Good afternoon, Acklins!
What a pleasure it is to be here with you all.
Today I have the privilege of honouring the many contributions of an old friend, who also happens to be one of the most prominent national figures of our time. I am not sure he will be pleased with that designation, but I like to give credit where credit is due!
Loftus Roker was born in the aptly named settlement of Delectable Bay, Acklins to humble subsistence farmers. Determined to improve his lot, he travelled to London to complete his GCEs and later to study law.
When he returned home to establish a private law firm, he became one of the few black lawyers in our country to practise at that time. He knew our country needed change, and never one to sit on the sidelines, he launched his political career without delay, winning the seat for Nichollstown and Berry Islands in the 1968 general election.
Three years later, Roker was appointed Minister of Health and Housing, overseeing a sizable portfolio with the tenacious and no-nonsense leadership style that would come to characterise his career. Let me try to put it the way he might: when Loftus Roker was on the backbench, he spoke his mind. When he was Minister of Health and Housing, he let everyone know what he was really thinking. Later, as Minister of Works, and then as Minister of National Security, he was not one to mince words. I think you’re all seeing the pattern, right? And finally, in retirement, he can still be counted on for his unvarnished opinions. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
God is good, and he sent our nation leaders of vision and courage when we needed them. As all of us here today know, Loftus Roker played a critical role in one of the most important moments in our national history. In December of 1972, as one of only fifteen in a national delegation led by then Prime Minister Pindling, he travelled to London to negotiate the terms of our country’s independence. He did this because, in his own words, he “believed in freedom.”
Only four of the signatories to our independence agreement are still with us, and so we are grateful that we can still turn to Loftus for reminiscence, for his firsthand accounts of critical moments in Bahamian history, for guidance and, of course, for his very candid views. What an incredible journey – from a childhood in Acklins to participating in the events that altered our nation’s course and delivered to us our national sovereignty.
On a personal note, I hope he knows that I have never forgotten his friendship with and kindness to my father. Nor have I forgotten that he was never solely focused on his own career – when there were few black men practising law, he did what he could to bring others behind him. In fact, our law firm’s first office was rented in his building – he wanted to be sure we had a space to start our practice. These kinds of things are less likely to show up in our history books, but supporting and encouraging professional progress for Bahamians has been and continues to be as critical to nation-building as the events more often in the headlines.
I hope Loftus and I can enjoy a game of dominoes together soon – a game I’m sure would be quite competitive! – so that I have another opportunity to thank him for hanging lanterns on the path, so that others could find their own way forward.
With the renaming of this school, during the year we celebrate fifty years of independence, I hope that we are doing two things at once: honouring Loftus Roker’s many contributions, and inspiring the next generation to dream about how they might help build our nation in the next fifty years.
I hope the students who attend this school know that people who grow up on small islands can do very big things. We need all kinds, as we enter a new era of challenges and opportunities. We need young people who will build their lives in Acklins, and in other Family Island communities, and contribute as entrepreneurs and as part of a growing agricultural industry, so that our nation can grow much more of what we eat. We need young Bahamians from across our islands who, as they chart their own paths forward, also remember to bring others with them.
To build a nation, you start by mixing the cement. So mix your cement. Find your passion, pursue it, and then put it to good use, strengthening our country’s foundations and freedoms.
We are a small country, but we punch above our weight in so many ways – and we do so because of those who view the work of national progress as a shared responsibility.
To Mr. Roker: thank you. Thank you for showing the world what folks from Acklins are made of. Thank you for your service to this country. Thank you for the work you did in the spotlight and the work you did when no one was looking. None of it has been forgotten.
We are profoundly grateful for it all.
May God continue to bless you, Acklins, and the entire Commonwealth of The Bahamas.