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Caribbean Heroes: Barbados’ First Prime Minister Errol Barrow

by Karen Rollins Aug 1, 2022

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Errol Barrow

Errol Walton Barrow was the first Prime Minister of Barbados and is affectionately known on the island as the ‘father of Independence’.

Barrow was born in Nesfield, St Lucy, on 21 January 1920 to Reverend Reginald Grant Barrow and Ruth Barrow (née O’Neal). Dr Charles Duncan O’Neal, the founder of the Democratic League, was his uncle.

Barrow started his education at Danish School, St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands. He then went on to Wesley Hall Boys School in Bridgetown, where he won a scholarship to The Combermere School at the age of 11. He won another scholarship to Harrison College at the age of 14.

In 1939, Barrow won his third scholarship to study Classics at Codrington College, but WWII broke out, and the scholarship was not taken up. Barrow worked at Foundation School and in the Petty Debt Court for a short while before deciding to travel to Britain to volunteer for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in December 1940.

According to the RAF Museum website: “After training in Britain and Canada, Barrow was commissioned as an officer on 4 November 1944. Barrow was posted to 88 Squadron and completed 45 bombing operations against targets in occupied Europe and Germany.”

After the war, Barrow attended London University and successfully passed the bar in 1949 after graduating with a degree in Economics. He returned to Barbados in 1950 and started his law practice.

In 1951, Barrow became a member of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and that same year he won the St George seat. In 1955 he left the BLP, and along with Cameron Tudor, formed the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).

Barrow lost his seat in the 1956 general election but returned to Parliament in 1958 after successfully contesting a by-election in St John. In 1961, the DLP was elected to government and Barrow served as Premier.

On 30 November 1966, Barrow became Barbados’ first Prime Minister, when he led the island to independence. He served as PM until September 1976.

In May 1986, Barrow returned to power with an overwhelming majority, but he died just over a year later, while in office, at the age of 67. The National Stadium was chosen as the venue for his state funeral on 9 June 1987.

Barrow was named one of Barbados’ 10 National Heroes in 1998 and his birthday is celebrated as a public holiday on 21 January. Barrow’s portrait is also inscribed on the country’s $50 bill.

Barrow left behind an impressive legacy. He was undoubtedly a gifted politician, and because of his vision and drive, Barbados’ development blazed a trail in the Caribbean.

Barrow’s crowning achievement was Barbados’ independence, but he was also a strong presence within the region as the co-founder of CARIFTA and CARICOM.

Barrow’s political life and career made a lasting impression throughout Barbados and the entire Caribbean.

Sources: RAF Museum, Caribbean Elections,  Totally Barbados and Barbados.org.