Books about Anguilla


Thursday, 15 September 2011


Dame Bernice V. Lake QC
Anguillians were stunned last week by the untimely passing of two prominent nationals, the late Captain Cardigan “Cardi” Hodge, an outstanding pilot and businessman and the late Dame Bernice V. Lake QC, one of the region’s pre-eminent jurists and a distinguished scholar, especially in matters of Constitutional Law. The entire community is saddened by the loss of these exceptional Anguillians who were great ambassadors for our island in their several fields of endeavour and made us proud through their acclaim abroad. But my condolences go out especially to the families, close friends and colleagues of the deceased in this, their period of bereavement and sorrow. We cannot imagine their feelings of emptiness and distress over the loss of those they both loved and adored. They will be dearly missed. May their souls rest in peace!

It is not to diminish in any way the contribution of Captain Cardigan “Cardi” Hodge in the field of aviation and airline services to the region that I have chosen to dedicate the rest of my column today to the life and work of Dame Bernice V. Lake QC. It is well known that Captain “Cardi” frequently exceeded the call of duty to ensure that his customers reach their destinations within or outside of the Caribbean to fulfill their travel objectives whether for vacation, business or health emergencies. And there are those who will sing his praises and express their sincere gratitude for many, many years to come. He was highly respected and loved by many.

Captain Cardigan “Cardi” Hodge
However, Dame Bernice has so overwhelmed me by her contribution to the overarching issues of constitutional development and the protection of human rights in its broadest definition --- issues which affect the lives of all the peoples of our region and indeed all human kind --- that it would be irreverent not to extol her virtues in some manner during this sombre period. But even more so on a personal level, over the last five years my relationship with “Dame Bee” (as I affectionately called her --- with her permission) became respectfully cordial and in that sense any apology on my part for deciding to speak endearingly about her in my column, would be most disingenuous indeed.

I recall on another sombre occasion twenty-six years ago when Dame Bernice had the privilege of eulogizing her sister, the late Hon. Albena Lake-Hodge, she repeatedly use the phrase “we are just ordinary people”. While that “phrase” may describe her humble attitude in her most private life, I must say that there was nothing “ordinary” about Dame Bernice --- she was an extraordinary woman and many other superlatives may characterize her. Reflections on her life by those close and dear to her during the recent celebrations in her honour by the Anguilla Bar Association, perhaps for the first time in a public setting, exposed the more intimate aspects of Dame Bernice as a mother, a teacher, a disciplinarian, a homemaker, a gardener of exotic plants and orchids, a curator of various antiques, a seamstress, a designer, a baker, the list goes on. The obvious question to many persons, as it was to me --- is how did she find the time to be all of these things while pursuing a most stressful career as an advocate and a jurist? And again not an “ordinary advocate” --- she was one of the pre-eminent advocates in our region. The point I am making is that Dame Bernice found the time to identify with the preoccupations of “ordinary people” and never lost that attachment to the people whose causes she lived to defend and protect. And many of her close friends especially those she welcomed to her home were “ordinary people”. There was nothing pretentious about her. Dame Bernice knew and remembered her roots!

Inevitably, those who know the early period of my acquaintance with Dame Bernice, going back to the early eighties when we were on different sides of a political divide, would question the mutual friendship that we developed. Indeed, there seemed to be no love lost in that relationship and perhaps there may even have been the appearance of an entrenched hatred. But outside of the normal rancour of political campaigning there has never been any disrespect. In fact I can readily say that I was impressed by her tremendous intellect and her amazing clarity of mind in processing complex issues. And truthfully, in the arena of local politics her loyalty was never to individuals but rather to principles and policies consistent with her genuine belief in what was right in matters of national importance. In that regard, she did not support any Government because of personal or political association but rather on the basis of adherence to what she believed were sound policies and the existence of due respect for the rights of citizens. Her assessment of the handling of such issues determined where she would place her support during elections --- not party politics. Dame Bernice was not a creature of political expediency!

It was in the last Constitutional Reform Exercise beginning in 2006 when I began to explore, under her guidance, the concept of fundamental rights and freedoms more critically than I ever did as a practicing politician, when I came to appreciate and understand the driving force behind her approach to constitutional development and the protection of human rights. And it was only after I showed a genuine interest in understanding the linkage of these two issues to the overall relationship with our administering power that she brought me under her tutelage. Her tutelage was of the style that allowed me to question even the most central aspects of her philosophy --- but the outcome was inevitably my agreement with the premise and the reinforcement of her position. Dame Bernice was an excellent teacher!

