There was a lovely party at The Balmoral Club last Friday, May 4. It was a celebration for Sir Arthur Foulkes, who turns 90 today.
The guests were a mix of current and former politicians from both political sides, business people, journalists, professionals, family and friends. All came to fellowship with a man who has spent his life doing the difficult work of nation-building.
Sir Arthur was a newspaperman. He worked here at The Nassau Guardian as a linotype operator and proofreader. He was a reporter and news editor at The Tribune. He was founding editor of The Bahamian Times, a weekly newspaper published on Saturdays from 1963 to 1967. The Bahamian Times was the voice of the majority rule movement.
Sir Arthur entered frontline politics. In the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), he was an MP and member of Cabinet. He was a founding member of the Free National Movement (FNM), served in the Senate and was again an MP. He was an ambassador. He served as governor general.
To know Sir Arthur is to know he is an intellectual. He left school at 15 and was mostly self-taught for the rest of his life. He expanded his mind through reading, and being curious and ever in search of knowledge.
That intellectual curiosity has not dimmed at 90. He is still watchful of the direction of the country.
As he spoke on Friday, Sir Arthur was not a man riding off into the sunset basking in the glow of his accomplishments. He spoke of a concern we share.
A cynicism has descended on The Bahamas when it comes to politics. Too many think politics a nefarious pursuit taken up only by corrupt men and women seeking to loot the treasury.
“Nation-building is a never-ending process in which all of us are engaged – or ought to be engaged – in one way or another,” Sir Arthur said.
“Those of us who have chosen the political arena are often distressed to hear some people say negative things about politics. I trust that young people contemplating a career in politics will not be put off by the perceived misbehavior of some in the political arena.
“Unfortunately, we humans have the capacity to abuse even divine institutions. But there is nothing intrinsically wrong with politics. To the contrary, apart from the sacred ministry, I can think of no more noble way to serve humanity than through the practice of democratic politics.
“It is indispensable to the advance and expansion of what I call the civilization movement.
“It is indispensable to the establishment of laws and good order that are the handmaidens to justice, which is sovereign.
“It is indispensable to the full flowering and security of all those freedoms and rights which we so ardently cherish.”
No social progress is inevitable. Men and women have to struggle and sacrifice to expand opportunity, rights and justice to those denied those things.
And when progress is achieved through struggle, more struggle is needed to maintain the opportunity, rights and justice that was hard-won.
Sir Arthur and his compatriots risked much to wrestle The Bahamas from the hands of a racist oligarchy. We owe them our gratitude. But one like Sir Arthur would not want a young person to tell him thanks. He’d want that boy or girl to get a good education; to read and be a critical thinker; to get involved in nation-building and offer himself or herself for public service; to try to inspire others to work to make The Bahamas a fairer, more tolerant place for all, be they gay or straight, Bahamian or Haitian, white, brown or black.
The Bahamas is a young country – 45 in a few months. It sits next to the richest country in the world; it has a vibrant main industry, tourism, with two of the largest hotels in the hemisphere; there is universal free public education and a national university; there are roads and potable water; nearly everyone has a smartphone, and Internet access is near ubiquitous.
While our problems are obvious, we should not forget all the opportunity that exists on these islands.
Sir Arthur wants an excited young generation to reject cynicism and take the country further. There is no challenge The Bahamas faces that can’t be overcome by the collective wisdom of the best and brightest of us.
Sir Arthur has given a lifetime to The Bahamas. We are grateful and wish him a happy 90th birthday.