The first President of Barbados was Dame Sandra Mason, leading the island into a new era after it transitioned to a republic and officially removed Britain’s Queen as Head of State.
Leading Barbados into a New Era
Barbados’ first-ever President, Her Excellency Dame Sandra Prunella Mason FB GCMG DA SC, was born on January 17th, 1949, in the island’s south-eastern parish of St. Philip.
She began her career as a teacher, followed by a stint in banking. However, as a lawyer, politician, diplomat, and as the 8th and final Governor-General of Barbados, Dame Sandra is most well-known.
One of Barbados’ most accomplished women and named by Loop News as one of the “10 Most Powerful Women in Barbados“. Mason has a wealth of achievements under her belt, including memberships of a broad spectrum of high-profile organizations, boards, and associations.
Some of the memberships she holds within civic and Commonwealth organizations include:
• President of the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT) (UK);
• Chairman of the Community Legal Services Commission;
• Member of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission;
• Member and former Vice Chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society;
• Board member of PAREDOS;
• Patron of the Ruth and Esther Ministry, Mount Zion Missions Inc.;
• Trustee of the Ermine Holmes Community Trust;
• Member of the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Associations; and
• Member of the International Association of Women Judges.
Dame Sandra is also responsible for several groundbreaking ‘firsts’ such as:
• the first woman admitted to the Barbados Bar Association;
• the first Magistrate appointed as an Ambassador from Barbados;
• the first woman to serve on Barbados’ Supreme Court;
• the first woman from Barbados to graduate from Trinidad and Tobago’s Hugh Wooding Law School; and
• the first appointee from Barbados to the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT), followed by becoming the first female President of the same Tribunal.
Mason is also one of only two women appointed to the 13-member CARICOM Commission charged with evaluating regional integration – where she additionally served as the Chair.
Dame Sandra Mason attended Queen’s College on the island and obtained her Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus. She then continued to study a Certificate of Legal Education at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad.
Although she began her career as a teacher, Mason worked as a banking clerk in 1969 at Barclays Bank before transitioning to Trust Administration within the same bank (including a post in Jamaica) until 1977.
In 1978, Dame Sandra became a Magistrate of the Juvenile and Family Court and pursued a course in Judicial Administration at the Royal Institute of Public Administration (RIPA), London.
After leaving the Family Court, she served in many roles as Ambassador to Venezuela, Chile, Columbia, and Brazil between 1993-1994, before returning home to Barbados and being appointed as the Chief Magistrate, then in 1997 as the Registrar of the Supreme Court.
In 2005, Dame Sandra Mason’s accolades continued when she was ordained as a Queen’s Counsel (now referred to as Senior/State Counsel), then as a High Court Judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. In 2008, she was sworn in as the first female Court of Appeal Judge of the Supreme Court of Barbados.
During this time, Mason also continued to advance her education, completing a course in Alternative Dispute Resolution at the University of Windsor in Canada. A Fellowship followed this at the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute and an advanced system in Alternative Dispute Resolution at UWI.
In 2014, she was the first Barbadian to be appointed as a London-based Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal (CSAT), becoming the first female CSAT President in 2017.
Following on from this impressive list of achievements, Dame Sandra Mason then began her term in 2018 as the 8th and final Governor-General of Barbados until 2021, when the island transitioned to a republic.
This historic milestone saw Barbados officially remove Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State and Dame Sandra Prunella Mason become the former British colony’s first-ever President.
Did you know?
From 1991-1999, Dame Sandra served on the UN Committee on the “Rights of the Child” as both Chair and Vice-Chair.
Barbados’ new President-elect
In 2020, the Barbados parliament voted to transition from a constitutional monarchy to a parliamentary republic (link to new TB republic article) consisting of a Prime Minister / and a ceremonial President as Head of State.
“The time has come to leave our colonial past behind fully,” Dame Sandra Mason said during the annual 2020 Throne Speech, delivered on behalf of Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.
“Barbadians want a Barbadian Head of State.”
The following year on October 12th, 2021, Dame Sandra Mason was nominated to become the first President of Barbados and then unanimously elected by the two houses of parliament in a special sitting of the lower and upper houses of parliament. Please read all about it at the GIS (Government Information Service) for more information.
Although her role is primarily ceremonial, and Barbados will remain a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Sandra Mason was sworn in as President of Barbados and assumed office coinciding with the official national Independence Day (November 30th).
In 2021, this day significantly marked the 55th year of Independence for Barbados and the day the island transitioned to becoming the world’s newest republic.
The British Queen was officially removed as the Head of State in a Presidential Inauguration Ceremony hosted at Heroes Square – located In Bridgetown.
Prince Charles was a guest of honor at the event, which included one final salute before the British Monarch’s Royal Standard flag was ceremoniously taken down and replaced to mark the official change of constitutional status.
Previously named an ‘Ambassador’ for Barbados, Barbadian pop star Rihanna was also in attendance and was prestigiously named the Prime Minister as a new national hero.
Mason concluded following the late-night ceremony: “Vessel Republic Barbados has set sail on her maiden voyage. May she weather all storms and land our country and citizens safe on the horizons and shores which are ahead of us.”
Did you know?
Dame Sandra Mason is passionate about forming a Caribbean version of the European Union.
“I am a zealot when it comes to Caribbean-ness. I believe in regional integration; I believe that it is something that has to come to fruition,” she said. “I believe it might not come in true form when I am yet alive, but I will go to my grave hoping that this will happen someday.”
Source: France 24
Written by Amy Goulding and Edited by Brett Callaghan