Bradshaw who was 62 at the time of his death from cancer, had been Head of Government for what legally was still the Associated State of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, despite the political upheavals of 1967, when Anguillians rebelled against direct rule from Basseterre.
Though over three decades have passed since his death, the name Robert Bradshaw is still a powerful force when it comes to the political debate in St. Kitts and Nevis. There has hardly been an election campaign, since his passing in 1978 that has not evoked both praises and accusations.
Many can still recall the exact moment of the breaking news that “Papa Bradshaw” had finally succumbed to the painful illness that had confined him to bed, under the watchful eyes of his medical team, family members and top government leaders, who frequented his home at Fortlands, Basseterre, to show their respect and love, and provide whatever comfort was possible.
Bradshaw, at the time, had lived what seemed like an eternity in public office, assuming the premiership in 1967, when Britain allowed the trinity of islands to take full control of all internal affairs, for education, health, public utilities, finance, police and defense force, legal affairs, agriculture and other portfolios related to the governance of the country. Britain however, maintained control for defense and foreign affairs. Before that he had served a short period as Chief Minister, replacing his trusted comrade, C.A. Paul Southwell, after Bradshaw had returned to the colony, following the breakup of the West Indies Federation in 1962. He was Minister of Finance in that federation.
Bradshaw’s legacy is still unfolding but many have credited him for leading the challenge against the brutal white colonial rule of the British, whose sole interest was focused on what economic benefits they could continue to squeeze out of the so called “Mother Colony”, (a term that all Kittitians ought to shun, rather that embrace, because of its representation of colonialism, racism, and oppression).
But he was also criticized for what was considered an uncaring attitude toward the cries of the people of Anguilla, who were demanding more “local autonomy” in order to better deliver the social programs needed by the residents on the island. Similar disaffection eventually surfaced on sister island Nevis, and residents there too, also began to agitate, first for improved conditions related to housing, jobs, roads, water, electricity; then protests for separation.
The political hatred for Bradshaw in Nevis and Anguilla was not always the reality, because in the earlier years of his career in politics and trade unionism, he was admired for his strong stance against the colonial oppressors.
As we look back at these past 34 years, even some of his political opponents have come to accept the greatness of a man, who lifted himself from the squalor of poverty and lack of formal higher education, to become one of the most intelligent and outstanding leaders of his time. Perhaps it was this respect that attracted almost all of the Caribbean’s Prime Ministers, Premiers, Chief Ministers and other foreign government representatives, including the British and Americans, to journey to Basseterre, to join the tens of thousands who gathered at Warner Park for his funeral service, and later his burial at Springfield Cemetery.
Leaders such as Michael Manley (Jamaica), Forbes Burnham (Guyana), Vere Bird Snr. (Antigua & Barbuda), Sir Eric (Grenada), Governor Cyril King (USVI), made sure they were here to bid a personal farewell. Only Eric Williams of Trinidad failed to attend. Given the love that was shared then, it is indeed disappointing that the grave of the country’s First National Hero, is today, poorly maintained and at times have the appearance of neglect, except during the annual celebrations for Labour Day.
Though Bradshaw is most times given great credit for the work of the Labour Party and the Trades & Labour Union, such adulation, has however clouded the true history of the origins of the Labour Movement, which was fathered respectively by others, including Thomas Manchester, (founder of the Workers League), and Matthew Sebastian, first President of the union, (and father of the current Governor General, Sir Cuthbert Sebastian). Interestingly, Manchester was the uncle of the founder of the People’s Action Movement, PAM, Mr. William Valentine “Billy” Herbert. Manchester’s brother was the father of Herbert’s mother.
As the Labour Party continues its 80th Anniversary celebrations this year, many are hopeful that others who toiled to establish these important institutions of Kittitian/Nevisian life, would be given their kudos, for the foundation they provided, for the delivery of benefits hailed today by the present generation of leaders.
Ironically it was the death of Bradshaw that eventually caused the long serving Labour government to splinter with bitter infighting, causing them to self-destruct, as Southwell and Lee L Moore, became embroiled in a power struggle, claiming the rights to replace Bradshaw as premier. Southwell emerged as winner and new premier, but he too died one year later. Moore got his chance to lead the party, union and government, but his reign lasted only 9 months, when the PAM/NRP gained gained power, after the 1980 elections.
Moore died on 6th May, 2000, Southwell on 18th May, 1979.
Three decades later, Labour is again said to be facing similar challenges with calls for a proper succession plan to be instituted. In politics though, history has a sad way of repeating itself, so all eyes will remain on the party to see how it would, in modern times, confront its internal battles.
Bradshaw who was the godfather of the present Labour Leader, Dr. Denzil Douglas, had two daughters, Etsu and Isis and was married to Mrs. Millie Sahely Bradshaw, aunt of former government minister, Dwyer Astaphan, whom Douglas expelled from the party in 2011.