by Tony Nias,
Eighty years ago on April 12, 1936 a boy was born in Basseterre to parents, Ms. Brontie Clarke and Mr. Arthur Simmonds. Who would have thought that this son, Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds would grow up to become leader of a progressive movement, his country’s first Prime Minister, father of the nation’s independence, and one the most beloved and undisputed statesman in our nation’s history? It is often said that our moral values, and our character, are outgrowths of our upbringing. An examination of the life of Kennedy gives solid credence to this adage.
In the 1940’s, the idea of a poor child getting an education much less entering the St. Kitts-Nevis Grammar School was mostly a pipe dream. Education was neither free nor easily available. Grammar School was reserved for the privileged class. Kennedy however was determined to overcome this challenge. Aided by his already instilled solid values and good character, Kennedy prepared for, and sat the primary school entrance examination and was awarded a Scholarship to the St. Kitts-Nevis Grammar School. His hard work and intelligence had served him well. In 1945 a nine year old Kennedy entered Grammar School as one of the youngest pupils ever to do so, and went on to earn wide recognition as a top student in all subjects.
Kennedy proved to be a well-rounded student. Not only maintaining excellence in academics, but he pursued interests in the theatre, as well as sports. His peers noted and admired his spirit of competitiveness, and his even greater spirit of sportsmanship. Kennedy at a very early age was already displaying qualities of a natural leader, among his many leadership roles were; captain of the school’s Under Fourteen Cricket Team, captain of the school’s Senior Cricket Team, captain of Blue House, Head Prefect, and President of the school’s Literary and Debating Society. Through all of his extra curricula activities Kennedy never lost his focus, he proved once again that discipline mattered when he topped the results of the Cambridge Higher School Certificate Examination in the Leeward Islands, winning the Leeward Islands Scholarship in 1955.
After leaving school and a brief stint as a Senior Bench Chemist at the Sugar Association Research Laboratory in 1955, Kennedy decided on medicine as a career choice, and was accepted at the University of the West Indies. While at the University he continued his interest in sports. He was selected to the University Cricket Team, where he served as Secretary of the University’s Cricket Club. Kennedy never gave up on his strong religious upbringing in the Wesley Methodist Church in St. Kitts; he became Founding Member and Treasurer of the UWI Methodist Society. Graduating in 1962, he did his medical internship at the Kingston Public Hospital, Jamaica in 1963.
Now qualified, Dr. Kennedy Simmonds returned home to St. Kitts in 1964, and began what was to become a successful and highly regarded professional practice. His first appointment was in Anguilla in 1964. In 1965 Dr. Simmonds became a Founding Member of the People’s Action Movement, (P.A.M.), formed in political opposition to Robert Bradshaw’s ruling St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla Labour Party.
One year after its formation, the P.A.M. contested the General Election of 1966, but did not secure any of the seats. Following the elections Dr. Simmonds decided to travel abroad to the Bahamas and the USA in order to pursue Post-graduate studies in Anaesthesiology. Dr. Simmonds eventually returned home in 1969 to continue his medical practice and political activism.
For Dr. Kennedy Simmonds the 1970’s were not particularly easy years in opposition to Robert Bradshaw and his Labour administration. In 1974 Dr. Simmonds, was arrested on his West Farm Estate land, when he defied an unreasonable order from Bradshaw to immediately plant sugar on the land where he already planted vegetables. Dr. Simmonds mounted a successful legal challenge to the wrongful arrest, that success was however nullified when Bradshaw declared a State of Emergency, suspending the constitution around the area of West Farm Estates. Despite this type of abuse of power, victimisation, and threats against life and liberty, Dr Simmonds never wavered; he pressed on and continued to stand up for his principles and beliefs against Bradshaw and his autocratic rule. Simmonds went on to become President of the P.A.M. in 1976.
The death of Robert Bradshaw in May of 1978 created the need for a by-election to fill the vacant Central Basseterre seat. Simmonds and the P.A.M was now handed an opportunity to possibly change the political landscape in St. Kitts-Nevis. Up to this point in our history, there had never been an opposition member of parliament from the island of St. Kitts. Dr Simmonds now had the opportunity to change that. However, at the end of the election, Labour candidate Anthony Rebiero was returned as the winner with a questionable vote count. A court challenge to the results saw a recount of the ballots in open court, resulting in a declaration from both the court of first instance as well as the court of appeal that Dr Simmonds should have been returned as the duly elected Representative for Central Basseterre. In spite of the rulings, then Labour leader Lee Moore allowed an entire year to go by without a sitting of the parliament in order to avoid swearing in Dr. Kennedy Simmonds. One year later Lee Moore decided to take his chances on a general election, hoping to defeat Simmonds and the People’s Action Movement. That decision turned out to be a mistake for the Labour leader. The general election of February 18th, 1980 saw the fall of the Labour party, and the installation of a new progressive administration of the People’s Action Movement in coalition with the Nevis Reformation Party, with new Premier, Dr the Honourable Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds.
