Sir Richard “Richie” Haynes – the Passing of a Gentleman

Tribute to Sir Richard Christopher Haynes by Hal Austin.  Sir Richard died yesterday [23/06/2013] at the age of 77 years old. He was a retired Physician Specialist, former Minister of Finance and Leader of the Opposition.

The Late Sir Richard Christopher Haynes - photo credit: Nation

The Late Sir Richard Christopher Haynes – photo credit: Nation

The untimely, but not surprising death of Sir Richard “Richie” Haynes, at the relatively early age of 77, has robbed Barbados of one of his few world-class statesmen, a decent and honourable gentleman. Sir Richard will go down in recent Barbadian political history as the nearly man: the best prime minister we have never had, and the nearly governor-general.
He missed out on being leader of the DLP because he felt politically that Erskine Sandiford was not the political leader he would like to serve under, and by any political measure, he was right. We now know, from the disastrous Sandiford leadership, that Sir Richard could hardly do any worse. Sandiford was a disaster for the party and the nation. However, it was Sir Richard’s impatience and strength of feeling that denied him the leader of the party.

Had he retired to the backbench and continued to serve his party and nation, when Sandiford’s ship sailed in, disillusioned party members would have turned to Sir Richard to lead the party and, in time, Barbadian voters would have been more forgiving. Forming a third party of mainly middle class professional people sent the wrong message to the electorate. Then, predictably, internecine warfare broke out within the National Democratic Party (NDP) which, time, became a test of loyalty – to Sir Richard, or to the various rebel factions. In time, although he did not formally dissolve the party, Sir Richard retreated from elective politics, preferring to concentrate on medicine and his family business. He soon semi-retired from medicine and spent more time on the family business, before finally calling it a day with medicine.

He missed out from being appointed governor-general, it is popularly assumed, by a government that was trapped in old-fashioned party politics. But he was by far and away the best candidate of his generation to rise to the height of head of state. Sir Richard was not bitter, or if so not in the many conversations we have had. He remained impressively dignified in his behaviour and conversation, as one would have expected.

I was introduced to Sir Richard by the late Ashton Gibson, a fellow Harrisonian, on a day I was due to fly out of Barbados. Sir Richard generously re-arranged his schedule and agreed to meet for lunch at his bungalow in Belleville, which at the time was used as the headquarters of the now defunct NDP, of which he was the chief cook and bottle washer. The conversation criss-crossed a number of topics, including the idea behind the formation of the NDP.

Two events come to mind as I think of my association with Richie. The first was taking him to a now demolished pub in Peckham, South London, which was a popularly haunt for Barbadians at weekends. His natural shyness at a group of loud, boisterous Barbadians, playing dominoes and swearing, left him speechless. Richie’s response was to offer to buy rounds of drinks and replying to everyone who said hello to him: hi, man. I do not remember a single conversation getting beyond those words.

On another occasion I persuaded him to give as small talk to a group of Barbadians in a pub in Acton, West London. He was reserved and cautious, seeking more to find out the views of the small group of people, than he was to express his own. Sir Richard “Richie” Haynes was a man of enormous professional and political integrity, sincerity and dignity uncommon among Barbadian politicians and public figures. He had an honesty and basic decency that endeared him to those he met and, even when under attack, he never allowed that fundamental grace to slip. If he had one irritating fault, it was that he always felt that he was the one to foot the drinks bill; this was either out of generosity of spirit, or an aristocratic belief that those he perceived as his social inferiors should not buy him drinks. I think it was his generosity. Nothing else about the man suggested social snobbery; he was too socially intelligent to carry the weight of such out-dated social nonsense on his broad shoulders.

One of the social highlights of a visit to Barbados enjoyed by my wife and I was visiting Sir Richard and Lady Haynes and having a soberly chat over a glass of gin and tonic in the quiet of the early evening at their secluded home. His family should be proud that he has left behind a mark of great public service, of paying back, to use a vulgar phrase, what the people of Barbados have so generously paid for his education.
His was life well lived, of service rendered, of dignity and humility. Sir Richard was what all Barbadian public servants should aspire to be.

52 responses to “Sir Richard “Richie” Haynes – the Passing of a Gentleman

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