Today we meet to pay our final respects to Lawrence Vernon Harcourt Lewis, Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, whose mortal remains we inter a short time from now.
Those of us who have known him will remember him as a gentle, urbane and, on the whole, highly companionable friend, public servant and citizen of Barbados.
Although we were aware that in recent times failing health had begun to make incursions on both his energies and his mobility, we were still not prepared for the sad news on Tuesday, 20, that death had both marked and claimed him for its own.
Harcourt Lewis was born on the 13th day of March 1932 to none of those privileges which wealth and status are known to bestow. He had a good intellect which he married to the very limited opportunities then available for its effective deployment. The eminence and distinction which characterized his later life, and which we celebrate today, were the happy result of that marriage.
His ironclad faith found consistent expression in the Methodist church of which he was a member for all his life. That flame of sacred love of which Charles Wesley so eloquently wrote, was kindled on the mean altar of Harcourt???s heart, and for his entire life burnt for God???s glory with inextinguishable blaze. It now to its source returns in humble prayer and in fervent praise.
Harcourt Lewis gave of his full self to the country of his birth, letting slip no opportunity to serve when called upon to do so. He spent most of his working life in the civil service of Barbados where he rose to the position of Permanent Secretary.
Those who worked with him still speak glowingly of the quality of his handwriting, the clarity of his thought and the wisdom of his advice. His commitment to the pursuit of excellence, while not always a source of comfort for those from whom he exacted it, invariably qualified him for their respect.
The Civil Service Association, later to become the National Union of Public Workers, benefitted greatly from his hindsight, his insight and his foresight. He believed in the cause of the workers and ensured that they were equipped with a representative organization that could give honest and adequate expression to their concerns and interests.
The Credit Union Movement, too, claimed much of his time, his energy and his love. That there is a Co-operators General Insurance Company today is traceable to the robustness of his commitment to the movement and the width and plenitude of his knowledge.
It was my privilege to serve for a while as one of the Attorneys-at-Law of that Insurance Company. Attending meetings of the company exposed me not only to his skill at chairing meetings, not only to his deep understanding of the cooperative movement, but also to the exquisite and austere standards to which he subscribed.
When the Barbados National Bank was being established, it was on his resplendent genius that the then Prime Minister, Tom Adams relied to see it through its teething stages. Harcourt did not disappoint. He not only saw to it that the Bank rested on solid and secure foundations but also presided over its expansion into about seven (7), branches. Those who assisted him in this effort remember him as being level headed, methodical and fair.
To write of Harcourt???s contribution to the Democratic Labour Party would take more time than present circumstances would allow. I must say, however, that much of what the Democratic Labour Party is today is owed to the time Harcourt was prepared to devote to it. He served for many years as the Party???s treasurer and sat on both its Executive and General Councils. He served with great distinction, also, as a Minister of the Crown under Prime Ministers Barrow and Sandiford.
Not only was he always loyal to the Party???s cause but also you could count on him to meet any deadlines that were set for him. He was a good listener at meetings or in private conversation and I have witnessed no provocation that ever succeeded in ruffling his marble-like composure. The family of the DLP remembers him with profound gratitude.
At his side always and a continuing source of sustenance and support, was his dear wife and friend of 52 years, Claudette Lady Lewis. She supported Harcourt in all of his endeavours and did so counting not the cost, heeding not the wound, seeking not for rest and asking only for the reward of knowing that he was comfortable and was enjoying what he was doing. She in turn was always the excited recipient of the affection which he lavished on her.
What was the secret of this man???s life? He searched for and found Harcourt very early in his life and was comfortable in his own skin. He never wished that he was anyone else. When he looked in a mirror, he loved and respected the person he saw there. Because he knew, loved and respected himself, he had no difficulty in loving and respecting others.
St. Paul could easily have been speaking for Harcourt when of himself he said, ???I have coveted no man???s silver or gold or apparel????????? Ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities and to those who are with me.??? Harcourt was at peace with himself and therefore at peace with others.
Now lies Lawrence Vernon Harcourt Lewis dead. His life enriched us for as long as it lasted; his death now leaves desolate that portion of our landscape which he so proudly, so uniquely and so gracefully occupied. We, who benefitted so richly from his patriotic effort and his selfless endeavour, should remember him with gratitude, with respect and, if we have it in us, with a desire to emulate some of his finer qualities.
As I end this tribute, I can think of no better way to say farewell to my friend than with the words of the historian Cornelius Tacitus as he paid tribute to his father-in-law, Agricola:?????If there is a place for the spirits of the good; if, as the wise deem, great souls do not perish with the body, then may yours be a quiet rest. Call us your household back from weak regret and maudlin lamentation to a study of your virtues, in respect of which weeping and wailing are wrong??????. What we have loved, what we have admired in [Harcourt] endures and will endure in the souls of men, in the eternity of the ages and in historic fame.???
To his dear wife, Claudette Lady Lewis and his two sons and all those countless others gladdened by his life but now saddened by his death, I extend, on behalf of the Cabinet of Barbados, heartfelt condolences.??May he rest in peace.
The Prime Minister’s tribute to the late Sir Harcourt Lewis may also be downloaded here.