I wish firstly, on behalf of the Government and people of St .Kitts & Nevis, on behalf of the Ministry which I lead, on behalf of the people of Central Basseterre, and on behalf of my family and myself, to express gratitude for the life and service of Anne Liburd, and heartfelt condolences at her passing.
Anne Eliza Martin was born in Antigua in 1920. Her parents were Jacob Martin and Alice Maude Cornelius.
She was an alert and precocious child, and grew quickly into a confident young woman.
She became a mother early in life, giving birth to three sons, namely Fitzroy, Ronan and Tyrone.
She found work in a printery in Antigua, and it was while there that she met a handsome young Nevisian gentleman named Clement Liburd who had joined the Army reserves during World War II, and who was based in Antigua.
They were married in 1944, and two years later, with Karl now added to the family, they moved here to St. Kitts, where they set up house at Cardin Avenue.
Her husband got into the Health Department where he became a health inspector, and she taught at Trinity School.
Her public service career was long and productive, spanning education, finance and administration and scaling the heights of the administrative ladder.
It is felt that Karl’s early experiences in the Village Area are what fuelled his great and abiding affection for the people and the sports teams of the area.
There might also be some symbolism in the fact that her entry point into the St. Kitts community 61 years ago, that is to say, the Village Area, is also the place where she makes her exit today; full circle.
Upon arriving here back in 1946, and especially with World War II just ended, she will have noticed a vibrant and energetic Workers Movement, not unlike the dynamic Movement in Antigua under the leadership of her relative, the late Vere Cornwall Bird.
It would have appealed to her passion, to her sense of right and wrong, to her love for the poor and downtrodden, and to her desire for social and political justice.
And so it would not be long before she became actively involved in the Movement.
In time, the family grew to include Clement Junior (Juni) and Marcella. And the family home relocated over the years from Cardin Avenue to Mc Knight, to Nevis Street, to Dorset, and finally to Bird Rock.
She worked hard at her job; she took charge of her children’s upbringing and the upbringing of many other youngsters in this country. She helped and guided poor women in developing parenting, occupational, technical and social skills as well as personal confidence, and she helped many of them get started in business.
Of course, she was herself an astute business woman.
She was a servant of the Lord through her membership in the Wesleyan Holiness Church for over 50 years.
And she became a powerhouse and a pioneer in politics and in the Women’s Movement, locally, regionally and internationally.
She had a passion for education, and she made sure that her children were well educated, a mission which she accomplished with flying colours.
However, her interest went far beyond her children. She genuinely believed that education was the vehicle to earthly redemption for poor people and for the world.
And I can say to you today that the achievements of her son, Fitzroy, as this country’s most outstanding Minister of Education to date, were attributable in no small measure to her efforts, not just as a mother who wanted her children to be educated, but as a visionary who contributed stoutly to the pool of ideas which informed Governmental policy and action in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
She also had a very soft spot for persons with special challenges, whether emotional or otherwise. They seemed to be attracted to her like magnets.
One of the things which amazed me about her was the large number of people, including myself, and coming from all political, economic and social quarters of society, who sought and got wise counsel from her, and who were so irresistibly drawn to her.
She was particularly instrumental in setting certain things right for me in the early days of my political career, and, not being the laid back type, she was always there to shed light and provide guidance where she thought it necessary to do so.
She was the proud and deserving recipient of many awards, including the MBE.
She was a woman of substantial wit and humour, which she used to great effect to charm and disarm.
And when she threw a heckle on you, it would be virtually impossible to shake it off.
She loved sports. Her father had represented Antigua in cricket, and her children were (Karl and Marcella still are) involved in, and have made significant contributions to sports in this country and beyond.
Anne had a special love for basketball, especially the Chicago Bulls and especially Michael Jordan.
She was strong, very strong in her beliefs and outlook. This was a woman who stood her ground, holding faithfully and fearlessly to who she was, and to what she stood for, in terms of both the spiritual and earthly.
And she saw no reason to change or to compromise.
