1981 General Strike: the Reverend Larry Lowe, a leader by example
Human societies undergo shifts from time to time; for the better or the worse. The sources of those shifts are never fully understood — shrouded in some mystery. In the spring of 1981, during a dispute that mushroomed into a general strike, there was arguably a shift in Bermuda society. It undoubtedly is a milestone for our less than perfect society, as since which we have been able to remain on a path of non-violently resolving significant community matters. The data is clear when we compare our island's record for the decades of the 1960s and 1970s with the four decades since 1981. Over the next few days, as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1981 General Strike culminating in the fateful day on May 5, we reflect on this shared Bermuda story, highlighting some of the people, who accessed their out-of-the-box potential and played a monumental part in fostering that shift
Reverend Larry Lowe
I was born on May 28, 1945, just after the Second World War and was anointed “The Black Prince” early on by my numerous sisters. They gave me that pet name because they counted on me as their only male sibling until I reached my teen years, when my younger brother was born.
That role as a protector for my sisters helped to shape my life journey.
Until my teen years, we lived at Crawl Hill, where I enjoyed being a part of a posse of friends, including Delano Ingham, John Taylor and Walisfort “Wally” Manders. We were known for our little and big pranks.
It was at that time that I embraced sport, eventually playing County Cup, as well as developing a keen love for the sea — swimming, fishing and sailboating. Some of my fondest memories involved sailing my Comet several miles, by myself, over to the Allen Summer Camp on Port’s Island when the other campers had to arrive by ferry.
I guess you can say that these examples demonstrate my sense of independence — able to go it alone; and interdependence — enjoying the company of others.
During my later teen years, my father, the Reverend Wilbur Lowe Sr, moved the family to St David’s, a part of Bermuda commonly referred to as “God’s Country”. I fell in with our new community at once, given my passion for the sea. I was quickly made an honorary “Billy Bye” by the “Mohawks”.
While I grew up enjoying life, I didn’t enjoy formal education. That said, I did get to go overseas to university and was married to my lovely wife, Hope, just before completing my first degree. We eventually were blessed with four wonderful children — McLaren, Charisa, Jason and Jonathan.
I was ordained into my lifelong church — African Methodist Episcopal — in Ohio and took over a congregation in the Buckeye State while continuing my education. I eventually received my Doctorate in Divinity, before returning to Bermuda with my growing family to be the first Bermudian to assume the pulpit at St Paul AME.
Although I had been out of the island for many years, we quickly became involved in the Bermuda community. For me, church was about acting on Jesus’s message; not so much by way of words, but by example.
So that when there was the traumatic crisis in the Island in 1977, leading up to the hanging of both Erskine “Buck” Burrows and Larry Tacklyn, I took action for St Paul to serve as the key sanctuary where one and all from our distraught community were welcomed.
A few years later, when a strike began in April 1981, involving hundreds of hospital and government workers who were members of the Bermuda Industrial Union, I was approached by members — some old friends — of the Workers Socialist Group, which had a space near St Paul. When they asked that I join Canon Thomas Nisbett to co-chair a Strikers’ Family Support Committee, I was honoured to do so.
While this was an out-of the-box idea, for me it captured the concept of solidarity that Jesus was promoting. Since St Paul was a central location, our basement hall became the centre for collecting donated groceries for the affected families. When tensions around the protracted strike began to rise, we staged lunchtime prayers/reflections for the community in St Paul’s sanctuary to foster peace.
Other churches across the Island picked up this idea, speaking to the power of example. There is no question, for me, that there was an out-of-box spirit that moved through the Island and brought about that peaceful resolution in 1981.
The people of Bermuda would later elect me to the Houses of Parliament, where I helped to form the very first Progressive Labour Party government Bermuda had seen in 1998. I was honoured by that historic opportunity, but decided to retire early from formal politics to go back to Jesus’s mode of helping — by way of example.
I left this world on May 6, 2009. Some thought I was gone too soon, at the age of 63. However, I am eternally grateful for having had a very blessed life, which I fully enjoyed. Especially for having been allowed to serve!
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda