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Former Speaker John Barritt dies

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Figures from across the political divide have paid tribute to Frederick John Barritt, remembering a “Bermuda icon” who was a “wise and fair man”.

The former Speaker of the House, whose 21 years in politics spanned a tumultuous time in the Island's history, died yesterday at the age of 98. His passing marks “the end of an era” in Bermudian politics, his son John Barritt, the former One Bermuda Alliance leader, told The Royal Gazette.

“Dad was the last surviving member of the first executive council in 1968 ­— the organisation that later became Cabinet,” he said.

Premier Craig Cannonier and Progressive Labour Party grandee, Stanley Lowe, himself a former Speaker of the House, remembered a fair man who the Premier called “a community servant in every sense”.

“He was by all accounts an excellent MP, always approachable and ever-caring; a man who looked after his constituents' needs and the affairs of the country,” Mr Cannonier said.

“In his time in the Speaker's chair, Mr Barritt was regarded as a fair and wise man, whose calm and civil demeanour helped keep the lid on an often fractious House of Assembly.”

Friend and long-standing UBP colleague Quinton Edness saluted Mr Barritt Sr as “a Bermuda icon”.

“We've lost a very, very good man,” Mr Edness said. “I knew him well and he is going to be missed. He was a people person — very kind, very generous toward his fellow man. He worked all his life, in business and in politics, to try and improve this country.”

Mr Edness recalled him as “a real constituency man” who attended closely to the concerns of the people he represented.

“He was a very good Speaker of the House as well, skilled at administrating and controlling the House to make sure that we got on with the people's business,” he said. “You could come to him with any sort of parliamentary problem.”

Former Progressive Labour Party MP Reginald Burrows, a contemporary from the start of Mr Barritt Sr's career, recalled him as “a fine gentleman and a good friend”.

“It should go down in history that the class of 1968 was the biggest and greatest ever elected to Parliament,” he said. “There were more new members in 1968 than there were original members.”

He said he'd first noticed Mr Barritt Sr for his cricketing prowess.

Mr Lowe remembered his predecessor as a “firm, very fair Speaker”, adding: “He didn't take any messing around, but he was very personable indeed.”

Mr Barritt Sr, who represented Devonshire South as a United Bermuda Party MP from 1968 to 1989, was a self-taught man who left school at the age of 16. He was pressed into politics by UBP leader Sir Henry Tucker.

“Sir Henry persuaded him,” Mr Barritt said. “He called him in and said, ‘The country needs people like you'.”

With no vacancies at Barritt's, the traditional family business, the older Mr Barritt had taken a job at Powell and Company wholesalers, and took night classes in office skills and shorthand.

Once coaxed into the political arena, his first post was as the Member for Transport — as the title of Minister, which he took under the portfolio of Marine and Air Services, was not yet in use.

Mr Barritt Sr didn't always toe the party line if he disagreed: he got in “a spot of trouble for differing with the Party Whip on a point of principle”, his son said.

And, during his term on the board of directors for Bermuda General Theatres he argued against the segregation of the Island's cinemas.

“He was a strong advocate for desegregation, and frustrated behind the scenes,” Mr Barritt said.

A long-serving director of Bermuda Press Holdings, Mr Barritt Sr was also “a firm believer in the importance of a free and strong press”, he said.

Devoutly religious and a lay reader in the Anglican Church, Mr Barritt Sr “lived what he preached”. He was also a prominent trustee for the Willowbank Foundation.

OBA chairman Thad Hollis hailed Mr Barritt Sr as one of the party's “best known and most respected members”, calling him “an intelligent, gracious and even-tempered man, whose calm, but firm grasp of the debate in the House of Assembly won him respect and admiration from MPs on both sides of the House.

Mr Barritt Sr married Hilary Pantry in 1944, and the couple had four children: Jennifer, John, Mark and Martha-Jane.

His wife died in 2006, and in the final years of his life Mr Barritt Sr suffered from Alzheimer's Disease, his son said.

“Politically, he was very much my mentor, always in a quiet, unassuming way,” Mr Barritt said. “But, he loved to tell everybody that he topped the polls every time, from 1968 through to the last election.”

He added: “One of his favourite sayings was that there's only one place where success comes before work — and that's in the dictionary.”

F John Barritt is shown relaxing at home more than a decade ago. Mr Barritt, once told Hamilton Rotarians the Speaker of the House of Assembly (a post in which he served ten years) may not affiliate himself with any political party and may not make any political speeches, adding: “The Speaker becomes a non-party man and consequently attends no political meetings at any level. ... I must also have an ability to sense the mood of the House, to diffuse the heat of the moment and I think that it is incumbent indirectly to keep the House in good humour.”
Former Speaker of The House of Assembly John Barritt Sr is shown with Project Action co-founders the late Judith Stewart (left) and Cindy Swan. Mrs Swan described Mr Barritt as an active member of the board during the 1990s, often called “Project Action's First Honorary Director”, who was valued for his experience and connections in business, politics and other charities. “We were very sad when Mr Barritt's family told us he would no longer be able to serve as a honorary director,” Mrs Swan explained. “Bermuda has loss a true humble, gentle big-hearted leader.”
F John Barritt's parliamentary career spanned three decades under the United Bermuda Party. He served as Minister of Transport and Minister of Marine and Air Services. Mr Barritt was also Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly for three years before becoming the 51st Speaker in 1979, serving as “guardian of the House” for a decade before retiring from politics.
<p>A life of service</p>

Frederick John Barritt’s parliamentary career spanned three decades under the United Bermuda Party.

John Barritt Sr served as Minister of Transport from 1968 to 1973 and Minister of Marine and Air Services.

Mr Barritt was also Deputy Speaker of the House for three years before becoming Speaker.

Born on Valentine’s Day in 1916, Mr Barritt attended Saltus Grammar School and went on to become a prominent businessman — working at Powell and Company Limited grocers from 1933 to 1970, and becoming managing director when the firm was acquired by Purvis Limited. He was also a director of Bermuda Press Holdings, director of Bermuda General Theatres, and a trustee of the Willowbank Foundation.

A keen sportsman, Mr Barritt was also closely involved in the Anglican Church.

He was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 1983. Mr Barritt represented the Island several times at Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences: Australia in 1970, and Nova Scotia in 1974.

He also attended three Presiding Officers’ Conferences in 1975, 1977 and 1979.

His charitable interests included the Fair Havens drug rehabilitation centre — and he was also the first honorary director of the Project Action transport programme for seniors.

Project Action Chairwoman Cindy Swan recalled him as “a humble man” who expressed surprise at being courted by the charity.

“We enjoyed his stories of how he came from humble beginnings and how he met his wife overseas,” Ms Swan said. “We were very sad when Mr Barritt Sr’s family told us he would no longer be able to serve as a honorary director. Bermuda has lost a true humble, gentle big-hearted leader.”

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Published May 14, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated May 14, 2014 at 10:36 am)

Former Speaker John Barritt dies

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