Sir William Randolph Douglas, KCMG, PC
Former Chief Justice of Barbados
Sir William Randolph Douglas was a former Chief Justice of Barbados, High Commissioner for Barbados in London, and Ambassador to the United
When Barbados achieved independence in 1966, William Douglas was its chief justice. He went on to become his country's High Commissioner in London (1991-93), the climax of his representative career. He was also Barbados's ambassador to the United States (1987-91).
He presided over the judicial administration of the island from 1965 to 1986. Passionate about justice, he ensured the courts' independence. That passion was bulwarked by a magnificent intellect.
Early life and education
Douglas was born in Barbados on 24 September 1921, but his parents emigrated to Canada when he was four years old. He was educated at Harrison
College, but completed his secondary education in Quebec, which gave
him his command of French. He graduated first at McGill University and
then took an LLB at the London School of Economics. He was educated in Quebec at Bannatyne School, Verdun high school and McGill University in Montreal. His links with Canada were to be lifelong. He read law at the London School of Economics.
Following his call to the Bar in Britain in June 1947 by Middle Temple, he returned to Barbados in 1948. In 1959, he became Jamaica's assistant attorney-general and was appointed solicitor-general four years later. In Jamaica, promotion for Sir William came quickly. In a seven-year span, he moved from Resident Magistrate to Puisne Judge.
Then came the appointment as Chief Justice of Barbados in 1965, a year before independence. In 1977, Sir William Douglas, Chief Justice of Barbados has been appointed to Her Majesty's Privy Council, becoming the second West Indian to be so honoured. Tile first was the late Sir Hugh Wooding of Trinidad and Tobago.
Since 1975 he was a member of the International Labour Organisation's committee of experts on applications of conventions and recommendations, chairing it from 1995. He was a member of the ILO's fact-finding commission to South Africa in 1993 and its commision into forced labour in Burma in 1997-98.He was an ILO judge from 1982-1998.
The Washington ambassadorship enabled him to build up the relationship of his tiny land with the US. It also provided him with a rich repertoire of Reagan-era stories, retailed with relish within the walls of his home.
Off the bench, he was disarming: the stern persona abated. He was a
great conversationalist, his talk illuminated from his voracious
reading. He liked classical music, played tennis, and was to join the
Barbados Yacht Club, which, before independence, had a rigid
whites-only membership policy. He loved watching sport - Grand Prix motor racing above all - and was intrigued by things mechanical. Tall, handsome and distinguished in
appearance, he was charming, courtly even. Douglas was a modest, charming man with a great presence and a delicious and spontaneous Barbadian humour.
Sir William served as an acting Governor-General two times: from 9 August 1976 until 17 November 1976 and from 10 January 1984 until 24 February 1984.
A year after leaving the bench, he was appointed Ambassador to
Washington, where he served until 1991, when he became High
Commissioner for Barbados in London for two years. He then served on a
succession of commissions of inquiry for the International Labour
Organisation, a connection that began in 1975.
Although pan-Caribbean (he was chairman of the Commonwealth Caribbean
Council of Legal Education, 1971-1977), he was also very much an
international man. He spent some time in Canada after serving as High
Commissioner in London, and enjoyed his visits to Geneva for the
International Labour Organisation.
Honours and awards
He was knighted in 1969, and
appointed a K night Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1983.
He was married first to Thelma Ruth Gilkes, a Barbadian, who died in
1992. In 1997, he married Denise Alva Hope, a former head of the Barbados
Board of Tourism office in London, and they made their home at Pau,
near the French Pyrenees.
Sir William Randolph Douglas died 12 August 2003, aged 82. He was survived by his second wife, and his children.