Dame Nita Barrow (1916 – 1995)
Dame Ruth Nita Barrow was known by many as the big sister of the Right Honorable Sir Errol Walton Barrow. While her younger brother’s exploits are revered among peers and his contributions to the Barbadian society are long lasting, Dame Nita’s contributions do not pale in comparison, for she too has been revered as one of the outstanding Caribbean Leaders. Here, we take a look at her life, accomplishments and her overall contribution to Barbados and the Caribbean region.
Dame Nita Barrow, the second of 5 children, was born in the parish of St. Lucy on November 15th, 1916 to Anglican Priest Reverend Reginald Grant Barrow and Ruth Barrow (née O’Neal sister of another national hero of Barbados, Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal). She received her secondary school education at the St. Michael Girls School and trained as a nurse and midwife at the Barbados General Hospital and the Midwifery School in Port of Spain. She went on to further her studies in nursing at The Universities of Toronto and Edinburgh and Columbia University, receiving numerous fellowships and scholarships along the way.
Unfortunately, during that era, nursing was one of the few options available to young women. However, Dame Nita Barrow had massive aspirations. She progressed steadily from the field of nursing to health care administration and from there, she developed a career in Public Health and Health Education; a career that catapulted her into the international spotlight. In 1954, she became the first West Indian Matron of the University College Hospital (UCH) Jamaica, and two years later, she became the first Principal Nursing Officer of Jamaica. Her stellar work in the health care sector continued to be recognized when in 1964, she was appointed as Nursing Advisor/Health Consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO) (a position she held for 15 years) and to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) from 1967 – 1971. These appointments presented Dame Nita with an opportunity to serve and make a difference in the region, as in her capacity as Nursing Advisor, she was able to serve as principal advisor to 16 Caribbean governments. Within these territories, she was able to work to improve health care and education through various workshops, seminars and conferences.
Dame Nita became seen as an authority on Public Health and Health Education. In this capacity, she published several works on health care related issues. She headed a research project on nursing education in the Commonwealth Caribbean that resulted in the upgrading and re-organization of the training of nurses across the region and most notably, the introduction of the Advanced Nursing Education Programme at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. As stated previously, she was born into the Anglican faith, and her strong spirituality led her to have a deep concern for the welfare of all persons, which is why she pursued the provision of adequate health care so fervently. She also had a passion for improving the status of women and disadvantaged groups. Dame Nita Barrow became Barbados’ first female governor general, a post she held from 1990 to 1995. She also has the distinction of being the first Caribbean woman to become a member of the Order of Caribbean Community in 1994. Dame Nita worked or resided in almost every Caribbean country, and visited more than 80 other countries across the world.
Honors and Achievements
The reality that limited career choices for women existed during her time, makes Dame Nita’s achievements more impressive. Her prominent rise from midwifery to various leadership positions locally, regionally and internationally is something that should be celebrated. Some of her honors and achievements include:
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados to the UN (1986 – 1990)
Governor-General of Barbados from 1990 –1995
Only woman named to the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons sent to South Africa to negotiate the release of Nelson Mandela
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II as Dame of St Andrew and Dame Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Honorary Doctor of Laws, UWI and honorary doctorates from 12 other universities
Dame Nita Barrow died in office on December 19th, 1995 at the age of 79, having left a legacy for all Caribbean persons especially women to build on.
© Photo 1 taken from Cavehilluwi.edu
© Photo 2 taken from Worldywca.org
© Photo 3 taken from Gstatic.com
© Article of caribbeandreamsmagazine.com