Obituary: Sir Hugh Springer

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The Independent Online
Hugh Worrell Springer, lawyer, public servant: born Barbados 1913; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1938; practised at the Bar, Barbados 1938-47; General Secretary, Barbados Labour Party 1940-47; General Secretary, Workers' Union 1940-47; Registrar, University College of West Indies 1947-63, Director, 1963-66; Commonwealth Assistant Secretary-General 1966-70; Secretary- General ACU, 1970-80; Senior Visiting Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford 1962-63; Acting Governor, Barbados 1964; Governor-General, Barbados 1984-90; author of Reflections of the Failure of the First West Indian Federation 1962; married 1942 Dorothy Gittens (three sons, one daughter); died Barbados 14 April 1994.

NOT EVERYONE who shows early promise lives up to to it. Hugh Springer was one who did. He fulfilled expectations in abundant measure and was one of the most illustrious and internationally respected men to have come out of the Caribbean in this century.

Educated at Harrison College in Barbados, Springer won a Barbados Scholarship in Classics and read Greek at Hertford College, Oxford, where he obtained his BA in 1936 and added his MA in 1944. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of Hertford in 1974.

After being called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1938 Springer returned to Barbados, which in the previous year had been shaken by riots arising out of the abject poverty and political disenfranchisement of the majority of the people. At that time the Barbados House of Assembly was elected by a small property-owning electorate and, not surprisingly, was dominated by the white plantocracy and businessmen. Springer joined a formidable black barrister and member of the House, Grantley (later Sir Grantley) Adams, in creating the Progressive League, which, as General Secretary, and with his unerring vision and organisational skills, he transformed into two separate but initially closely related bodies: one, the first mass political party in the island, the Barbados Labour Party, under the leadership of Grantley Adams; the other, the first union of organised labour, the Barbados Workers' Union, which, as its first General Secretary, he established on a firm and lasting footing.

Springer was elected to the House of Assembly in 1940 and played an important role in the success of the Barbados Labour Party at the general election in 1946, when it became the first government of Barbados under the cabinet system which Springer's persuasive gifts had helped to bring about.

By then his interests had developed from local politics to regional co-operation and ultimate integration, and he regarded education, particularly higher education, as the best means of achieving this objective. But his interest in education had deeper foundations. After coming down from Oxford and while reading for the Bar, he had sought employment as a teacher through one of the best-known firms of educational consultants and tutorial colleges in London. Their response was stark and simple. No one of his colour could expect to get a teaching appointment in any establishment for which they recruited staff, and the fee which he had paid was accordingly returned.

Springer never expressed any feeling of bitterness over this episode. On the contrary, he regarded the attitude, which was the norm at the time, as something to struggle against. Indeed, far from expressing bitterness, with the twinkle in his eyes and the smile on his face that were so endearing, he commended them for their conduct in telling it as it was and for their honesty in returning his fee.

Shortly after his return to Barbados in 1938, the Principal of Codrington College - the oldest university-type institution in the Caribbean - died. Springer took over the teaching of Classics until a successor was found. He always held Codrington in high esteem and, in his role of Patron, played a large part in a recent successful appeal for funds to restore and enlarge the function of the college.

It was natural that when the Asquith Commission on Higher Education in the West Indies was established in the Fifties Springer should become a member and, when its recommendation for the establishment of a University College at Kingston, Jamaica, was accepted, that he should become a member of the college's Provisional Council. He resigned from the cabinet in 1947 and became the first Registrar of the college which became a full university in 1962.

When the fledgling Federation of the West Indies collapsed in 1962 Springer took time off to consider the reasons and the outcome. The award of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship together with a Fellowship of the Harvard Centre for International Affairs enabled him to do this to good effect and his book Reflections on the Failure of the First West Indian Federation (1962) displays the fairness, balance, lucidity and perception which characterised all his work. He followed his period at Harvard with a return to Oxford, where he was Senior Visiting Fellow at All Souls College in 1962-63 and was elected an Honorary Fellow in 1988. Upon going back to the University of the West Indies he became Director of the Institute of Education.

His vision and interests had now extended beyond the Caribbean into the field of Commonwealth and international education, where he established a high reputation throughout the world. His appointments and awards on the international front were numerous: particularly notable were his term of office as a Director of the United World College from 1978 to 1990; his time as Assistant Secretary- General (Education) at the Commonwealth Secretariat from 1966 to 1970, where he played a leading role in Commonwealth Education Conferences and in the development of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Programme; and his service as Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities from 1970 to 1980, where he not only strengthened the links between the universities of the 'old' Commonwealth but fostered links between them and the universities of the 'new' Commonwealth. It came as a great sadness to him that his success in building up relationships between the institutions of the old and the new Commonwealth was undermined by a change of policy on fees on the part of the governments of the old Commonwealth towards overseas students.

Springer's many appointments from 1966 to 1980 involved him in a heavy schedule of travel around the world. He was popular and greatly respected in academic and educational circles. While his heart was in Barbados and the Caribbean, he was very fond of England and the English way of life (and he was a member of the Athenaeum).

In 1984, the Governor-General of Barbados, Sir Deighton Ward, died in office and shortly afterwards Springer was knighted and appointed Ward's successor. It was an appointment which received wide acclaim not only from the Barbados Labour Party but also from all sections of society. Springer's dignity, calm judgement and wide experience of world affairs made him an admirable choice and he held the post with distinction until ill- health forced him to retire in 1990. A stroke somewhat impaired his powers of speech but he continued to take a keen interest in the affairs of Barbados and the outside world for the rest of his life.

Somewhat reserved in outward manner, Springer had a warmth of personality which exemplified the qualities of friendship. He was a great family man - his wife Dolly was a stimulating and devoted supporter, and he was very proud of their daughter and three sons.

(Photograph omitted)