A new administration on Church Street meant more than just new faces occupying Government Headquarters. Under the visionary leadership of Premier Simmonds there came a paradigm shift. Between 1980 and 1983, the Simmonds led administration embarked on a busy progressive legislative agenda which became the catalyst for a level of development across all sectors of the economy never before seen in St. Kitts-Nevis. It was an agenda that saw over 160 pieces of legislation positively affecting the lives of ordinary citizens, including;
§ Paid salary increases to public servants of 40%
§ Increased sugar workers wage from 17% to 25%
§ Abolishment of personal income tax
§ Removal of consumption tax from gasoline, essential food and drugs
§ Providing duty-free concessions for fishermen equipment
§ Providing import duty concessions to regular taxi drivers
§ Establishment of the Development Bank of St. Kitts-Nevis
§ Implementation of the school feeding programme
§ Construction of new schools in St. Pauls and Sandy Point
§ Renovation of schools in Saddlers, Dieppe Bay, Basseterre, Cayon, Newton Ground, Newtown, and Sandy Point.
Not only was the new administration in Basseterre good for the economy, it proved a welcome change from the strained relationship between the people of Nevis and the Labour Government. Dr. Kennedy Simmonds with his new brand of politics that promoted reconciliation and dialogue over the “bone in your rice and pepper in your soup” approach, brought the Nevis Representatives to the table as equals in order to map out a way forward that would work to the benefit of all the citizens of a forward moving St. Kitts and Nevis. Having worked out a framework that dealt with the long standing issues of Nevis, Dr. Simmonds was able to lead a united team to constitutional and independence talks in London. Consequently, on September 19th, 1983 St. Kitts and Nevis gained its independence from Great Britain, under the leadership of the Honourable Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds, who became the Nation’s first Prime Minister.
Under the exemplary leadership of Prime Minister Simmonds the Nation continued to make great strides, two islands once divided now united, the administration continued its progressive agenda. It was a time of great prosperity for the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. Our extraordinary economic progress did not go unnoticed beyond our borders; The World Bank saw it fit to declare our Nation number one in economic growth and development throughout the Latin America and Caribbean region. Prime Minister Simmonds’ personal leadership and unifying abilities also came in for recognition, when he received an appointment as a member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, and honoured with the title “Right Honourable”.
Every five years or so, the people of St. Kitts and Nevis go through what may be considered a necessary ritual, an election. Time after time they go to the poll and elect a politician and hope against hope that he/she possesses the qualities of a statesman, only to be disappointed more often than not, when they get exactly what they voted for, another Politian. However, there are a few occasions when lady luck smile on them and a statesman emerge. A famous preacher and author, James Freeman Clarke, once said “A politician is a man who thinks of the next election; while the statesman thinks of the next generation.”
Dr the Right Honourable Sir Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds today continues to be a true statesman. His public and private conduct is always guided by a bedrock set of principles that will not be compromised for personal or political gain. Simmonds forever rose above mere partisan politics, and made the overall welfare of a nation his first priority.
Two years ago on April 12, 2014, on his 78th birthday, Dr the Right Honourable Sir Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds was honoured with a fitting gala, hosted by the People’s Action Movement, in recognition of his statesmanship, unparalleled leadership, and immeasurable contribution to country and party. In spite of his contributions to nation building, the government of the day never saw it fit to honour the life, and work of Sir Kennedy. However, 2015 saw a change of government, a Team Unity government made up of three political parties ushered in not just a change in the administration on Church Street, but a change in attitude, a new dispensation. In September 2015 as the nation celebrated its 32 year of independence – an independence achieved under the leadership of Sir Kennedy- St. Kitts and Nevis finally honoured a living legend, a true statesman as a designated National Hero. Sir Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds a designated National Hero
Happy birthday Sir Kennedy, our nation say a big thank you for sharing of yourself with a country that is the better off for having you.