the natural spokesperson for the group.”
Even people who opposed independence were drawn to Mr Brown because of the way he engaged them in debate, Mr Roban said.
The Deputy Premier noted how Mr Brown remained faithful to the issues he tackled throughout his life, including sovereignty and human rights, in particular LGBT rights.
He said: “Walton was uncompromising in his belief in what should be done and pushed us, often having some of us in the party who were not in agreement.”
Michael Weeks, a PLP backbencher, recalled speaking with Mr Brown about independence while on break from university.
“The travesty is that more than 30 years later, our country is still not independent,” Mr Weeks said.
“We are giving him a state funeral. But we should be draping his casket with the independent Bermuda flag.”
Jamahl Simmons, the Minister without Portfolio, said: “Together we toiled in Opposition and paid the price.”
Rolfe Commissiong, a PLP backbencher, said Mr Brown would “live in our hearts for as long as Bermudians seek social and racial justice”.
He added: “Walton Brown, like myself and many others here, was born into the movement for change in this country. We had no choice.
“That’s the milieu that we grew up in.”
PLP backbencher Michael Scott spoke of Mr Brown’s passion to find justice for black families who suffered as a result of land grabs. Derrick Burgess, the Acting Speaker of the House, said Mr Brown had a “calming spirit under pressure”.
PLP backbencher Kim Swan described Mr Brown as the conscience of the PLP and said his written works had helped shape discussion when evaluating the events of December 2, 2016.
Backbencher Tinée Furbert pointed to his commitment to Bermuda, independence, immigration reform, land grabs and the importance of the public school system.
Government Whip Lawrence Scott described Mr Brown as “a pillar of our unity and a reinforcement in the bridges that connect us”.
Backbencher Neville Tyrrell said Mr Brown had inspired him to speak on a debate about cannabis when he previously felt conflicted.
He said Mr Brown told him: “Speak your conscience. Be principled about it and just say it.”
Mr Tyrrell said: “It gave me the spirit to speak on the Bill and I’m glad I did.”
Joan Dillas-Wright, the president of the Senate, said: “It is often stated that Bermuda’s young people need leaders who they can aspire to. I submit that Walton Brown is one such leader.”
She added: “As parliamentarians, we need to ensure that our young people follow in his footsteps.”
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