When two Guyanese were Heads of Government at the same time
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Guyanese-born Sir Edward Richards wearing wig and gown, in his younger years as a practising lawyer in Bermuda.
Guyanese-born Sir Edward Richards wearing wig and gown, in his younger years as a practising lawyer in Bermuda.

by Francis Quamina Farrier

DID you startle at the headline of this feature article? Well, just read on. Every so often we hear or read exciting news of Guyanese making a name for themselves in foreign lands. We in Guyana are always happy over such news, because we know that those Guyanese who are abroad and earn success, are unofficial ambassadors, who take the name of Guyana a peg or two up the ladder of international respect and goodwill.

One such Guyanese was Sir Edward Trenton Richards, Kt. CBE, the late Government Leader of Bermuda. It is of special significance that Sir Edward Richards was, and still is, the only Guyanese who was elected as Head of a non-Guyanese government. He held that high office in Bermuda – 1973 to 1975 – at the very time that Forbes Burnham was the President of Guyana, ergo, two Guyanese served as Heads of Government at the very same time — just in two different countries.

Born at Adelphi, East Canje, Berbice, on October 4, 1908, Edward Richards was raised by his father and grandmother, after his mother died when he was very young. His early education was at Leeds Anglican School on the Corentyne Coast, The Mission Chapel and the Wesleyan in New Amsterdam, and finally at the Collegiate in Georgetown.

At age 21, he migrated to the Atlantic island of Bermuda, in 1930, where he took up an appointment as Assistant Master of Mathematics at the Berkley Institute; a position he held until 1943. He then left for London, England, where he studied Law at the Middle Temple in London. In November 1946, he was called to the Bar in London and later returned to practise his chosen profession in his adopted country of Bermuda.

A brilliant Barrister and Attorney, Sir Edward acted as a magistrate in 1958. All along, however, he had a desire and flair for politics which he had entered in 1948, serving as representative for the Parish of Warwick. By dint of hard work and many political successes, he was made a member of the Executive Council (Cabinet) of the Bermuda government in 1963.

But there were still greater heights for that son of Adelphi, Berbice, to climb in his adopted country. In 1968, he was made Member (Minister) for Immigration and Labour and Deputy Government Leader. His political pinnacle was then just one rung further.

Finally, in December of 1973, with the retirement of the Government Leader, Sir Henry Tucker, Sir Edward Richards became the first Black man to head the Bermuda Government. A freedom fighter in his own way, Sir Edward worked very hard to bring greater respect and human dignity to the non-white citizens of the then segregated British colony.

He had over the years, worked tirelessly along with others, to put an end to segregation in Bermuda, after which there were no longer segregated bars, cinemas, theatres, and other public places in that tourist island. He served on a number of boards and committees, including the Bermuda Race Relations Committee. He was also Chairman on the Racial Discrimination in Hotels and Restaurants Joint Committee, and the Race Relations Council. There are now no longer “WHITES ONLY” signs in Bermuda. The legacy of Sir Edward Richards is one in which Non-Whites – both locals and visitors – treat with dignity and courtesy; myself being a beneficiary.

I met Sir Edward Richards during one of my two visits to Bermuda. I also met him when he represented Bermuda at Guyana’s Independence in 1966, and again when he was here as the official representative of Bermuda at Guyana’s elevation to a Republic in 1970. It was on the latter occasion that he bought copies of my two published plays — The Plight of the Wright and The Slave and the Scroll — and did me the honour of requesting my autograph.

Sir Edward Richards, from the humble community of Adelphi on the Canje River, Berbice, has the distinction of not only being the first and only Guyanese to head a non-Guyanese government, but to be the first non-white to head the Government of the previously racially segregated Bermuda. In an interview with him many years ago, he told me that “Bermuda is promising,” which is in fact a reality; for although the tiny island has no river or creek and has to depend on rainwater for domestic use, it remains one of the most successful and progressive little countries on the planet.

For Guyana — the Land of many Waters — it gives us a feeling of great pride to know that one of our own succeeded in winning the heart of another nation, to the extent that he became their Government Leader.

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