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Friends, admirers gather to mark Reggie’s milestone birthday

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We have to make it clear at the outset, that this is the first part of a three-in-one feature revolving around a genuine elder statesman Reginald Burrows, a could-be most powerful Speaker of the House of Assembly Randy Horton and yours truly Ira Philip, who among other things has had to eke out a living as a radio and television broadcaster, author, Senator, a pot washer during nights at Lantana Cottage Colony as well as a cab driver for Harry Sharpe at the old Belmont Hotel in Warwick.

My full-time career as a journalist, with particular concentration as a parliamentary reporter has spanned more than 70 years. I declare with compound modesty that I was well-positioned, and instrumental in capturing and chronicling the most challenging and significant moments that dominated the social, economic, political and cultural landscape of Bermuda during the last half of the 20th Century. Actually, it began in 1948 when was I was employed full time as a reporter for the Bermuda Recorder, rather than just a stringer writing for Somerset News.

Months later that year I was married by Pastor Frank Lapsley to the late and lamented Ismay Louise Grant. We grew up in the youth wing of Allen Temple AME Church, along with Vinton Anderson whom we highlighted during Black History Month for putting Bermuda ‘on top of the world' when he was elected President of the World Council of Churches.

I don't want to stray too far from the central personality of this Weekender feature, who I must remind you is Reggie Burrows.

In any case Ismay and I had a big horse and buggy wedding, June 24, 1948, driving all the way to Warwick, honeymooning at the home of the Edness Family, directly across from where The Swizzle Inn is now located. There I was, a big time Pitmanite shorthand reporter, knew all the lightning cuts, short forms and phrases, was as fast as any, including the great Ford Baxter and Alfred Augustus.

But what I didn't know was that the groom should pay the minister for getting him married. Rev Lapsley, the gentle giant that he was, diplomatically excused me years later telling everybody how he ‘gave me a grant', which was a play on Ismay's maiden name being Grant.

The political landscape in 1948 was dominated by an overbearing political elite, the majority of whom were kith and kin, and members of the landed gentry. The auspices of their political hegemony was buttressed and augmented by an undemocratic process of the plural vote. This was a political process that was rubber stamped and sanctioned by the British Crown for over a period of 350 years and was subsequently dismantled in the mid 1960s.

In 1948, there was a cross pollination of both the Legislative and Executive branches of government. The Legislative Council comprised of civil servants, the majority of whom were imported colonials and mandarins from England, chief among whom was the Colonial Secretary, and several members of the House of Assembly, all of whom were appointed by the Governor. The Executive Council, whose membership was of similar capacity to that of the Legislative Council, was the forerunner of what now constitutes the Cabinet.

The general thrust and political intrigue of the day was substantively controlled by the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Through archaic parliamentary procedure, the Speaker controlled the thrust and cut of the debate. The House Clerk, a man named Sam Tatem, had the Speaker's back. He was a good man, who knew everything.

During that period we journalists sat at desks inside the bar of the House, centre aisle, one behind the other, Royal Gazette, Mid-Ocean News and then the Recorder.

Thus I was able to observe in action, close up the highly controversial Speaker Sir Reginald Conyers, at the tail end of tenure from 1933 to 1948. Also all of his successors including the longest serving Sir John Cox, 1948-68; Sir ‘Curley' Astwood, 1968; followed by AD Spurling, LP Gutteridge; John Barritt; the history-making (as the first Portuguese) Speaker Ernest Decouto and leapfrogging to the Hon Stanley Lowe (the first Black), from 1998 to 2012.

Thus inside the House and aside from it yours truly was engaged with the really big boys of the day and time. The Black MCPs, such as Dr EA Cann, Hilton Hill, Russell Levi Pearman used to hold their caucuses, which I attended, in the law office of ET Richards (later Premier Sir Edward Trenton Richards).

I witnessed the debate in the House of Assembly in 1953 in which a political uproar of international magnitude was created. It pertained to the expected arrival of the Queen, on the first leg of her first tour of the Commonwealth following her Coronation. She was given a State Dinner, and the infamous guest list, from which all the black members of the House of Assembly, and members of the black community at large were excluded. This blatant racism and political ineptitude, reached the floor of the House of Commons in London, and resulted in 48 British Labour MPs signing a petition in protest against the Government of Bermuda.

My office at the Recorder seemed to be a magnet for overseas media people caught up in this controversy.

Yours truly is constrained at this point to get back to Reggie Burrows. His wife Sheila called to say how she had persuaded him to agree that an 80th birthday was too significant a milestone to let go by unnoticed. In all, some 60 of his friends and admirers visited to wish him many happy returns of the day. They included clergy who took time out from a pre-conference meeting at Vernon Temple AME Church, where Reggie and Sheila are regular worshippers. They were planning for the 128th Session of the Bermuda Annual Conference set for Fairmont Southampton Resort Hotel.

When yours truly arrived, Reggie was besieged by several of his old Progressive Labour Party friends, elder statesmen like himself, some cohorts. They were just ‘chewing the fat'. Among them were former Premier Alex Scott, the brainy statistician Calvin Smith; tactician Walter Roberts. There was John Barrit, son of the former Speaker. Stan Morton was there; and most noticeable, without his Mr Speaker's wig and gown but seemingly most bullish was Randy Horton.

Conspicuous by his absence was former Speaker, Stanley Lowe. He was undergoing surgery at Lahey Clinic in Boston.

The sensation of the afternoon was when Shadow Minister Zane DeSilva made his apparition. He entered the room in one breath, in his own inimitable way wishing Reggie many happy returns of the day and in the next breath declaring he couldn't stay long because “I'm running for the OBA in the next election. I'm out full force campaigning. Gotta go and meet the people!”

Speaker Horton joined in the laughter. It was one of those situations where if Zane had dared to step out of line during a House procedure, or make an interpolation, Speaker Horton may have smashed him with his gavel probably.

As I stated at the outset of this feature, Speaker Horton could be one of the best, were it not for his propensity to enforce Erskine May's rules and procedure, in a way that can only have a debate-stifling effect, and could probably give Erskine May a touch of diarrhoea. Certainly things could be most interesting, lively, with the pugnacious veterans on one side like Opposition Leader Marc Bean, Shadow Minister Burt, Deputy Opposition Leader Derrick Burgess, former Attorney General Kim Wilson, and Walton Brown, Rolfe Commissiong and Zane DeSilva et al, on one side of the political divide, and on the other side, Attorney General Mark Pettingill, Bob Richards and Minister Shawn Crockwell, naming just a few.

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Published March 08, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated March 07, 2014 at 3:43 pm)

Friends, admirers gather to mark Reggie’s milestone birthday

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