During the period of public consultations for the last Constitutional Reform Exercise I prevailed on Dame Bernice to devise a presentation that would explain the important aspects of Constitutional Democracy and how they operate within a State. Ours was the awesome task of explaining to “the man on the street” the intricacies of the constitution and how it should function for the furtherance of the interest of all citizens. I was amazed when Dame Bernice developed a power point presentation, which illustrated in the most comprehensible form, a paradigm of Constitution Democracy complete with graphics. It is important to quote what she said: “I think of the State as a WHEEL. At the HUB are the citizens with their fundamental rights; the RIM of the WHEEL is your constitution; and within the WHEEL are the institutions of Government, which are the RADIAL SPOKES which link and connect the RIM to the HUB in a predetermined way so that the WHEEL keeps its circular form and runs smoothly.” She went on to explain: “the fundamental rights are the core values which guide the growth of society and the Constitution is the Supreme Law which keeps the State in social balance.” What followed was a clear outline of what constituted the various parts of the “symbolic wheel” and their function. There could not be a clearer illustration of a complex process than what Dame Bernice devised. Dame Bernice was a master at grass roots communication!

On June 5, 2008 Dame Bernice delivered the Walter G. Hodge Memorial Lecture on the topic: “Constitutional Democracy Governance in Twenty-First Century Anguilla: Illusion or Realizable Aspiration”. It was a comprehensive presentation that dealt with the history of regional constitutional evolution; the particular and peculiar circumstances of Anguilla; a historical account of our colonial relationship that shows the persistence of a common thread of adherence to the principle of self-determination and full internal self-government over a period over forty years; as well as the legal basis for the pursuit of that assertion. There is no question that that lecture should become the main document for making a strong case for full internal self government, which every constitutional exercise has endorsed over the past fourteen years. In fact Dame Bernice makes the point in her lecture that the existing Anguilla Act of 1980 under which “Anguilla is currently administered expressly contemplates Anguilla’s attainment of full internal self-government”. She then concludes: “the right to opt for constitutional advancement in the form of full internal self-government as a State in Association with another independent country is a right which Anguillians have never relinquished and is a position of entitlement from which they have never resiled. To give up that right would be to betray the principles and cause of the Revolution and to compromise the sterling contribution of our revolutionary heroes who fought so bravely in the quest for freedom.” It was through such arguments based on historical facts and supported by the relevant legislative provisions that Dame Bernice advised the past Government to pursue a constitutional status of full internal self-government. The present Constitutional Reform Committee would be well advised to consider this approach. Dame Bernice was an invaluable asset to the furtherance of constitutional evolution!

The circumstances of Anguilla during the period of her education caused Dame Bernice to travel to other parts of the OECS to learn and practice her profession. It is as a result of that reality that she spent a considerable period of her life in Antigua a country that embraced her as one of its own. She had chosen a profession, which at that time in the region was dominated by men. But it would appear that, that situation was more of a welcomed challenge than a deterrent, for a courageous young woman whose athletic background had prepared her to take competition in her stride. Her success in overcoming the early hurdles which attend most professionals in a new environment earned her tremendous respect and her capacity for effective work; long hours; and her tenacious defence of her clients interests soon propelled her to the top of her profession in Antigua. Her reputation spread among her colleagues in the OECS and the wider region and the rest is a matter of history. Dame Bernice firmly established herself as a force to be reckoned with as an advocate and as a jurist to be respected in scholastic publications, lectures and journals. Dame Bernice was a regional stalwart in the field of law!

But first and foremost Dame Bernice was a woman of exceptional strength of character who lived her belief in the inalienable rights of all humankind in every aspect of her life --- both as a private citizen and as a professional who could advance its practice and exercise within the community and region in which she lived. She never believed in paying lip service to these fundamental elements of natural justice and as a consequence her genuine activism was both respected and legendary across the Caribbean. Dame Bernice was a champion of social justice.

The softer side of Dame Bernice was the fortuitous preserve of those who had the opportunity to get to know her. But unfortunately many may have been too intimidated by her overwhelming presence in public life to venture across that threshold into familiarity and friendship --- a zone of relationship, which those who have been so privileged to enjoy, hold in the highest esteem. Dame Bernice was a caring, kind and dedicated friend.

It would be an impossible enterprise to capture all of the wonderful attributes and achievements of this great Anguillian Lady in even the most comprehensive account of her life and service. Neither could we expect to give adequate acclaim to the important aspects of her legacy in such an abbreviated presentation. One thing we are confident about is that the history of Anguilla and the OECS can never be complete without mention of her enormous contribution to the advancement of social justice in our region. Dame Bernice will be fondly remembered. And let me say on behalf of the many lives you touched during your short sojourn among us: “Dame Bee! You’re not that easy to forget!”
By: Victor F. Banks
Victor Banks is a former Finance, Economics, Commerce and Tourism Minister on Anguilla. He is presently the leader of the Oposition Anguilla United Front Party, writer and author of a weekly political article for the Anguillian News Paper, lyricist, and a self-employed entrepreneur.

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