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Former Premiers are ‘hospitality heroes’

Former Premiers Alex Scott and Sir John Swan, friends from across the political divide, have both been ranked “heroes of hospitality” by Glenn Fubler, of the community group Imagine Bermuda.

Both are businessmen nudged into politics by the heads of their respective parties — and while neither made their mark in the hospitality industry per se, they embody a welcoming local spirit.

“As Premier I represented everybody, not just the supporters of the Progressive Labour Party,” said Mr Scott.

“Another reason that Glenn looked in my direction was my role on the Pitt Commission,” he added, of the landmark body called to explore the ingrained social and racial tensions that fuelled the Island's 1977 riots.

“The terms of reference for the Pitt Commission were to review stewardship, not only of the government of the day but how Bermuda managed its social challenges.

“It was required of us to take evidence, go off to the UK and return with a report that would hopefully put Bermuda on a path that would address the interests of the community in general, rather than anyone in particular.

“Only history can determine whether the commission succeeded or missed its mark, but it assisted to point out policy challenges and make recommendations for the way forward.”

Mr Scott likened his personal political journey to that of Sir John: both men returned to the Island from education overseas to make their own businesses.

Sir John called upon his services as a PR man and designer for an early commercial development — and Mr Scott's skills helped to steer the PLP's image.

“Sir John had just come in as leader of the United Bermuda Party so the PLP were really up against it,” Mr Scott recalled.

Having attended the Berkeley Institute with the late PLP leader Freddie Wade, Mr Scott had a friendly relationship with the then Opposition.

“We initiated a move to take them towards the centre, which was not popular — it was a tough sell,” he remembered. “Sir John won the election, but the PLP got the biggest share up until that point.”

Both Mr Wade and PLP leader Dame Lois Browne-Evans gradually steered a reluctant politician into becoming chairman of the party, then a senator and running for Parliament — and finally, Premier.

At a tense delegates' conference in 2003, Mr Scott recalled his winning pitch was one of unity.

“I got up there and I didn't see supporters for different camps — I saw one party, my party, the PLP,” he said. “I set out to make the PLP one united body and the same is true for Bermuda — my theme was that Bermuda works best when we work together. The rest was history.”

Sir John joked with his friend that Mr Scott's all-embracing attitude did no favours for his political career. Both men, along with a throng of others, attended a Bermuda Tourism Authority reception on Saturday, held as part of hospitality month.

Sir John said that he and Mr Scott were singled out at the event by Imagine Bermuda alongside Gerald and Izola Harvey, who campaigned against segregation in the Theatre Boycotts of 1959. “Alex is very much like myself — we are people-oriented; we get around to all aspects of Bermuda life without fear or favour and always tried to give up our service to the people, pre-premier and post-premier,” he said.

“Hospitality includes tourism but also means being open to the community at large. We both felt there was a social conscience and social responsibility to leadership, a need to relate to the community and embrace all aspects — whether racial, economic, social, local or international.

“We carried no mandate that took sides or bias and so we tried to leave the country better off than when we entered.”

It was the UBP's Sir Henry Tucker who encouraged Sir John to take up politics. “I didn't want to get involved in politics,” he said.

“The only political thing I did was join the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage.” That campaign fought the property restrictions on voting, which excluded many black Bermudians.

Sir Henry “saw what was necessary to make things work”, Sir John said — and the desegregation of Bermuda was one of them. It was a wearying cause: Sir John remembers his mentor effectively say to him, “It's your turn now” in the aftermath of a disheartening push for the integration of a prominent private school.

“How could you turn somebody down that helped you and guided you?” he said of his decision to lead.

Sir John added that the Pitt Commission laid out clear pathways for him to follow as Premier in improving housing and schooling, especially for black Bermudians cut off from basic opportunities.

“The role I set out to play was to enhance the quality of life for people that were really deprived, to help them to be a part of Bermuda. Some were achieved, some not.

“In the same way, when Alex came to office, obviously with his stamp of commitment to the Pitt Commission and his own background of tolerance, he was left with no choice but to carry on the mandate of his ancestors — trying to strike that balance between the needs of the people and the capacity of the country to meet those needs.”

Sir John Swan and Alex Scott

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Published April 30, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated April 30, 2015 at 9:15 am)

Former Premiers are ‘hospitality heroes’

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