My Fellow Citizens:
I come before you this evening for my final official speech as Premier of this territory.
Soon, our community will hold an election. New men and women will be entrusted by you to lead us forward.
And I – I will return to where I began – a proud BVIslander – one citizen among many.
In doing so, I conclude nearly two decades of service to you the public, during which time I had at various times the opportunity to be your Premier, your Minister of Finance and your Leader of the loyal Opposition.
Over the course of these many years I have come before you – the people of this Territory – on countless occasions.
I have spoken to you at moments of national celebration – when we completed the Cruise Pier, when we finalized our constitutional negotiations with the United Kingdom, when we opened a new Peebles Hospital, when our athletes stood tall on the world stage.
I have also spoken to you at moments of national grief – when we came together to mourn the loss of one of our own, when acts of violence and crime have reared their heads, when nature’s fury brought destruction to our shores.
I have spoken to you in election campaigns and asked for your votes.
I have spoken to you on the streets and asked for your prayers.
I have spoken to you from the House of Assembly and asked for your support.
I have spoken about successes and I have spoken about failures.
Indeed, for a man who has often been told that my voice is a little too quiet, I feel like I have spent an awful lot of my time speaking!
But now my time for public speaking runs short.
And I do not wish to use these parting words to seek praise for what my administrations have accomplished, nor to defend myself for perceived errors I might have made.
I put my trust in the fair judgement of history and of my fellow citizens.
It is no longer for me – but for all of you to take what have been achieved and all that we have failed to achieve and place it on the scales.
You will draw your own conclusions about whether this territory is better off for the service we have rendered or not.
For my part, I turn toward retirement at peace that I have done all I can with the skills and shortcomings granted to me by my Creator.
And I hope it does not sound too proud when I say that when I walk the streets of this territory, I cannot help but take satisfaction with what I see:
I take satisfaction in the businesses that are opening. We need the economic diversification that those businesses represent. By orienting the Trade Department on business creation and creating the Business Bureau, we helped BVIslanders become entrepreneurs. It has been a great pleasure to me to learn that every time we awarded someone a “Business of the Month” that business grew its sales the following month.
I take satisfaction in seeing the tourism industry, which is returning to its former glory. I am particularly pleased with the fact that after many years of little or no new developments, we are witnessing a wave of investment from Oil Nut Bay, to Scrub Island, to the recently signed deals to develop Norman Island and Prospect Reef.
I take satisfaction that over the past years we have seen the financial services continue to grow even in the face of global headwinds.
I take satisfaction in knowing that the BVI’s economy is resilient and continues to grow.
Above all, I take satisfaction in the services that are being provided to our people – the Hospital and clinics providing ever better care for our people; the schools, that though ravaged by the fury of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, are still working hard in less than ideal circumstances to prepare our young people for their future.
And, yes, I also carry with me the knowledge of all we did not achieve.
I wish that already our airport would be servicing more flights, because I believe improved air access is essential to our future.
I wish that our Hospital could provide an even broader array of advanced services.
I wish that our recovery from the Hurricanes were further along and that no business or family in the Territory was still struggling to get back to where they were before the storms arrived.
I wish that our community was more unified.
Yet, even as I wish we could have accomplished even more, I have no regrets – for I know in my heart that I gave all that I had to offer to this territory I love. And for that opportunity, I am eternally grateful.
Now, a new generation of leaders will pick up the baton and carry it forward.
It is a feeling I know well.
I too felt that passing of a baton when I was a younger man.
I and others of my generation grew up in a vastly different BVI.
As a young boy, I tended cattle. I worked in the family bakery. I fished in the waters of the BVI.
It was, in every respect, the most normal of childhoods for that time.
But even as a boy, opportunities were being opened up to me that my parents’ generation could scarcely have imagined.
The chance to get a complete schooling; to go abroad to college; to earn my medical degree from some of the finest doctors in the world – that blessing was out of reach for previous generations of BVIslanders. Yet it was made available to me.
I and others of my generation were there when the world opened up to BVIslanders. We did our best to take advantage of that chance. We studied hard, we worked hard, we returned home and we did our best to build a strong economy and a strong territory, each in our own way.
