BJ – an extraordinary human being, a proud Bahamian patriot – and my friend
A tribute to the life of the late Hon. Dr. Bernard Jonathan Nottage
by Allyson Maynard-Gibson
“Reach out and touch somebody’s hand – make this world a better place if you can”. I have seen the late Honourable Dr. B.J. Nottage hold an elderly woman’s hand and sing her a song. Her demeanour completely changed. BJ, as he was affectionately called by all wanted to and did leave this world a better place.
BJ was an extraordinary human being and a very proud Bahamian patriot and nation builder, whose life exemplifies the Bahamian capacity to rise from humble beginnings to attain the highest heights – which is what he did in his all of his fields of endeavor.
His parents imbued in him the qualities of discipline and hard work which he carried with him throughout his life. They helped him to develop to the fullest potential his athletic and intellectual gifts. Can we imagine a Bahamian, in that era, being accepted to and graduating from Aberdeen University, one of the world’s oldest and prestigious universities, to study medicine?
He was a gifted physician, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. Many of his patients (myself included), colleagues, and nurses can speak of his passion for his profession. As an obstetrician, carrying and delivering a healthy baby was a team effort and one into which he put his heart and soul for each patient. He encouraged fathers to attend childbirth classes and the birth of their children – this was a breakthrough for Bahamian men. His standard was excellence. Nothing else would do.
Before he became involved in front line politics, while practicing medicine, he led many initiatives that helped people and changed the Bahamian landscape. The Bahamas Amateur Athletic Association and the Bahamas Family Planning Association are two such initiatives. In these, and others, he pursued a transformative vision and heavily invested his time and resources. Many of us can recall BJ regularly articulating in relation to these initiatives a clear vision and, supported by statistics, reporting on their successes, which were measured by how they were transforming lives. The Bahamas hosting the World Relays and the relays possibly becoming a permanent fixture in The Bahamas was the result of his effort – together with his “boys” who include Keith Parker and Mike Sands.
His quest for transformation led him, with the late Charles Maynard, to form the Coalition of Democratic Reform, of which he became the CEO. Their platform should be mandatory reading in all political science classes.
As Minister of Consumer Affairs, wanting to ensure that poor people could afford to eat he supported the Price Control Division and its enforcement efforts. As Minister of National Insurance he supported the computerization thrust so that people all over The Bahamas could more easily access these benefits. As Minister of Health he led the first National Health Insurance initiative. As Minister of Education he initiated, with Churches, programs so that troubled youth could finish school and he ardently supported efforts to equip the disabled and to open preschools so that everyone could have access to a good education. As Minister of National Security he was deeply concerned about the safety and advancement of the men and women in the security forces. The Department of Correctional Services saw tremendous advances and change because he believed in the redemptive power of a second chance. And, in that Ministry he initiated creative transformative strategies, that involve changing lives and are leading to the overall reduction in crime as was spoken about in the House of Assembly during the Budget debate. As a Cabinet colleague he always cared about how initiatives would transform lives.
Although an Anglican, he was an honorary member of other churches and was always willing to assist in the Lord’s vineyard.
BJ, was a loyal friend and colleague and a mentor. He always made time for people. Many people have spoken about how he enriched their lives – materially and otherwise.
My conversations with BJ led me to recognize that more than anything else he valued “family”. He was a family man. He loved Portia, his wife, who totally loved and supported him and made sure that he was comfortable at home. He loved his family and treasured their rich contribution to every realm of Bahamian life, including the arts, and they in turn loved him – deeply.
My husband Max, and my entire family, join me in extending deepest condolences to Portia; his siblings Kendal, Sandra and Philip; his son Brian and his entire family. May the soul of this great Bahamian man rest in peace.