We last spoke on May 11, the 95th birthday of George’s beloved friend, Arthur. This journal’s managing editor asked who the paper might contact to pay tribute to Sir Arthur Foulkes, five years shy of becoming a centenarian.
The first person who came to mind was George Smith. He eagerly agreed. George lionised his friend, recalling the former’s contributions to politics and to journalism, acknowledging him as one of the best and most creative writers and minds the country has produced.
But George, 13 years younger than Sir Arthur, mostly spoke of the joy and sustenance of their friendship, and of personal loyalty beyond political and other affiliations.
Afterward, George bemoaningly offered a brief discourse on the state of politics and journalism. He offered his mixed thoughts on the 50th anniversary of independence, describing what The Bahamas has achieved along with our lamentable failings.
He knew there was no golden age. Still, he recalled a treasury of past political figures and journalists who, articulately and with intelligence and curiosity, practiced their crafts and inspired others.
When George spoke of Arthur it was with fondness and admiration, deepened, secured, over six decades of often tumultuous, fraught and bittersweet years in the politics of the country. The friendship, strained at times by politics, held firm.
In latter years when they reminisced from morning till evening over boiled fish, conch salad and copious amounts of wine at Sir Arthur’s residence, they were joint storytellers, regaling their listeners with all manner of stories, some goat-pepper-hot and spicy that cannot be retold in this space.
There were also George’s embellishments. typically told in good cheer and with that tilt or nod of his head, a certain wink of his eyes, and his lips mischievously pushed upward, and sideways, signalling the degree of accuracy of the tale.
Fellow Roman Catholics, they were inspired by the social vision of the Church. Together, they campaigned for and cheered the attainment of majority rule. Both revelled in politics and were members of the House of Assembly. They both attended the 1972 Constitutional Conference in London. Their patriotism was forged and burnished in struggle.
They were comrades and brothers, sharing many bonds, enjoying what the late American religious leader Ezra Taft Benson describes as “the fellowship of true friends who can hear you out, share your joys, help carry your burdens, and correctly counsel you”.
They were colleagues in the Progressive Liberal Party and the progressive activist group within the party, the National Committee for Positive Action (NCPA). George was also involved with Bahamian Times, where Sir Arthur served as editor and wrote much of its copy.
Sir Arthur recalled: “I met George Smith when he was a young insurance agent back in the early 1960s. Mr. Smith’s complexion would have made it easy for him to find acceptance on the white side of the Bahamian racial divide at the time.
“But he chose to throw in his lot with the struggle for majority rule. He frequently stopped at the office of Bahamian Times on Wulff Road – which was a little hothouse of political ferment – to help with the newspaper and join in the debates.”
Bahamian Times and the NCPA were companions in the PLP, dedicated to raising the consciousness of the mass of Bahamians and propelling the party to nonviolent direct action in the promotion of racial equality and greater social justice.
In 1963, a young George Smith, hailing from Exuma, showed up at Bahamian Times, offering his help. “He had a progressive heart,” Sir Arthur says admiringly.
Though quite a number of black Bahamians refused to get involved more publicly in the movement, it was a testament to George’s sense of justice and progressive heart that he came forward.
Bahamian Times was more than a newspaper and a necessary propaganda tool in a colony in which the white oligarchy controlled The Nassau Guardian and Sir Etienne Dupuch, one of Sir Arthur’s mentors and his former employer and sometimes nemesis, held sway over The Tribune.
The new PLP newspaper was a political incubator, a think tank, a gathering place, where many bonds were forged over late night conversations, endless deadlines and whatever bottled spirits the young men in a hurry to secure majority rule could afford.
In the NCPA and Bahamian Times, much of the Quiet Revolution was nurtured. It was where the political philosophy of many of the party’s progressives was debated.
They read Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. Fanon (1925-1961), born in Martinique, was a political philosopher and psychiatrist, who analysed the pernicious effects of colonialism on individuals and nations.
They studied the writings of George Padmore (1903-1959). Trinidadian by birth, Padmore, born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, was an author, Pan-Africanist and adviser to Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah.
From Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (Of New Things) they understood the importance of private property and ownership, but that a common good required certain limits on private ownership, and that the goods of the world must be shared. There was an essential role for the state in ensuring equity.
The political philosophy they worked out was that of social democracy. Philosophy is essential. One also has to get elected. Sir Arthur was elected as a member of the first majority rule government.
In 1968 George was elected as an MP for the Rolleville, Exuma, constituency. From his youth until his death, the stunning beauty of his island home and the character of its people were deep in George’s soul.
Tensions in the party over Sir Lynden Pindling’s direction of the country and cult of personality came very quickly, dividing friends and colleagues. Moreover, many were also jockeying to be ministers or parliamentary secretaries.
Toward the end of 1969 a conclave was called at Small Hope Bay, Andros, to discuss tensions in the party. To appease backbenchers and to solidify his position, Sir Lynden had a plan.
Before proceeding to the conclave, he met with Sir Arthur quickly after arriving in Andros. The two sat in the back of a car, where he told the latter to return to Nassau to hand in his resignation as Minister of Tourism to Cabinet Secretary Sir Foley Newns.
Within hours of his return to Nassau, Sir Arthur was joined by George Smith, who remained with him throughout the evening. It proved a defining moment in their friendship.
The friendship endured despite the political break Sir Arthur, the Dissident Eight and others subsequently had with the PLP. Eventually, the majority of men who formed the first majority rule government in 1967 joined the Free National Movement.
The ties of kith and kin are thick and dense in small places. In the 1960s and 70s many Bahamian professionals and emerging leaders lived in the same neighborhoods.
In Highbury Park, along with George and his family, as well as Sir Arthur and his family, were the families of Henry and Janet Bostwick, Curtis and Thelma McMillan, Warren Levarity, Emmy and Angie Achara, Leviticus and Floridell Adderley, Aubrey Curling and others.
The Foulkes and Smith families were close, especially with George’s brother, Phillip, the youngest, and their sister, Kathleen Turnquest. George was one of 11 children, which included three girls and eight boys.
The politics of the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s sundered a number of personal relationships, especially as the drug era took hold, poisoning the country in myriad ways.
A good number became the victims of the political sycophancy of the era, and many became embroiled in actions which they came to regret, including George Smith, who was named in the Commission of Inquiry Report investigating this period.
George had his flaws, struggles and faults, public and private. But they do not negate his contributions, his deep love of The Bahamas, and his capacity for growth and redemption. He won re-election to Parliament after his resignation from the Cabinet.
When he left frontline politics, George became less partisan and more statesmanlike, often annoying his own party with his statements on a range of matters.
Many recall George as a fount of information and knowledge acquired through reading, and experience as a political actor, including as a Member of Parliament for Exuma for decades, as a parliamentary secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Local Government, Chairman of the Hotel Corporation of The Bahamas, and other roles.
George loved the arena. He understood the exigencies, difficulties and possibilities of politics and government, eschewing the often simplistic mindset of those who have never experienced the power, demands and limitations of political office.
A friend who lunched with him earlier this year was delighted to hear his insights on a range of topics which, she said, he offered with no arrogance or pomposity as might some former politicians.
When someone pours their lifeblood into a country, even when flawed and faltering, there is heartbreak when their homeland fails to reach its potential or is besieged by those who lack the basic qualities and guiding philosophy needed for public service.
There is heartbreak when the country drifts and meanders, embroiled in the politics of egotism, greed, smug ignorance, and indifference to the needs of the mass of people. In this, both Sir Arthur and George critiqued and corrected as a means of improvement.
George offered advice to many about public affairs and personal matters. He mused once to this writer to beware fair weather, sometimes toxic and jealous friends who do not have the capacity for personal loyalty, or to hold in their heart and confidence the mistakes, weaknesses and foibles of those dear to them.
The last word is George’s, who offered to this columnist, with hope and some anxiety: “We have a wonderful little country, you know. But we can do much better. Don’t give up on The Bahamas!”