Death of a Statesman:Franklin Andrew Merrifield Baron
Eulogy by: Irving Andre
Alexander Arthur Baron, a wealthy Portsmouth estate owner and businessman, did not know in January 1923 that his new born son, Franklin Andrew Merrifield Baron, was destined to stamp an indelible mark on his island's history.
The young Franklin left Portsmouth in the late 1930s to attend secondary school in Roseau. Upon graduation, he did not follow the well-beaten path to university, like many of his peers, but chose to extend his father's business in Roseau. He lost his father in 1945 and, soon after, gravitated towards politics. He unsuccessfully contested the general elections for the Portsmouth constituency in 1951 but triumphed in the Roseau South constituency in 1954 and 1957 general elections. In the latter year, he out manoeuvred political opponents Phyllis Shand Allfrey and attorney Clifton Dupigny to command a majority in the legislative council. He was appointed Dominica's Minister of Trade and Industry. In 1960, he became Dominica's first Chief Minister and maintained that position until his defeat by Edward Oliver LeBlanc in January 1961.
Self-assured, urbane and articulate, Franklin Baron never used his origins in Dominica's second town as a crutch or excuse. He pursued every conceivable business or social venture during his lifetime. In 1945, he founded a commission agency with his mentor, the legendary Dominica Grammar School teacher, Mr. N.A.N. Jeffers. He later ventured into furniture making, agro- industry, banana production and the manufacture of sugar syrup for export. In the early 1970s, he built the Sisserou Hotel.
He made important contributions in the field of sports and social events. He captained the Shamrock Football Team in the early 1950s, chaired the Dominica Amateur Sports Association, hosted a number of sporting events alongside Dr. Edward Watty, his lifelong friend and confidante, and donated numerous championship trophies to the local football and cricket associations. He also served as Chairman of the Carnival Committee in the late 1950s and played a significant role in ensuring that the annual celebrations were peaceful and enjoyable.
Franklin Baron increased the pace of social and political change in Dominica. In the 1950s, he introduced a number of resolutions in the legislative council which called for the removal of import duties on staples such as codfish and milk, the provision of adequate housing for working people in the Roseau area and the establishment of a Provident Fund for non-pensionable employees. He also supported the introduction of the Ministerial System of government in Dominica and in 1956, was appointed Dominica's representative in the negotiations leading to the formation of the West Indies Federation.
During his tenure as the leading voice in Dominica's legislative council in the late 1950s, legions of Dominicans received scholarships to study in disparate fields and thereby diversified the civil service to make it more reflective of Dominican society. Mr. Baron gave a number of secondary school scholarships to deserving students including future Organization of Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal jurist, the late Honourable Justice, Albert Matthew. Franklin Baron also made Dominica more accessible to regional and international travellers by being responsible for the building of the Melville Airport which was opened in 1961 after he vacated office.
In his final year of elective office, Mr. Baron oversaw a significant degree of infrastructural development in Dominica. Construction of the Castle Bruce Road commenced in 1959, while construction of the Pointe Michel/ Soufriere and the Coulibistrie/ Colihaut Roads commenced in 1960. In the latter -year, the Rosalie Road was extended to La Plaine. Between 1957 and 1960, motorable roads in Dominica increased from 100 miles to 200 miles.
In the field of education, the Portsmouth Government and Wesley Primary schools were built in 1954 and 1955 respectively. In 1957, the Giraudel Primary School was built while primary schools in Bellevue Chopin, Morne Prosper, Campbell and Delices and four other primary schools were built in 1958. In1960, Baron also procured $40,000 from the colonial authorities for the construction of a new building for the Saint Mary's Academy in Roseau.
Franklin Baron also instituted measures to improve the living conditions of working people in the late 1950s. Under his tenure, 46 two-roomed government-assisted houses, equipped with flush toilets and running water, were built in Pottersville, each at a cost of $1,650. He also embraced a policy of land distribution for small farmers. In 1957, 209 land titles to 1,655 acres of Crown lands were issued to small farmers while 600 acres of the Rosalie Estate were acquired for farmers in the area.
