The People’s Action Movement wishes our federation’s first Prime Minister the Dr. Rt. Hon Sir Kennedy A Simmonds a happy and fulfilling birthday today April 12th 2013. We believe that his life has been spent at the service of our people. And his years have been highlighted by his selfless commitment to the cause of the poor and their upliftment.
As the former leader and First Prime Minister of the Federation of St.Kitts-Nevis he continues to inspire our people and our nation. It is under his stewardship that the federation experienced unprecedented economic and social growth.
We wish Sir Kennedy God’s richest blessings.
On this the 77th birthday of our esteemed former Party Leader and Father of an Independent Federation of St.Kitts-Nevis let us look back at the life and career of Dr Rt. Hon Sir Kennedy A Simmonds:
The Father of Independence of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis and our first Prime Minister
This visionary leader and exemplary statesman is the Father of the Nation state of St. Kitts and Nevis, having led the twin-islands from the shackles of statehood under the U.K. to attaining Independence on 19th September, 1983 and becoming the smallest free nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Under his unparalleled leadership as Premier and then Prime Minister in the PAM/NRP Coalition Government, St. Kitts and Nevis made innumerable social and economic strides and was the front-runner, not only in the Eastern Caribbean, but in some respects the entire Latin America/Caribbean region at large.
His sterling contributions to our national development are beyond measure and beyond dispute.
Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds was born on 12th April, 1936 in Basseterre to parents, Ms. Brontie Clarke and Mr. Arthur Simmonds.
In 1945, by virtue of his outstanding performance in the primary school entrance examination, he was awarded a Scholarship to the St. Kitts-Nevis Grammar School.
Those were not the days when education was either free or easily available, and the St. Kitts-Nevis Grammar School was looked upon as a sort of preserve for the offspring of the well off. So unless you were bright enough or lucky enough to win one of the few Scholarships that got you in to receive your Secondary Education, you were left out.
Kennedy Simmonds won himself that opportunity due to his hard work and intelligence, and it is said that he made full use of his Secondary School years. In fact, he was one of the youngest pupils ever to be admitted to the Grammar School. At the age of nine, he was a good two years below the average of those accepted.
At school, his conscientiousness and his popularity earned him wide recognition. He was a top student of his class in all of his subjects.
He was also a well-rounded student and won the admiration of both staff and peers. He cultivated his keen interest in sports, and was noted for a spirit of competitiveness that was always tempered by an even greater spirit of sportsmanship.
Most important of all, he developed a natural flair for leadership along with a sense of responsibility and idealism. Some of the positions he held in while in Grammar School attest to the promise he showed in those early years. He was captain of the school’s Under Fourteen Cricket Team. He captained the school’s Senior Cricket Team. He was captain of Blue House. He was a member of the school’s Football Team. He was the Head Prefect. He was President of the school’s Literary and Debating Society.
In 1955 he crowned an already distinguished school career by topping the results of the Cambridge Higher School Certificate Examination in the Leeward Islands, and winning the coveted Leeward Islands Scholarship.
Interestingly, his subjects in those exams were Chemistry, French, History, English, a blend of Sciences and Arts which is again testimony to his all-round intellectual ability.
On leaving school, he continued to nurture his dramatic talent by becoming a member of the Basseterre Players Theatre Group.
He worked for a year as Senior Bench Chemist at the Sugar Association Research Laboratory in 1955 in St. Kitts.
In due course, he decided to take up medicine as a career, and was duly accepted at the University of the West Indies.
At UWI, he went into residence at Chancellor Hall and was elected Chairman of Block “C” in the Hall. In addition, he was a member of the Overall Chancellor Hall Committee. He remained active in sports, and gained selection on the University Cricket Team. He was also Secretary of the University’s Cricket Club.
Having had a 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.
He returned home to St. Kitts in 1964, a qualified Medical Doctor, and began what was to become a successful and highly regarded professional practice. His first appointment was in Anguilla in 1964.
In 1965, at the age of 28, the vibrant grassroots activist became a Founding Member of the People’s Action Movement, (P.A.M.), which was formed as a Political Party in Opposition to the ruling St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla Labour Party led by the authoritarian Robert Bradshaw.
His Party contested the 1966 General Election and, despite gaining 36% of the popular vote just one year after its formation, did not secure any of the seats.
He then took a leave of absence in 1966 to pursue Post-graduate studies, first in the Bahamas, where he was Staff Doctor, Chief Resident in Anaesthesiology, and Registrar in Internal Medicine at the Princess Margaret Hospital.
In 1968, he left the Bahamas and went to Pittsburgh, U.S.A., where he did further post-graduate work in Anaesthesiology until 1969 when he returned to St. Kitts once more to his Medical Practice and Political Career.
In 1970, he was honoured with the award of the Fellowship of the American College of Anesthesiologists, having successfully completed the necessary examination requirements.
In October 1974 he was engaged in Food Crop cultivation at West Farm Estate in St. Kitts, on a small plot of land purchased by him, and of which he was registered owner. He hired up to seven farmers on a share-crop basis and he was growing a variety of vegetables when, along with his colleagues in the P.A.M., he was given a directive by the Labour Government with impossibly short notice, to plant sugar on his land purportedly in line with the Government’s ongoing Sugar Industry Rescue Operation.
When he demurred, he was arrested on his own land and put into a jail cell by Police Officers who told him that they were acting under orders from the Government. His wrongful imprisonment did not last more than a few hours, after which he got bail.
