A man of ‘extraordinary passion’
David Saul faced formidable challenges, as finance minister and then as premier, during hard times not only for the Bermuda economy, but the United Bermuda Party under which he served.
His civil service background was put to the test in 1989, when, pressed into service as Minister of Finance, Dr Saul's maiden speech turned out to be delivering the Budget.
Not only was that baptism by fire his first of seven tough Budgets, but it was unprecedented in parliamentary history.
Dr Saul's subsequent economic stewardship may stand as his lasting political legacy.
Serving as UBP premier from 1995 to 1997 when the ruling party struggled with internal dissent, Dr Saul's neutrality on the vexed issue of Independence, and his inability to rein in worsening divisions, contributed to a Motion of Censure against him in June 1996. But according to those close to him, the motion was not the reason he bowed out nine months later: he had planned for his spell to be over once he considered the job to be done.
Enjoying friendships on both sides of the political aisle, Dr Saul was saluted yesterday by contemporaries.
Born in 1939, Dr Saul attended Mount St Agnes Academy and Saltus Grammar School before training as a teacher in England, where he flourished as a distance runner.
A former teacher and businessman, his early government career consisted of permanent secretary for education from 1972 to 1976, and Financial Secretary from 1976 to 1982. Dr Saul went on to serve as CEO for Edmund Gibbons Limited, then presided over Fidelity Investments.
However, after winning the UBP seat of Devonshire South in a primary, and entering the House of Assembly for the first time after the General Election of 1989, Dr Saul found himself thrust not once but twice into a hot seat: first in finance, then as premier.
After then-premier Sir John Swan tied his political fate to the unsuccessful Independence referendum of 1995, Dr Saul took the helm on August 25 of that year.
Governor John Rankin yesterday commended Dr Saul's “dedication and distinction” to numerous good causes, while Michael Dunkley, the Premier, said he “represented our country with passion, pride and vision, advancing key policies aimed at progressing Bermuda forward”.
Sir John hailed his old colleague as a man with “an eclectic life of vision, pursued with urgency. He had a passion beyond the norm”.
Dame Pamela Gordon, who succeeded Dr Saul as premier, recalled him as “honest, insightful — but most importantly, he put Bermuda first; he wanted the best for the country”.
“David kept it real,” she said.
Not everyone appreciated his schoolteacher's style, she remembered: “What some didn't seem to appreciate was his honesty about the size of Bermuda — that we were Bermuda, inc, like a small town, and needed to stop thinking we were the be-all and end-all of countries. It was a reality check for some.”
Dr Saul, she added, “adored his family — he always said, your family has to come first”.
“Then you can serve your country. Politics is a distant third. David lived that, and Bermuda is the richer for his services.”
They were “tumultuous times for the UBP and Bermuda”, Dame Pamela said — but Dr Saul was ultimately saddened by the vote of no confidence in his leadership.
Part of his downfall was a UBP albatross that he had inherited: the bid to open a McDonald's franchise by Grape Bay Ltd, which included Sir John, and which split the party.
When Dr Saul's administration approved the McDonald's move, the path was clear for Opposition MPs to link with UBP rebels to bring a motion of censure against him.
On June 29, 1996, it was passed in the House by 21 votes to 16 — a first for a premier.
“He had given so much, and his thanks was censure,” Dame Pamela said. “It never stopped him from caring.”
His former colleague John Barritt extolled Dr Saul's strength as a debater and his facility with words.
Serving as his running mate in the early days of Devonshire South, Mr Barritt said: “It was through canvassing that people got to see the other side of David — a warm and personable man who would also listen and do what he could to help them.”
Dr Saul loved the Rudyard Kipling poem If, he said, and “taught us all how to tackle life and its problems: by the scruff of the neck, and never let go until you have to”.
It was an era when political rivals maintained friendships, and former PLP premier Alex Scott recalled enjoying lunches with Dr Saul, with whom he had “much in common to share”.
“A unique, exceptional man, very inquisitive, and brilliant in many regards,” Mr Scott said, remembering Dr Saul running avidly back in the 1950s as a Saltus student.
“Certainly Bermuda is going to be poorer for his passing.”
Dame Jennifer Smith, another former PLP premier, said that nothing bad could be said of Dr Saul — “except that I believe he was on the wrong side”, she added.
“He was simply a nice person who came to the fore when it was asked of him, and he left gracefully,” she said. “I always got along well with him, and thought of him as a friend.”
Dame Jennifer said that with politics, “he stepped into something that was not really at his essence”.
“He did it because he was a good person who wanted to help. It was his duty to come to the fore, and he did a good job of it.”