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Remembering L.F. Wade, 20 years departed

On August 13, 1996, Leonard Frederick Wade, the leader of the Progressive Labour Party suddenly passed away while he prepared to travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the 42nd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference.

His passing saddened and shocked the island and brought significant change to the Bermuda political landscape. Other than his family and friends who would be forever changed, it also brought change to the organisation that Mr Wade had led and to which he had committed his life to for more than 30 years.

In 1985, when he assumed leadership, the PLP had suffered a split among its members, which resulted in a staggering election defeat. After years of steady progress, the PLP had been cut down to a mere seven seats after the 1985 campaign and hopes were shattered. With a third party emerging — the now defunct National Liberal Party — and the PLP decimated, many thought this would be the party's final chapter.

L. Frederick Wade's job was not only to lead but to rebuild and to refocus the party, and to gather a team of candidates that would regain the faith of its supporters and also get the additional support needed to once again bring the party to the door of victory.

But who was Leonard Frederick Wade? The father, teacher, strategist and leader was born in 1939 in Devonshire. Educated at Central School and the Berkeley Institute, he would pursue a teaching career, going off to Ottawa, Canada. He then went on to earn a bachelor's degree in economics from Queens University.

Mr Wade spent a number of years as a teacher before entering the political world. He joined the party in 1963 and was an active member of the old Devonshire branch. He ran in the 1968 election, the first election in Bermuda under universal adult suffrage, and was elected.

Since he could no longer be a public education teacher as well as a parliamentarian, Mr Wade needed to become economically independent. In 1973, he went off to London to earn a law degree. When a General Election was called in 1976, he walked away from his bar exams to contest his seat in the Legislature. He successfully did this and returned to the United Kingdom, completing his legal studies at the Inns of Court, London, qualifying as a barrister.

Mr Wade, as a member of the Opposition, held a number of shadow ministries, including finance, home affairs and education, and he served as deputy leader of the party from 1976 to 1980.

One of Mr Wade's strengths was his formidable, strategic political mind. Once becoming leader, it did not take long for him to demonstrate that, despite his party's small numbers, he would be a leader that was not to be underestimated. He applied his talents to the rebuilding process and remade the image of the party in the eyes of the electorate.

In preparation for his first election as leader, Wade began the process of putting together the right team, with candidates such as Julian Hall, David Allen, Dennis Lister, Nelson Bascome and Jennifer Smith. The 1989 election would ring positive, with the PLP increasing its numbers by more than 100 per cent — from seven seats to 15 seats. Under Mr Wade's leadership, the party was regaining the trust of its supporters and new converts in the electorate.

Mr Wade's conciliatory manner, keen strategic mind and understanding of Bermuda's political landscape were crucial in positioning the party in the early 1990s. He was a consummate politician who was always comfortable in dialogue with the man and woman on the street, as well as the CEOs and executives of business.

He initiated a programme of outreach to Bermuda's business community, particularly international business, helping them to understand the party, its policies and its goals for Bermuda.

This had the effect of transforming the party image beyond the propaganda of our adversaries and unflattering media headlines.

All of this work would result in the PLP progressing once again during the election of 1993 when the party would come as close as ever, winning 18 seats.

Once again, Mr Wade recruited talented candidates such as Ewart Brown, Renée Webb, Leon “Jimmy” Williams and longtime party operatives such as Senator W. Alexander Scott as candidates. All were successful at the polls, creating a formidable team of legislators who challenged the United Bermuda Party at every turn.

After the 1993 election, it was clear that the UBP was struggling with a steadily declining majority, the failed independence referendum and the McDonald's controversy that followed. Through all of this, L.F. Wade had positioned the PLP to be the obvious alternative government in waiting.

Yet with the party on the cusp of victory, L. Frederick Wade died suddenly.

On Thursday from 6pm to 9pm in the E.F. Gordon Hall at the Bermuda Industrial Union building, the public will have an opportunity to hear more about L. Frederick Wade, His Political Life and Legacy from those who knew him, worked with him and were led by him. Dame Jennifer, Mr Scott, Dr Brown and Paula Cox will speak from their personal perspectives as former leaders who are part of his legacy. Victor Fishington, a party chairman during Mr Wade's 11-year leadership, and Dale Butler, author of two books on Mr Wade, will also speak.

It is hoped this will be an opportunity for the public to reacquaint themselves with a fascinating political figure and for others to learn something new about one of Bermuda great political leaders.

Walter Roban is the Shadow Minister of Public Safety and the MP for Pembroke East (Constituency 15). For more information on this event, contact him at whroban@gmail.com or 332-3900

Era-changing leadership: L.F. Wade rebuilt the PLP after the party's staggering election defeat in 1985

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Published August 22, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated August 21, 2016 at 11:50 pm)

Remembering L.F. Wade, 20 years departed

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