By NAN Staff Writer
News Americas, ST. JOHN, Antigua, Fri. Aug. 27, 2021: A prominent former Caribbean prime minister was laid to rest on Thursday, following a state funeral and the declaration of a national holiday.
Antigua and Barbuda’s former Prime Minister Sir Lester Bryant Bird was remembered as a selfless man who gave his all to his country and his family as he was laid to rest following a funeral service at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium.
Several tributes were delivered at the funeral service, through messages, musical presentations and song, from political and other organizations, family members and other loved ones.
One of Sir Lester’s daughters, Donyelle Bird-Browne, delivering the eulogy, reflected on his personal life and his contribution to the country he led from 1994 to 2000, succeeding his father, Sir Vere Cornwall Bird.
“My father was a man who gave,” Bird-Browne said. “He was ingenious, and gave much to his work, to his country, to his friends and to his family. That is why, as we gather here to say goodbye to him, I would like not to speak in mourning of his death but to speak in celebration of his life.”
Prime Minister Gaston Browne told those gathered for Sir Lester’s funeral service that Sir Lester was a special son of the soil, whose contribution spanned the areas of sports, politics and law.
Sir Lester, who was a national hero, died on August 9, 2021, at the age of 83. He served as prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda from 1994 to 2004. Sir Lester was chairman of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) from 1971 to 1983, then became prime minister when his father, Sir Vere Bird, the previous prime minister, resigned.
He was born in New York City on February 21, 1938, but educated at Antigua Grammar School and was brought up as a Methodist. Sir Lester was a cricketer in his youth, playing for the Leeward Islands, and a long jump champion. He won a bronze medal in the long jump at the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago while representing the British West Indies.
He went on to attend the University of Michigan, where he was All-American long jumper in 1960 and graduated in 1962.
Sir Lester completed his study of law in Britain and was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in 1969. From 1969 to 1976, Bird engaged in private practice in Antigua.
His political career began in 1971, when he was nominated to the Senate. Sir Lester was named chairman of the ALP and the leader of the opposition in the Senate. He continued to serve as leader of the opposition until he was elected to the House of Representatives at the 1976 elections, when the ALP returned to power.
He joined his father’s government as deputy prime minister. In addition to serving as Deputy Prime Minister, Bird also served as Minister of Economic Development, Tourism, and Energy. Sir Lester’s tenure as Minister of Tourism and Minister of Economic Development was controversial, and he is alleged to have benefited from tourism partnerships with foreign investors, including in the construction of the Royal Antiguan Hotel.
Following independence in 1981, she gained the external affairs portfolio and was the first chairman of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States in 1982. He was chairman of OECS for a second time in 1989. The ALP government and Bird himself won re-election in 1994 and 1999.
Despite several scandals by his brother, Vere Bird, Jr., Lester Bird won the March 1994 elections with 11 out of 17 seats even as the opposition criticized the ALP over corruption issues.
In the 1999 elections, the ALP increased its parliamentary majority by one seat, holding 12 seats.
In the March 2004 election, the ALP was defeated by the United Progressive Party (UPP) led by Baldwin Spencer. Bird’s party lost eight seats, and he himself was defeated by Errol Cort, who became Minister of Finance in the new UPP government.
Bird remained the ALP’s political leader following the party’s 2004 defeat. He led the party in the March 2009 election; although the ALP lost the election, it gained 3 seats from the UPP and Bird defeated Cort by 96 votes in the St John’s Rural East constituency, where he had lost in 2004. He subsequently held the position of Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Bird was succeeded as ALP leader by Gaston Browne in 2012, who led the party to victory in June 2014 general election. Bird won a seat and again defeated Errol Cort. In 2014, he was made a Knight of the Order of the National Hero (KNH) by Antigua and Barbuda.
Sir Lester was laid to rest at St. John’s Public Cemetery alongside his mother, Lady Lydia Bryant Bird.