Franklin Baron did not 8o gently into the night following political defeats in 1961 and 1966. With his characteristic tenacity and fortitude, he rebuilt his retail and wholesale business in the 1960s but never ventured far away from the governance of his island. In the early 1970s, he played a seminal role in the construction of the psychiatric unit of the Princess Margaret Hospital while serving as head of the Rotary Club of Dominica.
In 1973, the former Chief Minister formalized his relationship with Sybil Baron nee McIntyre, whom he had courted as early as 1949 when she worked in the Roseau Public Library. The couple enjoyed a close and caring relationship until Mr. Baron's death on April 9, 2016.
With the triumph of Dame Eugenia Charles in the 1980s general elections, Franklin Baron assumed the mantle of leadership once again and served in virtually every sphere of governance in Miss Charles' administration. He led the National Commercial and Development Bank to record profits in the 1980s. During her tenure in government, Miss Charles appointed him to the positions of U.S. Ambassador, U.N. Ambassador and Dominica's OAS Representative, positions in which he served with great distinction without receiving a fixed income. In the mid-1980s, his negotiations with the U.S. resulted in the electrification of many rural areas in Dominica. By 1986, he chaired ten statutory boards including the National and Commercial Development Bank, DOMLEC and the Industrial Development Corporation. In the early 1990s, he served as Dominica's Whaling Commissioner.
Franklin Baron purchased the Chronicle newspaper in 1990 and founded the Paramount Printers company three -years later. In his role as proprietor of the Chronicle, his sterling qualities blushed and then blossomed. He paid weekly homage to the cherished constitutional rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association. He courted controversy and fearlessly faced those who disagreed with him. He advanced opinions which did not always win favour with some friends and colleagues. He often stated: "Publish and be damned". So zealously did he guard his unfettered right of freedom of expression that he turned down an offer of an expensive computer from a foreign government on the ground that acceptance would have compromised his objectivity. He had then warned: "Beware of Greeks bringing gifts".
Official recognition of Franklin Baron's contribution to his country did not come until forty-five -years after he left office in 1961. In 2006, the Government of Dominica conferred the Dominica Award of Honour on him for his services to his country and people.
Despite his tough, uncompromising nature Franklin Baron was filled with the milk of human kindness. Indeed, his character can best be summed up by paraphrasing the words of Sir Winston Churchill: he was an enigma wrapped in a conundrum within a paradox. Intensely driven and opinionated, he was nevertheless a gentle person who cared deeply for others, particularly his wife, children and close friends. For many -years he enjoyed a game of dominoes with friends such as the late Dr. Nicholas Liverpool, Mr. Ebert Charles, the late Mrs. Marylyn Robinson and his son, Dave. He often took the initiative to host socials to which he invited a number of Dominica's elders to share their experiences. When Sybil Baron and himself built their family home in 1972, they constructed a swimming pool not for themselves but for the enjoyment of their nieces, nephews and in later years, their grandchildren. Very few activities gave him more pleasure than interacting with his grandchildren and catering to their myriad needs.
Franklin Baron confronted his own mortality with characteristic courage. He never wavered in his commitment to improve the lives of others. In recent years, he took steps to establish a scholarship foundation for indigent children managed by a number of prominent Dominican educators. He reached out to long lost relatives. He sought to secure the future comfort of his loved ones.
We may not know how best to honour the life of this extraordinary man. We may not know the full extent he cared for his wife whom he loved deeply. We may not appreciate the tremendous impact he had on the lives of his children: Royette, Frances, Eddie, Frederick, Annie, Dave, Francine and Franklin. Neither can we fathom the extraordinary influence he had on his relatives, in-laws, friends, associates, well-wishers and legions of Dominicans.
We may not know the reaction of Franklin Merrifield Andrew Baron as he boldly approached the celestial entrance of his heavenly abode. We may, however, surmise that with an outstretched hand, he issued his patented greeting to his heavenly father: "Hello ole chappie."