Harcourt Fitzgerald Gilmore Rocheford
Former Member of the West Indies Federal Parliament
Harcourt Fitzgerald Gilmore Rocheford was a Barbadian parliamentarian in the West Indies Federal Parliament.
Early life and education
Harcourt Fitzgerald Gilmore Rocheford was born on 16 November 1923, in Government Hill, St Michael. He was the second of six children, four of whom survived, born to Vernon Rocheford and Maude Eloise, née Inniss. The senior Rocheford was a civil servant occasionally acting as Provost Marshal and Public Trustee. Unlike many black Barbadian fathers of that era, he was fortunate to have a secondary education, his father being a prominent shoemaker providing shoes for the affluent in society.
Rocheford entered Harrison College in 1934 at the age of 11 on a Foundation scholarship. This was at a time when the Caribbean islands were going through a bleak period referred to as a “watershed” in the modern history of the region. There were a number of strikes and labour disturbances which culminated in the 1937-38 riots that affected most of the islands.
At Harrison College he joined the Cadet Corps because he appreciated the discipline involved and eventually rose to the rank of sergeant. His other hobbies were football and, later, basketball, but somehow he disliked cricket. Despite this aversion to the sport, he was made captain of the Set A Division cricket team, his team being selected to play against Set D. He also had a passion for reading and at College was as successful in his academic studies as he was in after-school activities. He attained the Cambridge Junior Certificate in 1938, the Cambridge Senior Certificate in 1939 and later the Oxford and Cambridge Higher School Certificates. In 1942 he achieved Group I classics with subsidiaries in English and scripture and distinction in history and ancient literature.
After leaving school in 1943, he briefly considered entering the priesthood. He was now a confirmed member of the Anglican Church and worshipped at St Barnabas Church, serving at the altar as an acolyte. He also sang in the choir but his desire to become a priest was never fulfilled.
On the invitation of his uncle Alva, he accepted a job as a clerk at the office of the Controller of Supplies. From 1944 to 1946 he went to work with his godfather, Henderson Clarke, at his law firm. He wrote and was successful in the intermediate examination for solicitors – the first clerk to pass this exam at one sitting.
In 1947, he married Thelma Marjorie Leacock and soon stated a family. It was while working and helping out with his three young sons that he wrote and failed the final solicitors’ examinations. He was encouraged to rewrite the finals by Deighton Ward – a lawyer later to become Governor General, Sir Deighton Ward – but declined. He went on to take up the post of librarian of the House of Assembly.
A year later he was encouraged by his brother, a teacher at Coleridge and Parry School, to venture into teaching and was appointed assistant master there, teaching scripture, English and history. He was also in charge of the Debating Society, the Dramatic Society and the Scripture Union. He served there from 1954 to 1958 and left when he became a candidate for the Federal Elections. He served in the parliament of the West Indies Federation from 1958 until it was dissolved in 1962.
Rocheford became involved in politics after working for one year as librarian in Parliament, and meeting such politicians as Deighton Ward, Errol Barrow and Freddie Miller. In 1956 he was one of the Barbados Labour Party’s candidates for St George but was unsuccessful. He also ran for St Michael in 1966 and St Michael North East in 1971, when single member constituencies were introduced. He also served as the party’s general secretary from 1955 to 1964, during which time he co-founded the League of Young Socialists in 1959. He was a Government senator from 1976 to 1981.
He was also the principal of the now defunct Christ Church High School. He worked with the Peace Corps Volunteers from 1974 -1982 and was the Coordinator for a US scholarship programme, in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean in the early 1990s.
His interests were wide and varied, working with Daphne Joseph-Hackett and Sir Clyde Gollop in drama competitions for the Social Welfare Department. Rocheford was a strong proponent of cultural activities through his membership the Barbados Civics Theatre (later Queen’s Park Theatre), the Barbados Arts Council, and the Community Dramatic Group. He also acted in a few plays.
Harcourt Fitzgerald Gilmore Rocheford died on Sunday, 26 July 2015 at a nursing home in Barbados at the age of 91. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving Barbadian in the defunct West Indies Federal Parliament.