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Errol Walton Barrow
(21 January 1920 - 1 June 1987)
The Right Excellent Errol Barrow, PC, QC, LLD
First Prime Minister and National Hero of Barbados

Errol Walton Barrow (21 January 1920 – 1 June 1987) was a Caribbean statesman and the first Prime Minister of Barbados. Born into a family of political and civic activists in the parish of St. Lucy, Barbados.

Early life and education

Acclaimed as the Father of Barbados' Independence, Errol Walton Barrow was born in Nesfield in the parish of St. Lucy, Barbados on 21 January 1920.  The son of the late Rev. Reginald Grant Barrow and the late Ruth Barrow (née O'Neal), Errol was the nephew of legendary Dr. Charles Duncan O'Neal, founder of the Democratic League, and brother of Errol's mother.

He was educated at Danish School, St Croix, US Virgin Islands and later at Wesley Hall Boys School from where he won a scholarship at the age of 11 to Combermere.  At 14 he won another scholarship to Harrison College, and from there an Island Scholarship in Classics 1939, tenable at Codrington College.  The Scholarship offer was not taken up and instead he taught at Foundation School, and worked for a short period in the Petty debt Court before joining the Royal Air Force in November 1940 and serving in World War II.  He was personal navigation officer to the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army at the Rhine between 1940 and 1942.

In 1947 Barrow enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn and entered London University.  He was successful in his bar finals in 1949 and graduated with a B.Sc. (Econ) the following year.  He was called to the Bar in Barbados in 1950 where he had a very successful law practice.  He was made a Queen’s Council (Q.C.) in 1980.


In 1951 he became a member of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in 1951.  That year he won a seat in St. George for the BLP which moved from 12 members in the House of Assembly to 16, thus obtaining a clear majority for the first time. But the desire to fashion a new political force led Barrow in 1955, along with Cameron Tudor and others to form the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). 

Barrow’s decision to part company with Sir Grantley Adams and the BLP in 1954, basically had to do with differences in their approach to national development. He felt reforms to advance the cause of the masses were proceeding too slowly, and questioned why black people could not afford to buy shoes, and why they could not work in banks and other Broad Street establishments. Barrow felt Sir Grantley was concentrating too much on forming the West Indies Federation at the expense of the more pressing priority which was developing Barbados. Another contributing factor to the rift between the two men was Barrow’s contention that Sir Grantley was paying more attention to the then British Governor than to his elected colleagues in parliament.

Barrow lost his seat in the 1956 General Elections, but returned to Parliament after successfully contesting a by-election in St. John in 1958.

Such was the quality of his leadership and impact on Barbados' social landscape that Barrow received many awards while serving as Head of Government. Among them were an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from McGill University of Canada in 1966 and the Lions International "Head of State Award" for "outstanding service to the country" in 1967.

He was guest of United States President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, was made a Privy Councillor in 1969 and authored "Canada's Role in the West Indies" (published in 1964 by the Canadian Institute of International Affairs).

In his first 15-year administration, says Theodore Sealy in his "Caribbean Leaders", "it seems that social democracy in bringing the people to be beneficiaries of the new kind of state, freed as it is from the plantocracy, was the guiding spirit of his administration".
Barrow achieved:

  • democratisation of the educational process and expanded free education to all levels
  • victory against segregation in education;
  • the introduction of a National Insurance and Social Security scheme;
  • school meals on an improved nutritional basis;
  • improved health services;
  • accelerated industrial development; and considerable expansion of the tourist industry;
  • Independence for Barbados in November 1966.

F.A. Hoyos in his "Builders of Barbados", writes that, propelled by Barrow's defence of the sugar workers' cause in the country districts, during the deadlock between the Barbados Workers' Union and the Sugar Producers' Federation over negotiations for increased wages, the DLP won a decisive victory in the 4 December 1961 General Elections. A crash programme of public works was introduced to provide relief for the unemployed; roads were repaired, land at Seawell and gullies across the island were cleared; men were set to work to commence canalisation of the Constitution River; secondary education was made free in all government schools; a new deal was arrived at for agricultural labourers and construction began for 30 industries.

Barrow made Barbados a member of the Organisation of American States and in 1968, with other regional leaders, launched the Caribbean Free Trade Area, the forerunner to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Having been selected by the people to lead Barbados into Independence in 1966, Barrow thus brought to an end the long process of decolonisation. His record of achievement led to his DLP's landslide victory in the September 1971 General Elections, capturing 18 of the 24 seats in the House of Assembly.

Although Barrow had enjoyed considerable public support throughout much of his political career, his popularity was waning by the time general elections were held in 1976.  Controversy over constitutional amendments proposed by the government, combined with a general economic downturn that affected much of the Western Hemisphere led to a resurgent BLP regaining the Majority, and to Barrow being replaced by J.M.G.M. “Tom” Adams as Prime Minister.

As the leader of the Opposition, Barrow was a vocal and forceful opponent of the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, and a scathing critic of those Caribbean leaders - including Prime Minister Adams - who either ignored or openly supported it in hopes of gaining favor from the United States.

In 1986, at the age of 66 years, he again led his party to power, winning the General Elections by 24-3 against the BLP.  The campaign was notable for an address he gave at a political rally some two weeks before the election which came to be known as the 'Mirror Image' speech. In it, Barrow rhetorically asked Barbadians what kind of a future they saw for themselves when they looked in the mirror; contrasting a life of menial labour as an émigré in the developed world, or staying and building a strong and independent Barbados to rival other small states like Singapore.

