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Former Premier Sir David Gibbons dies, aged 85

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A former Premier hailed as one of the architects of modern Bermuda died yesterday.

Sir David Gibbons — a successful businessman who also served as Finance Minister and who led the country between 1977 and 1982 as United Bermuda Party Premier — died in the KEMH after a short illness. He was 85.

Last night, Premier Craig Cannonier said: “On behalf of the Government of Bermuda and all Bermudians, I offer our sincere condolences and prayers to the family of former Premier, Sir David Gibbons who died this afternoon.

“Sir David was a man of great accomplishment - a political leader during a time of turbulence and change, a renowned businessman who succeeded both here at home and abroad and a philanthropist whose generosity benefited many. His life's work made Bermuda stronger and more prosperous. May he rest in peace.”

Sir John Swan, who served under Sir David as Minister of Home Affairs and who succeeded him as Premier, said: “We are going to miss one of our icons — I served under him when he was Premier and he laid the foundations of things I was able to do and complete after he had left.

“I just find it hard to believe — he helped Bermuda get to a point of defining itself as an Island of economic opportunity during a very difficult time.”

Sir John added: “He was very much instrumental in my becoming Premier and we had a very good relationship and he was encouraging to me as business person as well.

“I'm going to miss a good friend — we both had a similar path of business and politics.”

And he said: “I served under him in Home Affairs and he did a lot to help me. He was Minister of Finance for a short period after I became Premier.”

Sir John added that Sir David, who also served as chairman of the Bank of Butterfield, had built up the family firm inherited from father Edmund into a major force, in Bermuda and overseas.

Edmund Gibbons Ltd is made up of several arms, including the Gibbons Company, Colonial Insurance, Bermuda Motors and drinks firm Burrows Lightbourn and retains a stake in Capital G Bank after the majority of the bank was bought by Clarien Group.

Sir David, along with Sir John, the late Sir Henry Tucker and reinsurance veteran Brian Duperreault, was inducted into the Bermuda Employers' Council Bermuda Business Hall of Fame in 2011.

Sir John said: “Sir David was the architect of building that up and getting Capital G Bank going. He did a lot in his lifetime.

“He was a Harvard graduate in economics and an avid reader about what was going on.”

Sir John added: “I want to express my sympathy to his family — I'm very close to members of his family and I know what they must feel like. It's a very sad day.”

Sir David's Premiership was bracketed by two major events — the December 1977 riots following the execution of Erskine (Buck) Burrows and Larry Tacklyn for the assassination of Governor Sir Richard Sharples and other murders in 1972 and 1973 and a general strike in 1981 which brought the Island to a standstill.

Sir John said: “He had a lot on his plate in his tenure, but came out of it, moved ahead and continued to grow.

“At the same time, he had a great love for his wife Lully and family — she helped him throughout his tenure as Premier and their family was held together by both of them.”

Veteran Progressive Labour Party politician and former Cabinet Minister Walter Lister, who was first elected in 1976 and served continuously until he retired in 2012, said: “I'm sorry to hear of his passing. He made a valuable contribution to Bermuda over the years and he served as a Member of Parliament and as Premier.

“One of the things I remember, he set aside money for a future investment in Bermuda for 20-plus years.

“I always thought that was a great idea to set aside money for future investments for the Government and people of Bermuda.

“He came up with a lot of good ideas — when it came to finance, he had his finger on the pulse and because of that, during his tenure, he had the opportunity to make a valuable economic contribution to Bermuda.”

Mr Lister added that, as chairman of the West End Development Corporation (Wedco), a post he held until his retirement before the last general election, he often met Sir David walking around Dockyard.

And he said: “My thoughts go to his wife Lully and his family, who I know quite well.”

Veteran UBP politician CV (Jim) Woolridge, who was elected to Parliament in 1968, said he had stood against Sir David for the post of leader.

Mr Woolridge said: “I was the Deputy Premier when he became Premier and he appointed me to probably the most interesting position in Government — the Ministry of Tourism, where I served for 14 years.

“He was a very conscientious gentleman and worked very hard.

“He was up at 6am every morning and ran his own business as well as putting in more than enough time in the Cabinet Office.”

And he added: “I extend condolences to his wife and I trust the good Lord will give her strength to overcome the challenges that will come in the near future.”

Governor George Fergusson said: “I am very sad to learn of the death of Sir David Gibbons. He made an astonishing contribution across a broad sweep of Bermuda's political and business life and in both helped set the foundations for much of Bermuda's prosperity.

“I send my condolences to Lady Gibbons and his wider family.”

Thad Hollis, chairman of the OBA, which was born out of a merger between the UBP and the Bermuda Democratic Alliance, said: “All Bermudians will mourn the loss of Sir David Gibbons, one of Bermuda's great men in politics and finance.

“But his greatest contribution to Bermuda was probably as Finance Minister earlier during his career.

“He introduced the concept of a balanced budget in Bermuda, substantially reducing the debt we had incurred as a result of undertaking needed capital projects.

“He created the sound financial base from which Bermuda was able to enjoy a period of extraordinary financial success during the 1980s.

“The One Bermuda Alliance offers its sympathy and prayers to his family in their bereavement.”

Sir David Gibbons, Premier of Bermuda from 1977 to 1982, is shown at his induction into the Bermuda Employers Council Bermuda Buisness Hall of Fame held at Farirmont Hamilton Princess in 2010.
Then-Premier David Gibbons shares a laugh with master craftsman George Trott (left) as he tries out a Bermuda Cedar chair that was to be sent as a gift of the Bermudian people to Buckingham Palace for the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in July of 1981. Mr Trott designed and made the chairs with his assistant, Jeremy Johnson (right).
Photo by Gene Ray, Bermuda News bureau Premier of Bermuda David Gibbons stands with US Consul General John P Owens during a courtesy call at the Premier's office in the Cabinet Building.
Former Premier Sir David Gibbons is shown during a marine cleanup.

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Published March 31, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 31, 2014 at 9:53 am)

Former Premier Sir David Gibbons dies, aged 85

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