The Right Honourable Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Sr., KGCN
Former Prime Minister and National
Hero of Antigua and Barbuda
Vere Cornwall Bird (9 December 1910 – 28 June 1999) was the first Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda; and is a National Hero of Antigua and Barbuda.
Early life and education
Vere Cornwall Bird was born on 7 December 1910 at New Street, St. John's, the fourth child of Edghill and Theophilus Bird. He received his early education at the St. John's Boys' School.
His contribution to the development of his country of birth and to the wider community of which Antigua and Barbuda is today such an integral part, spans well over 50 years of continuous and dedicated service.
Like so many of the great leaders of his time , Sir Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley, Sir Grantley Adams and Robert Bradshaw to name a few - Vere Cornwall Bird's political career was fashioned and nurtured in the struggle of the working people of his country for better conditions and ultimately for greater self-respect through political action.
In 1940, Vere Cornwall Bird became a founder member of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union. He was elected the Union's President in 1943 and remained its leader and mentor until 1973. During that period, the AT&LU, under his dynamic leadership, secured recognition as the bargaining agent for the workers and lists among its many achievements the abolition of child labour; the promotion of the interests of small farmers through the establishment of a Peasant Development Office; better working conditions including holidays with pay; and retirement benefits in the form of gratuities and pensions.
VC Bird's concern for workers' rights led inevitably to his active participation in the constitutional reform process that would lead to self-determination through universal adult suffrage, internal self government, and eventually to Independence. In 1946, with widespread support from among the working people, Mr. Bird was elected to the Antigua Legislative Council and campaigned relentlessly for the empowerment of the people through universal adult suffrage. This was granted in 1951.
In 1961, when the Ministerial system of government was introduced, Mr. Bird became Antigua's first Chief Minister and in 1967 became Premier of Antigua when it advanced to become a State in Association with Britain. In 1981, he capped this remarkable career when he became the first Prime Minister of an independent Antigua and Barbuda - a career during which he held the position of Head of Government through every stage of the constitutional progress of Antigua and Barbuda.
VC Bird was also a committed regionalist. The Union of which he was President became a founder member of the Caribbean Congress of Labour and encouraged solidarity among the member Unions, convinced that the people of the Caribbean shared a common call for improved conditions and economic empowerment. Not surprisingly, Mr. Bird was also a strong advocate of a Federated West Indies. He actively participated in the many constitutional conferences on this development, beginning with the Conference on the Closer Association of the British West Indian Colonies in 1947.
In 1965, along with the late Prime Minister Barrow of Barbados and Premier Burnham of Guyana, he signed the CARIFTA Agreement - the precursor of the Treaty of Chaguaramas - the 25th Anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. Indeed the story is told that in 1973 during the only time when he was out of office, Vere Bird sent a delegation to Guyana with instructions to sign the Accord that would advance CARIFTA to CARICOM, on the grounds that they were representing the alternative government of Antigua and Barbuda.
VC Bird's long and distinguished career records a list of impressive achievements. More significantly, it was a career of deep and committed struggle in the interests of the working people of Antigua and Barbuda and in the recognition that the struggle of the Caribbean community rested on the unity of its people. There are many of his and subsequent generations who have been accorded the title of Father of the Nation. With such impressive credentials, few will deny that Vere Cornwall Bird has first claim to the title of Patron of the Movement for Caribbean integration, development and progress.
He was accorded the status of the country's first National Hero in 1994 and in November 1998 he was honoured by the people of Antigua and Barbuda receiving Order of Knighthood.
Antigua and Barbuda's first Prime Minister and Father of the Nation, the Rt. Honourable Vere Cornwall Bird Senior passed away peacefully at 6:58pm on Monday 28 June 1999 at the age of 80.