By NAN Staff Writer
News Americas, St. JOHN’s, Antigua, Tues. Aug. 10, 2021: The U.S. has joined many around the world in paying tribute to Sir Lester Bryant Bird, the former prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, who passed away early Monday morning. He was 83.
In offering condolences on behalf of the U.S. Embassy to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean, and the OECS, U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the OECS, Linda Taglialatela, said Bird, as the first chairman of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, “understood the importance of regional integration, and with roots in New York City, the friendship the United States shares with the people of Antigua and Barbuda.”
Antigua And Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne, described Sir Lester, the second prime minister of the country, as a “great son of the soil” as he led the country in mourning the death of the island’s second prime minister.
All flags will be flown at half-mast, as planning for a state funeral is underway.
Sir Lester served as prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda from 1994 to 2004. He 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.