I cannot speak for others, but I know in my heart that my fondest hope was that the next generation of BVIslanders would not have to work quite so hard.
I hoped that they would have more that could simply be handed to them. That they would enjoy security far beyond what we ever knew.
For better or for worse, that has not quite come to pass.
Today’s generation will have to work hard. Very hard. Great challenges lie ahead. Great risks. There is no point sugar-coating that truth.
Our planet’s climate is changing and we on islands will be among the first to feel the effects as the oceans rise.
Our global economy is fragile and we who depend on global industries like financial services and tourism will be impacted by every ebb and tide of the markets of New York, London, Frankfurt and Shanghai.
International standard setters at the urging of activists who understand nothing of our industry are making demands on us that can forever change aspects of our way of life.
Only this entire community, standing together as one, can hope to avoid these dangers.
So, stand together we must.
Together, we will have to learn to sacrifice for the greater good and to cooperate in ways we have only imagined in the past.
That does not mean that we will always agree. There will be spirited debates in any healthy democracy. The election campaign that is ongoing is part of that process.
But when the campaigns end, the signs come down and a new government is sworn into office – the party they belong to must become secondary to the country they belong to.
All of us must rally together if we are to achieve what is needed to secure our future.
We must be prepared to make the necessary strategic investments today to build a better tomorrow.
We must confront global powers many times our size and strength and demand that they treat us fairly and respectfully on the international stage.
We must build our homes, our powerlines, our water systems and our buildings with the strength to withstand future hurricanes of even greater force.
We must deepen our connection to the world through improved technology and communication services.
We must diversify our economy so that we don’t stand and fall on the twin pillars of tourism and financial services alone.
We must constantly improve our schools so that our children continue to march ahead.
We must support our police on the streets, as well as our teachers in the schools, our ministers in the churches and parents in their homes as they all work to keep our young people on the straight path.
We must provide care for every one of our citizens so that health is understood as an essential right and not a privilege.
We must take care to nurture and preserve our local culture, forever proud of our ancient heritage.
Above all, we must take care of one another. No matter the color of our skin. No matter the length of time we have called the BVI home. We are all in this together. While our rights and obligations before the law may be different, we are all equal in the eyes of God. We all share a common destiny. We will either learn to live together in ever greater harmony, or we will surely descend together into ever greater chaos.
I say to you tonight that I have every confidence that we will achieve all this and much, much more in the years and decades to come.
It will not be for me to see all this achieved. No man gets to see the sum of his efforts bear fruit.
But I have no doubt in my heart that this territory will see these ever brighter days. The best BVI is yet to come.
I hold that faith because I have seen all that is best in this community.
You, the people of the BVI, have been my inspiration for as long as I have walked this Earth.
You have allowed me to care for your bodies when you were ill, to bring your children into this world, to hold your hands and mourn when a loved one’s time came to rest.
You have entrusted me to lead and I have sought to do so with all the strength of my being and with every measure of wisdom granted to me.
Some may have thought that it was not enough. But it has been my best.
And so now, I look ahead with pleasure to a retirement. A man of the BVI enjoying all the blessings that entails – time spent with my family, with my grandchildren, with my friends, with all of you – no longer a politician seeking your vote or a Minister of Government seeking your support – but simply as Doc.
I look forward to seeing you all on the streets or elsewhere. I will now have more time to stop and chat.
As it is written in scripture, “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree. And no one shall make them afraid.”
I am happy to look ahead to sitting under my own vine and fig tree. I am not afraid.
I am not afraid and neither should any of you be afraid.
We will have trials ahead to be sure. But we will meet them together. Of that I am certain. And when we do, we shall overcome them. And together, we will continue building a future better than our past, more hopeful, more united, more secure – a proud and prosperous BVI that will be a legacy and a blessing we pass on to the generations that are yet to come.
Thank you for letting me serve you.
God bless you. And may God forever bless these Virgin Islands.
D. Orlando Smith OBE, the premier of the British Virgin Islands