Sir Cuthbert, a medical doctor by training and profession, assumed the high office on 1st January, 1996, becoming only the second Governor General of an independent St. Kitts and Nevis. His appointment came shortly after the change of government in 1995, when the Labour Party, led by Dr. Denzil Douglas, came to power in a landslide victory at the polls, primarily against the then incumbent People’s Action Movement PAM, which held government in a coalition with the Nevis Reformation Party, NRP.
In a rather moving Retirement Ceremony held on the lawns of Government House on Tuesday morning, (New Year’s Day, 2013), the long reign as Head of State was celebrated by government officials, diplomats, parliamentarians- from both the Federal National Assembly and Island Administration, in Nevis, business leaders, the media and family members of the 91 year old Governor General.
He was praised for his years of service, by the Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas; not only as Governor General, but also in the medical field. Dr. Sebastian previously served in various senior medical positions, including that of Chief Medical Officer, starting in 1970.
The Prime Minister declared that as he reflects on the life of Sir Cuthbert, he cannot help but doing so while also reflecting on the life of the father of the outgoing Governor General. The Prime Minister said the well educated Joseph Matthew Sebastian, (Sir Cuthbert’s father), was one who stood with the poor, hungry, abused and powerless of his time. Matthew Sebastian, stated Douglas, was a courageous man who did so at a time when the British Empire knew no bounds. He said the elder Sebastian had started a chain of events back in the 1940s that culminated just over a half a century later, with his very own son, Sir Cuthbert, becoming Governor General of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Matthew Sebastian was one of the leaders of the Labour Movement, before others like Robert Bradshaw came on to the scene.
Separate and apart from his father’s role in the history and development of St. Kitts, Dr. Douglas said that Sir Cuthbert has used his own talents and energy to chart his own very impressive course. And in the process, he has demonstarted very clearly, the power of his ability and his determination to overcome the power of any supposedly restricting and limiting external circumstance. Douglas said the outgoing Head of State applied himself with single minded determination, from a very early age, to the field of health care. At age 18 Sebastian became the Learner Dispenser at the then Cunningham Hospital, on Burdon Street, (where the CFB College is now located).
He also had a distinguished military career where he served in the St. Kitts-Nevis Defense Force, starting in 1939. He was at one point a Captain Surgeon from 1966-1980. But he also fought in the Second World War, when he joined the Royal Air Force in 1944 as a rear gunner.
Sir Cuthbert, before becoming Governor General, also ran in the 1984 General Elections of St. Kitts and Nevis, in the East Basseterre Constituency, against PAM’s Michael Powell. He lost to Powell in that election and never returned to elective policitics.
Despite his advanced age, it was apparent, when Sir Cuthbert rose to speak, that he is still a very strong, fit, capable and intellectually superior individual, with such an alertness that would make his much younger colleagues and citizens, envious of his sharpness.
He told the gathering of approximately 200, that, “Time at last has crowned my long endeavour of 17 years to the federation of St. Christopher and Nevis, and to my fellowmen. And now, this is the moment …publicly and with tenderness (I) bid you farewell as your Governor General. I became your Head of State at 1 minute past midnight on 1st January, 1996, and I shall retire; relinquish that position, on 1st January, 2013. This is indeed the moment, where my soul remains impaled on its memory. But this is also the amount where my …peace is preciously crowned with your cooperation.”
Sir Cuthbert told the audience that it was most heartfelt and strong…”what more could I have asked”.
But with 17 years behind him in the post, Sir Cuthbert too was reflecting on his years in office. ” I will forever hear your footsteps coming to my office. All in one moment of time, the sunset hour will overwhelm my heart but it is nevertheless time for me to retire. I shall miss from my office window, the view of the cool, mysterious Springfield Cemetery. The echoes of the telephone will forever linger in my ears as the strains of the National Anthem will forever enchant me. Yes, many times my thoughts will return to the past. Yes indeed, many a times my thoughts will drift backwards, and I know I will think of the past we have trod together. The beauty of these memories will intertwine with sadness, but I also know that these memories will nevertheless endure with the joy of my being blessed to have them. Nor would I ever try to avoid entertaining my memory, no, not for the world. If I try to erase these sadnesses, the joys will also be diminished, and this I cannot afford.”
He however, did not eleborate to explain what some of those sadnesses were in the past.
The Governor General said that he knows that, with true devotion, he would always be willing to serve his country in however a simple capacity, because his seeds of human effort, will never slumber…NEVER!
“True it is that I have inherited some of my father’s splendour, but I must also admit that I will measure my personal success, in terms of the contribution I made to my fellow human beings.”
In his closing comments, Sir Cuthbert noted, “Ending brings new beginning. And so to my successor, I wish the best of luck, in whatever future awaits him.”
Following a short brunch, Sir Cuthbert made his final exit from Government House, at 10:47am, following a ceremony that began at 9:00am and chaired by former Attorney General, Delano Bart; now the country’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
A Guard of Honour, comprised of the Defense Force and the Defense Force Band, provided the splendour of a deserving military backdrop, for a man who once wore the uniform. As he departed, all invited guests were gathered in the drive way of Government House, while the Prime Minister, other members of Parliament, Island Assemblymen, judges, family members, Deputy Governor, Eustace John and Mrs. John, former Governor, Sir Probyn Inniss and Lady Inniss and members of household staff…all gathered on the balcony to say their final farewell.
Sir Cuthbert replaced the late Sir Clement Arrindell, who was the country’s first Governor General. He will now, in tern, be replaced by Sir Edmund Lawrence, on Wednesday 2nd January, 2012.