Gordon, Pamela 1955–
Pamela Gordon 1955–
Premier of Bermuda
When Pamela Gordon was sworn in as premier of Bermuda in March of 1997, she became the Caribbean island’s first female leader and the youngest in its four-century-long status as a British colony. The daughter of a prominent civil-rights activist from Bermuda’s past, Gordon’s own political resume was somewhat short, with only a decade of experience as a legislator and cabinet minister to her credit. But her ascendancy to the premier’s office—and with it the leadership of one of Bermuda’s main political parties—was viewed by many as a step toward mending internal fissures within Bermudian politics in recent years.
Bermuda’s youngest premier in history was born in September of 1955, just a few months after the death of her father, Dr. E. F. Gordon. The senior Gordon was a revered figure in Bermudian history, a Trinidad-born physician and member of parliament who worked to win equal-rights legislation for the island’s Afri-Caribbean population. Founder of the Bermuda Industrial Union, Dr. Gordon was committed to improving the standard of living among all Bermudians. The legacy he bequeathed to his reform-minded followers formed the basis of the Progressive Labour Party of Bermuda, one of the island’s two main political organizations.
Pamela was the youngest of five children born to the late Dr. Gordon and Mildred Layne Bean, and was raised in a house nicknamed Beulah in the island’s capital of Hamilton. “She was always kind of sweet and demure,” her sister, Patricia Pamplin told Meredith Ebbin in the Bermuda Sun.“But she always spoke her mind,” she added. Pamela Gordon’s headstrong streak proved potentially troublesome in the early 1970s, when she became pregnant at the age of sixteen. In a more restrictive era, she was forced to leave her prestigious private school, but finished her education later and then traveled to Ontario to attend Alma College. She later married the father of her daughter Veronica, and with him had another child—her son, Ronald—but the marriage later dissolved.
For a time, Gordon managed a restaurant, and her
At a Glance…
Born September, 1955, in Hamilton, Bermuda; daughter of E. F. Gordon (a physician and labor activist) and Mildred Layne Bean (a switchboard operator); married Ronald Furbert, mid-1970s (marriage ended); children: Veronica, Ronald, Education: Attended Alma College. Religion: African Methodist Episcopa-lian Church.
Career: Moonglow Restaurant, St. George’s, Bermuda, manager; St. George’s Club (a real-estate/time-share property), St. George’s, began as sales accountant, 1983, became controller; became involved in United Bermuda Party (UBP) politics; appointed to Bermuda Senate, 1990, by Premier John Swan; served as cabinet minister for Youth Development, Sports and Recreation, 1992-95; elected Member of Parliament, 1993, representing Southampton West; named Minister for the Environment, Planning, and Natural Resources, 1995; became leader of UBP and premier of Bermuda, 1997.
Addresses: Office of the Prime Minister, Cabinet Building, 105 Front St., Hamilton HM 12, Bermuda.
business and accounting acumen landed her a job with the St. George’s Club, a real-estate/time-share property. She also became involved in politics, but did not align with the PLP; instead she joined its rival, the conservative United Bermuda Party (UBP). While at St. George’s, she became acquainted with Sir John Swan, an investor in the property and premier of Bermuda. Swan appointed her to the Bermuda Senate in October of 1990, drawing her into the UBP “because she was young, educated and showed an interest in politics,” he told Tony McWilliam of the Bermuda Sun.
Swan’s UBP was in direct contrast to the PLP founded by Dr. E. F. Gordon’s political associates: it is a bulwark of conservatism which vies for Bermuda’s leadership in much the same way Britain’s Tory Party fights its Labour colleagues for political supremacy. In 1992 Swan appointed Pamela Gordon to a cabinet post, giving her the portfolio for Youth Development, Sports and Recreation. The following year she was elected Member of Parliament representing Southampton West, but the United Bermuda Party, on whose ticket she had been elected, was showing signs of internal disarray. In 1995, Swan led Bermuda into a referendum vote for independence from the United Kingdom. It was a divisive issue for the country, but Bermudians rejected self-governance by a vote of 73 percent. Most Bermudians—sixty percent of whom are of Afri-Caribbean origin—are satisfied with one of the world’s highest per-capita incomes and no income tax. The longest-held possession in the former British Empire, the island is now referred to not as a colony but a “Dependent Territory,” and after Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, Bermuda became the United Kingdom’s most populous DT.
The political fallout from the independence referendum forced Swan to resign, and his successor, David Saul, did a bit of political maneuvering that granted the former premier a license to operate a McDonald’s restaurant franchise on the island. Many were outraged, and the show of political favoritism—not to mention the opportunism behind the fast-food business scheme for an island that remains quaintly English—became known as “Bigmacgate” and split the UBP. Saul resigned after opinion polls showed UBP voters dissatisfied with his leadership. By this point Gordon was serving as Minister for the Environment, Planning, and Natural Resources, and was one of 21 UBP members eligible to submit their name for the party leadership—and with that post also came the premier’s office of Bermuda. Only Gordon submitted her name by the deadline, and her UBP colleagues voted her in unanimously.
Gordon was sworn in by Lord Waddington, Governor of Bermuda, on March 27, 1997. One of the first duties in her $89,000-a-year post was to attend an insurance-industry conference in the United States. Insurance is one of Bermuda’s healthiest revenue generators, and the pro-business UBP is committed to maintaining a robust economy. Gordon’s rise to Bermuda’s top executive post as leader of its conservative alliance—in effect, making her a sort of Margaret Thatcher of the Caribbean world—was a topic of much discussion in light of her late father’s political alignment. Meredith Ebbin of the Bermuda Sun posed this question to Gordon’s mother, Mildred Bean, regarding what the late Dr. Gordon would have thought of his daughter’s UBP leadership; Bean replied that neither his daughter’s ascendancy nor her conservative political affiliation would have surprised him. “Dr. Gordon was strong willed,” Bean said. “My daughter isn’t much different,” she continued.
