Focus | Sir Durward Knowles was quite a man
I met Sir Durward Knowles for the first time in 1997, when I became the minister of state responsible for youth, sports and culture. Algernon Allen, whom I was succeeding as minister, alerted me to the sincerity and generosity of this sailing icon and philanthropist. Admittedly, at 29 years old, having spent most of my life in Freeport, I did not know much about Sir Durward. However, at our first meeting, in my office on the third floor of the Pilot House office complex, two things became quite clear to me: first, Sir Durward was a genuinely friendly man, given to laughter; and second, he was a brutally honest man, given to getting things done. Many “One Bahamas” journeys throughout the country and sailing regattas later, Sir Durward and Lady Holly became fast friends to my wife and I. We had the pleasure, with other friends, of enjoying many lunches, dinners and birthday celebrations together. Each occasion was a cause for enjoyment, much laughter, political discourse and Sir Durward’s brutal, but honest observations of what was going on and possibly what was going wrong in his beloved country.
As I said before, I did not know much of Sir Durward when I first met him. I especially did not know that he was a wealthy man. However, when it was revealed to me that he was a man of means, I was genuinely impressed with how unassuming he was about his fortune. There are some Bahamians who, if they won with their ‘two piece of six and four, so they wouldn’t have to work anymore’, you and everyone in Abu Dhabi would know! Not Sir Durward though. For him it seemed wealth was like a watch, you only took it out when you needed to use it. He and his lovely wife, Holly, were gracious people, blessed with fortune, but more blessed with humanity. They taught this same quality to their children, who are also down-to-earth people, in touch completely with the happenings in community and country.
Sir Durward did not hoard what he had; he was generous, some might say to a fault. He gave of his substance and himself. He gave with a cheerful spirit and a willing heart. There are no tax write-offs for charity in The Bahamas, so sharing his wealth was not a part of some grand financial plan for Sir Durward. It seemed that he simply believed in sharing, in meeting a need where he saw one. Many owe him a debt of charity; they may never be known until that great day when all shall come to light, for Sir Durward did not give his alms in public with eloquent pronouncements, but in the quiet humility of the shadows. Being featured in the press, papers or news, was never Sir Durward’s purpose. Marco City and Fort Charlotte, both constituencies I represented in the House of Assembly, and the constituencies of countless other MPs, quietly benefitted from Sir Durward’s penchant for kindness.
Sir Durward left us many examples of great humanity, not least of which was his charity. Still, there was one example I hope we can all take to heart even more. Sir Durward’s political persuasion was never in doubt, but that notwithstanding, he earned the respect and regard of many from all corners of the political room. He could be brutally honest with a prime minister about his opposition to him politically, while at the same time endorsing that prime minister’s program because he, Sir Durward, believed it to be good for Bahamians. In Sir Durward we saw that political difference did not mean human difference, and that being divided by political colors did not mean separated by love and respect for each other.
Men come to the earth in varying shapes, forms and colors, but the best men come to produce, love and contribute. Some men, loaded with gifts and talents, flourish in the company of their peers, achieving heights of which most can only dream. Other men take what skill they have and hone it so carefully that high achievement, though wanting to deny them, must yield to their effort. Some men, though ascending to lofty heights might see all others as their lesser, remember from whence they came and who truly they are, and embrace the beauty of our common humanity. Some men, possessed of great abundance, hoard it to themselves, never concerned that the lack of others is an awful scourge. Other men see what they have as a borrowed treasure to be shared with the poor in times of need. Some men see difference as a thing to warrant separation; others see it as that which makes unity so grand. Sir Durward was among the best of such men. He was a Bahamian and, indeed, quite a man. May his soul rest in peace.
- Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.