Personal life

Barrow was maried on 8 November 1945 to Carolyn Marie Barrow (née Plaskett, died 11 November 2001) of New Jersey. They were the parent of daughter, Lesley Barrow (died 7 August 2008) and son, David O’Neale Barrow.

In 1969 he wrote Canada's Role in the West Indies.

His was a member of the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators, Barbados Light Aeroplane Club, Barbados Cruising. His recreational activities included flying, diving, fishing, photography and cooking. He was an anglican.

Honours and awards

Barrow received many awards among them were an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from Mc Gill University in Canada in 1966 and the Lions International "Head of State Award" for 'outstanding service to the country' in 1967. He was made a Privy Councilor in 1968

Death and legacy

Barrow did not live long enough to enjoy his 1986 election victory. After only one year in office he collapsed and died at his home on 1 June 1987.

Barrow’s death followed a hectic week of activities coinciding with the celebration of his party’s first anniversary in office. In the week prior to his death, he addressed the annual general meeting of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, toured the Arawak Cement Plant, the Flour Mill and the Industrial Access Highway, and was feature speaker at a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) mass meeting in Independence Square, at which he appeared visibly tired.

Barrow was acorded a State Funeral at the Barbados National Stadium on Tuesday, 9 June 1987.

Prior to his death, Barrow had expressed to desire that "When called to my reckoning, and since I do not require or need any outpouring of hypocrisy, or glass-enclosed shrine... my mortal remains, after incineration, may be scattered from an aircraft in the Caribbean Sea, without any of the ghoulish and undignified caterwauling that passes for service in one of our main places of political public entertainment." His wish was so honoured.

Barrow left an impressive record:

  • First Prime Minister 1966-1976;
  • "Father of Independence",
  • Supporter of the UWI and regional unity;
  • Designer of a modern system of public budgeting;
  • Architect of the University of the West Indies Campus at Cave Hill, Barbados;
  • Ccreator of the Barbados Community College;
  • Co-founder of CARIFTA and CARICOM; and inspiration for lowering the age of majority (voting age) from 21 to 18.  

It was said of him that "He found Barbados a collection of villages, and transformed it into a proud nation."

Posthumously declared a National Hero in 1998, Barrow's birthday is celebrated as a national holiday, and his portrait is inscribed on the Barbados $50 bill.   On Errol Barrow Day 2007, a 9-foot-tall statue of Errol Barrow was erected on the esplanade along the Careenage, picturesquely sited between the city's two bridges and facing Parliament.

The Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI) was opened in 2006 in Barrow's honour. EBCCI is the Creative Arts Centre of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies.


13 May 1986
What kind of mirror image do you have of yourself? 13 May 1986
22 July 1963
Address to the 5th Meeting of the Heads of Government of Commonwealth Caribbean Countries, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, 3 February 1969
23 October 1967
Address to the 4th Meeting of the Heads of Government of Commonwealth Caribbean Countries, Bridgetown, Barbados, 23-27 October 1967
8 March 1965
Address to the 3rd Meeting of the Heads of Government of Commonwealth Caribbean Countries, Georgetown, Guyana, 8-10 March 1965
12 January 1964
Address to the 2nd Meeting of the Heads of Government of Commonwealth Caribbean Countries, Jamaica, 13 January 1964
22 July 1963
Address to the 1st Meeting of the Heads of Government of Commonwealth Caribbean Countries, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, 22 July 1963.
Peter Morgan, The Life and Time of Errol Barrow (1994)
A study of the first prime minister of independent Barbados
Speeches by Errol Barrow, Hansib (Ed.), (1987).
A collection of speeches made by the late Barbadian Prime Minister, Errol Barrow, giving an important insight into his fight for the region's identity and prosperity.
25 April 2016
The Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture 2016. Delivered by Professor Sir George Alleyne, The Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and the Director of Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO)
23 January 2015
The Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture 2015. Delivered by Dr. The Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines
25 January 2014
The Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture 2014. Delivered by The Rt. Hon. Freundel Stuart, Prime Minister of Barbados
24 January 2013
The Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture 2013: Management of a Small Open Tourism Dependent Economy in a Context of a Major Fracture in the Global Financial and Econoic Architecture - Lessons Learned. Delivered by Sir Frank Alleyne
19 January 2012
The Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture 2012: Ethics of Development for Barbados and Beyond. Delivered by Professor Eudine Barriteau, Deputy Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Barbados
20 January 2009
The Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture 2009: Glimpses of the Commonwealth at Sixty. Delivered by Sir Shridath Ramphal
January 2007
The Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture 2007: Political Empowerment. Delivered by - Harold Hoyte
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Errol Barrow
Occupation Lawyer, Politician
Date of Birth 21 January 1920
Place of Birth Nesfield, St. Lucy, Barbados
Date of Death 1 June 1987 (aged 67)
Place of Death Barbados
Notable Accomplishments
Prime Minister of Barbados: 29 November 1966 - 8 September 1976 & 29 May 1986 - 1 June 1987
National Hero of Barbados 1998
Barbados Barbados
National Heroes of Barbados
Heads of Government of Barbados
Democratic Labour Party

 National Heroes
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 Women in Caribbean Politics
 Caribbean Nobel Laureates
 Order of the Caribbean Community Recipients
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