Yes, being the intelligent person that she was, she was always available to consider alternative perspectives, but when it came to her foundational beliefs and convictions, she was unshakeable.
Many who tried to break her instead found themselves broken.
A simple but instructive example, and indeed a symbol, of her steady self-assurance, self-definition and completeness as a person was her Antiguan accent.
She never lost it.
Do you see how easily some people lose theirs? Not Anne.
Her accent was natural. It symbolized where she came from. It helped to define her. It was foundational. And she saw no need to water it down or to change it.
Indeed, had she done that, she wouldn’t have been the person that she was. She would never have achieved her legendary stature, and she would not have become the great patriot of St. Kitts & Nevis that she truly was Antigua twang and all!
She exemplified and was the living embodiment of the West Indies Federation, CARIFTA and CARICOM, even before they came into being.
Yet, with all of that, she might have been forgiven for weakening, for giving in, even a little bit, considering the amount of times she was told how her much water she had to ‘bang’ to reach St. Kitts, or considering the relentless abuse and vilification directed over the years at her and her children, Fitzroy especially.
But she never did weaken.
The abuse and vilification were so extreme that the abusers and the vilifiers seemed to have become afflicted, as if with a terminal disorder, leading them to do or have done certain acts which only served to diminish them, while she grew stronger.
When, for example, she was diagnosed in the 1970’s with breast cancer, there were those who were ready to bury her, literally and otherwise. But, as it turned out, she buried them.
Also, there was her legendary black board at Masses House, which, upon reflection, seems to have been the forbear of talk radio as we know it in St. Kitts & Nevis today. It was vandalized and destroyed time and again, and even on one occasion it was arrested (without bail, I’m told), which was sort of funny.
And with every board heavily damaged or destroyed, a new board would appear, rising like a phoenix out of the ashes, and once again diminishing and confounding her haters, while elevating her and her fearless, indomitable spirit.
Another symptom of this terminal disorder which afflicted the haters and vilifiers is Section 27 of our nation’s Constitution, infamously known as “the Bryant Clause” which excludes from Parliament citizens of this nation who, like Fitzroy, were born abroad and neither of whose parents was born in St. Kitts & Nevis.
That too could have been taken as justification for at least a little weakening on Anne’s part. But she stayed strong.
When her beloved Fitzroy was arrested and made to spend a weekend in a jail cell, for no reason whatsoever that can be justified in a society which purports to operate on the basis of democracy, decency and the rule of law, Anne Liburd didn’t weaken.
Indeed, she grew stronger in wit, humour, graciousness and spirit, reaching out to her haters, across political and any other lines of division that were placed before her, to show that life and true Christian love must always transcend party politics and petty vindictiveness.
There was in Greek mythology a news announcer, or herald, named Stentor. He had a very powerful voice and liked to use it. One day he ran into another herald named Hermes. And the two had a shouting match, which resulted in defeat and death for Stentor.
Hermes, you see, was the herald of the Gods; which is exactly the way Anne saw herself. Not a shouter like Stentor or even like Hermes, but a herald nevertheless. And so with her fearless attitude and her firm faith in God, in her earthly causes and in herself, she was a veritable juggernaut.
When her beloved Fitzroy died ten years ago, she submitted his and her fate to her God and braved through yet another of life’s storms, growing ever stronger in the process.
And her unshakeable faith and trust in God, her amazing loyalty to her beloved Labour Movement, her fiercely independent nature, her burning desire to have women take leadership of themselves, their children, their careers, their community and their nation, her deep compassion for the poor and needy, her enormous love for her children and for all children, her passion for education, for empowerment and for life generally, her strength of character, her ready wit, her effervescent personality, her contagious humour, and, yes, her Antiguan twang are the things that made Anne Liburd who and what she truly was :a great person, and a legend and icon of this country and of the region.
She batted for 86 great years, and she batted well.
The griots must speak, the writers must write and the story of Anne Liburd must be preserved through the ages.
May she rest in peace!