Dame Ruth Nita Barrow was awarded the honour of being appointed Governor General of Barbados on June 6th 1990. Barrow served as Head of State until her eventual death on December 19th 1995.
Born on the 15th of November 1916, Nita Barrow was an ambitious woman born to a family of political activists.
Her father, an Anglican priest, was removed from his posting on the island of St. Croix for his controversial sermons preaching against racism and social stratification.
Her uncle, Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal, was founder of the Democratic League of Barbados and one of the island’s 10 National Heros.
While her younger brother, Errol Barrow fought for independence of the nation. With independence, Errol become Prime Minister of Barbados (1966 – 1976 and 1986-1987).
An activist and leading humanitarian herself, Nita paralleled her family’s achievements.
Nita Barrow studied nursing in Barbados, continuing her studies at the University of Toronto, Edinburgh and Columbia Universities. She began her career as a trained nurse, midwife, and health care administer, holding a number of positions in Barbados and Jamaica.
Barrow soon rose to international acclaim becoming an accomplished international public health official and diplomat.
Appointed to a number of international bodies, Nita Barrow held the following position during her long and illustrious career:
— Public health advisor to the World Health Organization & the Pan-American Health Organization
— President of the World YWCA (1975-83)
— President of the International Council of Adult Education (1982-90)
— President of the World Council of Churches (1983)
— Ambassador to the United Nations (1986-90)
Nita Barrow was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1980 as Dame of St. Andrew and Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George. Thereafter, she became known as Dame Ruth Nita Barrow.
Like her brother Errol, Nita Barrow was known for her outspoken nature and commitment to development. A founder and member of the Global Fund for Women’s Board of Directors, Dame Nita was especially concerned with women’s rights vis-à-vis health care.
In 1985, Dame Nita presided at the International Women’s Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The next year, Barrow was appointed as Barbadian Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), a post which she held until 1990. Nita Barrow was the only woman named to the Eminent Persons Group. The group was responsible for investigating racism in South Africa.
In 1988, Dame Nita ran against then foreign minister of Argentina Dante Caputo for the position of President of the UN General Assembly.
A fiery campaign led to the first secret ballot Assembly President election since 1983. One of the most contested and heated campaigns in the history of the United Nations, Dame Nita lost the election.
Dame Ruth Nita Barrow died of a stroke on December 19th, 1995. She was 79 years old. She is honoured by a number of national and international initiatives and awards including:
— the University of Toronto’s Dame Nita Barrow Distinguished Visitorship,
— the Dame Nita Barrow Award sponsored by the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE),
— Caribbean Women Catalysts for Change – a lecture series dedicated in the memory of Nita Barrow
— namesake of the Nita Barrow Unit of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, University of the West Indies
Author: Brett Callaghan