He was vindicated after a successful legal challenge was launched against the government entering private land in a forcible manner and converting the land to its own use. This successful legal action was brushed aside, however, when the Labour Administration immediately declared a one-square-mile State of Emergency in the area of Simmonds’ farmlands. This abuse of power suspended the Constitution and nullified the court’s decision.
Despite the victimisation and brute personal attacks by Bradshaw’s government, Dr. Simmonds and his Party continued to take a selfless, principled stand against the Labour Administration’s oppressive leadership. In the face of strong-arm government tactics and threats against their life and liberty, the PAM candidates continued their grassroots movement and contested the General Elections in St. Kitts. Interestingly, it was Simmonds who tended to Bradshaw as his anesthesiologist while Bradshaw was undergoing treatment for cancer. This could easily be considered the earliest example of PAM and Labour working together for a common good. Or some could even say UNITY. In this case it was for the overall good of the health of the country’s leader Robert Bradshaw.
Simmonds was elected President of the P.A.M. in 1976. In the previous eleven (11) years he had been First Vice President.
In January 1979, following the death of Robert Bradshaw the previous May, Dr. Simmonds presented himself as the candidate in the by-election to fill the Central Basseterre seat made vacant by Bradshaw’s death.
At the end of the vote count, the Returning Officer declared Ribeiro to be the winner by a margin over Simmonds of 13 votes. The ballots declared rejected/spoilt numbered 99 (ninety-nine).
Dr. Simmonds immediately challenged this result via the filing in Court of an Election Petition, asserting that valid votes had been wrongfully rejected as spoilt ballots by the Returning Officer.
It is a fact of history that, despite all the tantrums in Court by the lawyers for Ribeiro, Justice Hewlett decided to re-count the ballots in open Court and determine which were validly cast and which were actually spoilt. Justice Hewlett’s re-count determined that Kennedy Simmonds had in fact been the victor in the by-election and should have been returned as the Elected Representative for Central Basseterre, Constituency #2.
Though Ribeiro lost one again when he appealed against the decision, the Labour Administration vehemently refused to acknowledge the Victor of the by-election and to have Simmonds sworn in to the House of Assembly as the first Kittitian Member of the Opposition. Then-Premier Lee Moore was so fiercely against the very concept of having any Anti-Labour voice in the House of Assembly that, for twelve months, he simply refused to convene any sitting of the House whatsoever since, by so doing, Dr. Simmonds could not be sworn in. For one year, there was no meeting of the Assembly to debate or pass legislation, to review the 1979 Budget or to pass a new Budget for 1980, to do anything at all concerning the affairs of the twin-island State.
A snap General Election was announced by Premier Moore in the hopes that the Central Basseterre seat would be snatched back by the Labour Party, getting the rid of Simmonds and PAM.
However, this scheme was not to be. The General Election of 18th February, 1980, saw the unprecedented fall from power of the SKNALP, and the election of a progressive, vibrant People’s Action Movement/Nevis Reformation Party Coalition Government. Dr. Kennedy Simmonds – the same man whom that General Election was supposed to exterminate – captured more votes this time than in the by-election of 25th January, 1979, and became the Leader of St. Kitts and Nevis. Now, nothing could stop the change. A new day had indeed dawned.
It is also a fact of history that the people of Nevis had voted 98% in favour of secession from St. Kitts while Labour had been in power and were threatening to rebel Anguilla-style if Bradshaw had signed off for Independence. It is no coincidence that Nevisians did a complete 180 after gaining freedom from the heavy-hand of Labour and were now fully in support of Independence under Kennedy Simmonds and PAM/NRP. Another successful example of UNITY for the good of country.
Representatives from the new coalition Government went to London for Independence talks and to prepare the new Constitution of St. Kitts and Nevis. Nevis featured very prominently in these Independence talks. Dr. Simeon Daniel, Leader of the Nevis Reformation Party and a lawyer by trade, was able to include clauses in the Constitution that were critical to the self-determination of Nevisians.
On 19th September, 1983, St. Kitts and Nevis gained its Independence from Great Britain. Dr. Kennedy Simmonds became the Nation’s first Prime Minister. It was a time of great prosperity and national pride. As a result of the great strides made to unify the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis just between 1980 and 1984 and transform the country into a leader in the Caribbean region, Dr. Simmonds was honoured with the title “Right Honourable” when he was appointed as a member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.
The achievements attained by St. Kitts and Nevis under Prime Minister Simmonds are beyond measure and beyond dispute. Notable among these accomplishments is the leap made by the twin-island Federation to be singled out by the World Bank as the number one in economic growth and development throughout the Latin America and Caribbean region.
Following his departure from government in 1995, new Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas disgracefully withheld the pension payments which were due to our first Prime Minister after his many years of outstanding public service. It was an appalling 833 days since the change in government, after severe pressure and criticism from his fellow CARICOM leaders, when Denzil Douglas finally allowed Dr. Simmonds to start to receive the pension payments that he was owed. However, this maliciousness on the part of Dr. Douglas had placed Dr. Simmonds in dire financial straits. In order to keep his family home and make ends meet, he was compelled to undergo refresher medical training and return to work after decades away from the practice of medicine. He now serves as the Director of Medical Services in Anguilla.
Sir Kennedy is married to Lady Mary Simmonds, formerly Matthew. He has five children – Pauline, Michael, Kennedy Alphonse, Kenrick and Keris.