SIR JAMES RONALD WEBSTER?
I had the privilege last Friday, 1st March 2013, to be present at the Orealia Kelly Primary School Auditorium where a representative body of students from the six public primary schools, and the Albena Lake Hodge Comprehensive School, paid tribute in song and poetry to Mr James Ronald Webster, Father of the Nation. The event was held in recognition of Mr Webster’s birthday and both he and his lovely wife, Cleopatra, were present during the brief but tasteful celebration. At the end of the presentations Mr Webster, now eighty seven years old, spoke at length to the students about his life, including his role in the Anguilla Revolution, and requested that they bravely carry the torch of self- determination that was lit so many years ago. He told the students that he never thought that a boy with such humble beginnings – one of sixteen children in a household where his father was a fisherman and his mother was his father’s helper – would accomplish as much as he had. His simple message was that nothing is impossible with determination, hard work and the grace of God.
As the Father of the Nation sat and spoke with the students, it struck me that we were all blessed to be able to have him impart such wisdom to his listeners, though he is now quite advanced in age. In fact, he joked about his age and indicated that he felt he still had a few years left to go. Though very appreciative of the students’ gesture, it was evident that the brief celebration took a toll on Mr Webster.
While I do not wish in any way to hasten his demise, I couldn’t help but wonder whether before his death he would ever have the honour of being recognized by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his distinguished contribution to Anguilla’s development. Honestly, I do not believe that whether or not such an honour is conferred on him matters to Mr Webster. I believe he is quite satisfied with being regarded as the Father of the Nation right here in Anguilla. However, when one ponders the situation, it is puzzling that to this day Mr Webster has not been knighted.
Knighthood is one of the highest honours an individual in the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories can achieve. While in past centuries knighthood was awarded solely for military merit, today it recognises significant contributions to national life. The only person in Anguilla to be knighted by Her Majesty the Queen is Sir Emile Gumbs who is deserving of such an honour. However, the average person will argue that Mr Webster is equally, if not more, deserving.
Could it be that some resentment is still harboured by the British Government in relation to the Anguilla Revolution which, at the time, caused them much embarrassment? Whatever the views of the British Government about the Anguilla Revolution, and its leaders during that tumultuous period in our history, it should now be accepted that the Revolution was timely and necessary – and positively impacted the quality of life of all Anguillians. Mr Webster’s leading and unparalleled contribution in this regard is well-documented. It is a travesty that it is seemingly more fitting to bestow such an honour on a football player (Sir David Beckham) than on a man who led a small island in a quest for democracy, freedom, equal rights and a better life for future generations.
Will the British Government and Monarchy ever correct this wrong? Will we, Anguillians, allow Mr Webster to pass on without ever demanding that he be given the rightful acknowledgement and recognition he so deserves for his contribution to our nation building? While the methods used by Mr Webster and other revolutionary leaders will not meet today’s standard of diplomacy, their actions were a critical turning point in our history and we must all be grateful. As a people, I believe it is our duty to ensure that the man we consider to be the Father of our Nation not be disregarded, but rather honoured by being knighted as Sir James Ronald Webster.