ST. VINCENT: Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has extended condolences to Barbadians on the death of Prime Minister David Thompson even as he said the region needs to pay more attention to the health of its leaders.
Thompson, 48, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Saturday, Oct. 23, became the third Barbados head of government to die in office following Tom Adams in 1985 and his successor Errol Barrow two years later.
“The people of this region don’t pay sufficient attention to the pressures on political leaders and the matter of their health is something which we all have to reflect on and to see what provisions can be made,” Gonsalves told Parliament on Monday, Oct. 25.
“David Thompson was my friend. I know David since he was a schoolboy ‘cause I went to work in Barbados in 1976 and I have seen him grow,” Gonsalves told legislators during a session in which opposition leader Arnhim Eustace also paid tribute to the fallen leader.
“He has a sharp intellect, a splendid wit, a man who loves to give you political anecdotes, a raconteur of the highest quality. Full of stories, some of them not experienced by him, but told to him by giants like Errol Walter barrow and Cameron Tudor,” Gonsalves further said.
“I would really miss him,” Gonsalves further said, adding that Thompson’s death must be a very “a very painful thing” for his wife Mara and their three daughters. (Go to the homepage to subscribe to I Witness-News)
“Now his children – it’s a very painful thing. … [A]s a wife, you lose your husband at 48 with young children; it’s a terrible thing,” he said.
Gonsalves said Thompson, who became prime minister two years ago, was “… a young man who spent all his life going for the prize of prime minister — worked all his way for it”.
“[He] got it got [for] a couple of years and then this debilitating illness took it away from him,” Gonsalves said.
He said some persons might question the reason for making health care provisions for Members of Parliament.
“We don’t have this here inside of the House [of Assembly], except if a special provision is made for by the government. Because there is no health scheme of a contributory kind between the government, which is our employer – the people — and the parliamentarians themselves.
“Imagine you are sick and you have to pay for all your medical attention. It’s a terrible thing unless the government makes a special provision for you,” Gonsalves said. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)
He said that with Thompson’s death, “a void has been left in Barbados and the region”.
“It’s not easy to fill. I worked with David very closely on LIAT and on CSME [Caribbean Single Market and Economy] issues. We were working together on CLICO and British American issues. I know his successor, whom I congratulate in this process — who is an experienced politician. But you can’t go to the supermarket and buy a leader as you buy a box of Weetabix, and we have to feel for the people of Barbados at this time.”
Freundel Jerome Stuart, an attorney at law, has since been sworn in as Prime Minister of Barbados.
“They are strong people and they will see through it with fortitude. On behalf of the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on my own behalf and that of my family, I express deepest condolences to the government and people of Barbados, to his widow and children, to his parent and the extended family. May his soul rest in peace,” Gonsalves said.
Meanwhile, Eustace told legislators of his early encounters with the man who would rise to become prime minister of Barbados.
“I recall very vividly when I went to Barbados to live in the late ‘70s, David Thompson, then a teenager, and a young teenager at that, was on television virtually every Sunday then — because he use to have debates between the schools on television,” Eustace said.
“And, even at that age, he was outstanding. I mean he was a household name for Barbados in the late ‘70s …. It was clear to me that he would end up in politics, and he pursued his career with that in mind. And eventually, at a relatively young age, he became Prime Minister of Barbados.
“He has passed on now, at the age at 48 and I simply want to wish, formally, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, to express our condolences to his family and to the government and people in Barbados, and to the Democratic Labour Party,” said Eustace, a former prime minister.
Thompson in 2008 became the sixth prime minister of Barbados after he led his Democratic Labour Party (DLP) to a convincing victory in the general election in January of that year.
But on May 14 this year, Barbadians got a first hint that his health was deteriorating when, in the presence of his personal physician, Dr Richard Ishmael, Thompson said he had been suffering with stomach pains since early March.
On September 16, Dr. Ishmael told a stunned nation that tests done in the United States had confirmed that the Prime Minister was suffering from carcinoma of the pancreas, manifested in the form of a tumor of his pancreatic gland.
“The usual treatment for this condition…entails the removal of the tumour and part of the pancreas, along with the intestine with re-implantation of the pancreatic duct into the small intestine,” Dr. Ishmael explained.
“However, because of the position of the tumour…surgery was not feasible and after consultations with three world renowned pancreatic surgeons it was decided that the best course of action was for him to undergo intense chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumour first to deliver its safe removal.”
But Dr. Ishmael said that the intense chemotherapy had caused Thompson to lose considerable weight; left him feeling tired at times and in need of rest more than usual to regain his strength, but he was still able to carry out his job.
A confident Thompson had also disagreed with suggestions that he should step down as head of the government.
“The people of Barbados elected me and I am not here to deal with that particular issue…but when I see Barbadians their first concern is for me to restore my health and that is what I have been focusing on.
“In the circumstances I believe that should I need to take any course of action that would be in the course of the country that I love I will take that course of action. At the same time one does not want to unsettle the social, political or economic environment and therefore don’t get excited about those things as yet,” he added.
“I will in my circumstances do my best, but all this at the end of the day depends on the grace of God,” the Prime Minister said.
The announcement of his death comes less than a month after a September 30 radio broadcast in which he said that his “greatest wish” for Barbados at this time is for all citizens to use “adversity to refocus our energies on what’s best for Barbados and that we wrap our actions and our utterances in the national flag and the furtherance of this great nation we call home.”