Prime Minister Davis’ Tribute to the Life of Roney Ambrister

Thank you very much moderator, and please be seated.

Cabinet and Parliamentary colleagues;

The Officiant and Rector, Reverend Father Roderick Bain;

Other members of the clergy;

Leader of the Opposition;

Former Prime Ministers;

Officers and members of the Free National Movement;

Officers and members of the Bahamas Musicians and Entertainers Union;

The bereaved family, friends and well-wishers, good day.

Today, we honor the memory of Roney Rudolph Armbrister, an extraordinary Bahamian who poured his heart and soul into the growth and enrichment of the arts, culture, and tourism in The Bahamas through his mastery of music, entertainment, and stage performance.

In this garden of memories, where the dew is still on the roses, I stand before you not just as your Prime Minister but as a friend who shared countless moments with Roney, echoing the hymn he used to sing so beautifully at our friends’ funerals, “I come to the garden alone While the dew is still on the roses; And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, The Son of God discloses.”

Today, we gather in his memory, a melody of his favorite hymn echoing in our hearts.

On behalf of my wife Ann-Marie, the government and people of The Bahamas, I express my heartfelt condolences to Roney’s widow, Thomasine, and the children during their moment of grief.

Roney exceeded his promised three score and ten by a decade which was long enough to build, lead and influence a family institution covering three generations of Armbristers and in his latter years, he would wear the title of great grand-father as a badge of honour for a life well lived.

To Thomasine and the children, take comfort in the knowledge that Roney lived a full, productive and spirited life – and that he immersed himself in causes much larger than his narrow self-interest. A life in service to others and in the advancement of the greater national cause is one worthy of emulation and tribute. 

In addition to art, entertainment and culture, Roney’s contributions as a trade unionist brought greater respect, recognition and economic empowerment to the hard-working members of the cultural community. 

His advocacy on behalf of Bahamian entertainers and the future growth and development of that industry amplified the pivotal role entertainers played in the marketing and export of Bahamian entertainment.

His legacy also helped to shape and deepen our national identity. 

The verbal sparring with hotel operators and the leadership at the Ministry of Tourism were no doubt contentious and emotive at times, as they duelled about pride of place and fair compensation at some of our premier hotel properties, but power concedes nothing without a demand and there is no substitute for tenacity.

In 2023, we as a government and as a nation are committed to the further development of the creative arts, sports and entertainment as major components of our growing orange economy.

It is important to note that great men such as Roney Armbrister, Blind Blake, Paul Meers, Joseph Spence, the Munnings family, the Chipman family, Ronnie Butler, Eloise Lewis, Maureen Duvalier, Count Bernardino and King Eric Gibson – just to name a few – worked and fought tirelessly to build the arts into a major economic pillar long before the phrase “THE ORANGE ECONOMY” was coined and became fashionable worldwide.

It therefore stands to reason that Roney and many of his contemporaries were visionaries in their own right. They were men and women well ahead of their times. We are finally catching up to their vision and as a country, acknowledging that we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Roney held strong views, and was not afraid to voice those views, and this was evident in his political activism. He vigorously and enthusiastically defended his party and vigorously and loudly vilified the opposing party. 

Now, speaking of Roney’s family, I recall a unique quirk.

You see, Roney was an ardent supporter of the FNM, while Thomasine and the children found their political home with the PLP – my own party. Roney would often joke that his house was the most democratic household in The Bahamas.

Well, even if we didn’t share political allegiances, we were united in our love for The Bahamas.

I will, however, say this much: the work of party generals and surrogates plays an important role in influencing public opinion, policy formulation and in some cases, the advancement of important pieces of legislation.

The work of political activism by party surrogates is important to building a strong, healthy, and vibrant democracy. 

For these reasons, it is an honour and a privilege to memorialize a friend, a son of the soil, a man who loved his God, his family and The Bahamas, and who made significant contributions to national development during his sojourn with us.

I am not alone in honouring the work and legacy of our dearly departed brother. The state recognized Roney’s hands-on service to the local cultural community, and his long-term charitable and voluntary activities, and awarded him the British Empire Medal (BEM).

I urge the Armbrister family to keep the legacy of your father, grandfather and great-grandfather alive. I imagine many of you inherited some of Roney’s passion and strong will, and I hope you use those attributes to embrace and advance causes that are important to you.

In you, and in your contributions, he lives on. Physical death is not final. It is a mere comma in the sentence of our lives. 

Roney will always be present in spirit, living in the hearts and minds of thousands who loved him, appreciated his work and benefitted from his bold vision and aggressive activism.

I thank Roney Rudolph Armbrister, BEM for his contributions to our national life.

Entertainers are considered public figures, so I thank Thomasine and the children for their forbearance in loaning their patriarch to us.

I had the pleasure even in recent years of meeting Roney at a local establishment we both like to frequent, and I am relieved to report that he was generous enough to commend me on the work of the government. His support and kind words meant a lot to me.

Now go with God, Roney, and receive your just and eternal reward. You were a good steward, faithful with your God-given talents; you served well. 

You performed your earthly assignment with excellence and passion, and we who love and respect you tearfully, reluctantly and with heavy hearts, release you to eternity.

“May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the Holy City Jerusalem. May Choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.”

May he rest in peace.