When Chief Minister Frank Baron left us on Friday April 9, 2016, a towering gommier tree fell in our national forest and was no more among the living. His passing at 93 evinced a long life of service, well lived. However, we would miss the point entirely where his transition to the celestial plane, did not compel us to more fully appreciate the need to consolidate a deeper sense of national heritage.
Too often we wait for the passing of one of our greats to give them their flowers. Thankfully, Mr. Baron was recognized for his accomplishments while still alive. Indeed, in 2005 Frank Baron was granted the Dominica Award of Honor by the Government of Dominica for his many works in and out of political office. Most importantly, Dr. Irving W. Andre of Pont Casse Press (www.pontcassepress.com) saw it fit in 2003 to memorialize the life and times
of Mr. Baron with an excellent biography titled – His Excellency Franklin Andrew Baron, A Biography of Dominica’s First Chief Minister. We thank Andre, a busy Judge of the Superior of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, for finding the time to record the lives of our national heroes, to which group Baron undoubtedly belonged.
In the first biography done of Baron (there was a second Limited Edition in 2007) Andre recounted that, “Baron has captivated Dominicans since the 1940s. He rose from being a wealthy and ambitious 22-year-old member of the Roseau Town Council in 1945, to winning a seat on the legislative council in 1954. Following a relentless pursuit of power, he became Chief Minister in 1960.”
Baron lost the 1961 election to Edward Olive LeBlanc, the father of statehood. However, that loss did not douse the civic passion which resided in Baron’s breast. If anything, he was impelled toward involvement in the Rotary Club, growing his own business, becoming a founding member of the Dominica Banana Growers Association and a stalwart advocate of press freedom via ownership of The Chronicle newspaper. His leading role in the Dominica Freedom Party, and as Dominica’s Ambassador to the United States, is relatively well known. Little recognized is that he was at the founding meetings of the British West Indian Federation. A photograph of a May 1957 meeting of West Indian leaders shows him seated next to Sir Grantley Adams, Premier of Barbados; down the front row is Jamaica’s then Chief Minister Norman Washington Manley, and at the end of that illustrious front row of leaders is the legendary Dr. Eric Williams, then Chief Minister of Trinidad. It is symbolic of Baron’s tenacious hold on life, that he was the last leader left alive from those heads of government who forged the short-lived British West Indian Federation (1957-1962).
I got to interact with Baron, as he was more commonly known, when he served as Dominica’s non-resident ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States. As President of the Dominica Association of Washington, I can testify to his promptness in getting our association the use of the auspicious Organization of American States Hall of Nations for several events commemorating our national independence. His business-like approach and responsiveness are sorely missed in these times where hyper-partisanship frustrates too many efforts in nation building. I found him humble at his task, though he was known to be a man of frank toughness – some would say arrogance.
In Washington, DC, we are surrounded by monuments to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln; and the Kennedy Center – named in honor of the slain President John F. Kennedy – overlooks a portion of the Potomac River that wends its way through the city. The American people are not confused as to their national heritage and the lives of their great men and women. The British and other leading nations are the same way, as with the Cubans who are always quick to remind visitors of their national hero Jose Marti. A dignified nation-state is crafted by those whose noble lives are rendered in the monuments, books, libraries and symposia which consolidate a sense of worthy memory.
Compliments are due to our government where they took the step to honor deceased Prime Ministers Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas and Pierre Charles. The Negre Mawon monument near the cenotaph in Rosesu was a good start, as was the bust of self government advocate Cecil Rawle which was erected in 1967 at thr the roundabout in Goodwill. The Fort Shirley tribute paid to the freedom fighters of the 8th British West India Regiment who revolted against slave conditions there in 1802 was a masterstroke by Dr. Lennox Honychurch who oversaw the restoration works. But how much attention is given to that effort where biographies of our national heroes are not part of a civics curriculum in our schools? Naming a highway for a sitting President is a good thing, but we must teach the young and old about what value systems these leaders stood for if we are to have any values at all. It must be noted that not one of the several biographies of great Dominicans by Judge Andre can be found as part of a school curriculum on Dominica.
It is important therefore, that we strive to honor our greats in a way that is inclusive and not overly partisan. By building a National Heroes Monument we can array plaques to those whose lives shaped the nation in ways beneficial. I propose that the design competition be open to Dominican artists at home and abroad; and that a subscription to fund the project be started on line to that end. The building should include voluntary labour, or a Koudmen, so that we all feel part of the process. No foreign nation can gift a statue, or such a monument, to our people. We must be inspired to that objective by a deep seated patriotism which respects that Dominica is ours to build, where we are to retain any sense of ownership and pride. Mr. Baron was about business ownership, industry, civic duty and integrity in office. Let us follow in his path. In doing so we can guide our young, and old, to follow in the footsteps of those whose works birthed our nation. In final salute to a true nation builder, I am reminded in this moment of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time”
We extend our condolences to his wife, family, friends and the nation he once led.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gabriel . J. Christian is a Dominican who praticises law in the U.S. He is Co-founder of Pont Casse Press.