The late Dr. Gordon, surmised his biographer, “would have been absolutely delighted. He would have said: ‘Although you [the establishment] didn’t want me, now my daughter is in charge,’” PLP member Dale Butler told Ebbin. Gordon herself was asked about the irony of the situation on CNN Morning News just a few weeks after taking office. She reflected that “my father’s major concern was in relation to fairness and equity for all Bermudians, and [on] that we don’t differ that much,” she told CNN interviewer Leon Harris. “Although the philosophical way of how to get there may be a little different, the reality is that our position is the same. We want the best for Bermuda and Bermudians, and I would like to carry on that legacy because that is my intent,” she continued.
Gordon’s first and foremost task was to repair the damage to the UBP her predecessors had done. Both she and political analysts dismissed the issue of independence from Britain as moot for the near future. Other islands in the Caribbean had become self-governing in the last three decades, and were far less economically robust than Bermuda. “Our sisters to the south taught us how not to do it,” Gordon told Independent reporter David Usborne. More pressing domestic concerns were improvements in education and social services for Bermuda’s economically disadvantaged, and how to best utilize ten percent of the island that had recently been officially returned by the American and British governments, acreage formerly used for military installations.
The stipulations of Bermudian politics also decreed that an election must take place by the end of 1998; Gordon would need to restore confidence in the UBP and keep voters from switching to the PLP. Interestingly, the PLP was also led by a woman of Afri-Caribbean descent, Jennifer Smith, and she and Gordon would likely face one another in the national election. Gordon’s detractors have sometimes charged her with becoming “too emotionally attached to issues and losing credibility in the process,” wrote McWilliam in the Bermuda Sun the day of her swearing-in, “but her allies yesterday turned that into a plus: ‘It’s good to have fire in your belly,’ said Labour Minister Quinton Edness,” McWilliam wrote.
Gordon, who still lived at Beulah with her mother and two children at the time of her swearing-in, is divorced and quite proud of her children. Her 25-year-old daughter Veronica has law degree, while teenage son Ronald excels in academic pursuits. As Gordon pointed out in her inaugural speech, “I am a single parent. I know how hard that can be. But I have been determined that my children have the very best in education and in opportunity; that my children share Bermuda’s values and share in Bermuda’s success. I believe I have done a good job and that they are well on their way. Bermudians can count on me to be just as determined on their behalf. I will work as hard for their children and families as I have for mine.”
Bermuda Sun, March 27, 1997.
Independent, May 27, 1997, p. 14; May 28, 1997, p. 15.
Jet, April 14, 1997.
Orlando Sentinel, March 28, 1997, p. A18.
Additional information for this profile was provided by a transcript from the Cable News Network (CNN) from Thursday, April 17, 1997, and from Bermudian government Internet site at http://www.bermuda.bm
"Gordon, Pamela 1955–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gordon-pamela-1955
"Gordon, Pamela 1955–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gordon-pamela-1955
The daughter of a prominent legislator, Pamela Gordon (born 1955) used her family name and her own political skills to become Bermuda's first woman premier in 1997.
When Pamela Gordon was sworn in as the premier (prime minister) of Bermuda on March 27, 1997, she became the first woman and the youngest person ever to hold that post. At the age of 41, she had already lived an eventful life-giving birth to a child at the age of 16 and overcoming the economic obstacles posed by early motherhood by working in a variety of jobs. However, Gordon had two things going for her: she was the daughter of one of the founding fathers of Bermuda politics, and she had considerable political skills of her own. She used these resources in steering the United Bermuda Party to victory.
An Unconventional Family
Pamela Gordon was born on September 2, 1955 in Hamilton, Bermuda. She was the youngest of five children born to Mildred Layne Bean and Dr. E.F. Gordon, a prominent labor leader and member of Bermuda's parliament in the late 1940s and early 1950s. E.F. Gordon was known as a champion of unheralded causes. Born in Trinidad, he became a physician, moved to Bermuda, and spent his time campaigning against segregation and improving conditions for the working class. He urged black participation in the colony's government and challenged the white power structure to cede some of its authority. Dr. Gordon and Mildred Layne Bean never married, as Gordon was a Roman Catholic and, according to a strict interpretation of church laws, forbidden to divorce his first wife, Clara. They did live together during his last years, however, and she was pregnant with Pamela when he died on April 21, 1955.
Gordon was herself baptized as a Catholic. She grew up at "Beulah, " the Gordon family estate, where her father used to hold meetings with his political supporters. Without him around to pay the bills though, life was a struggle for Gordon and her sisters Olympia and Patricia and brothers Keith and Edgar. Her mother worked as a switchboard operator to support the family.
While Gordon never knew her father, she is said to have inherited some of his headstrong temperament. "She was always sweet and demure, " commented her sister Patricia to the Bermuda Sun, "But she always spoke her mind." Her father's legacy to her included a passionate commitment to her own views no matter what other people might think. "Dr. Gordon was strong willed, " Mildred Layne Bean remarked to the Bermuda Sun. "My daughter isn't much different."
Growing up, Gordon attended Central School and Berkeley Institute. However, she had to leave school at the age of 16, when she became pregnant by Ronald Furbert. She gave birth to a daughter, Veronica, and resumed her studies at another institution. It could have been a major setback to Gordon's career aspirations, but she had the support of her family to fall back on. "She had a teenage pregnancy, " Gordon's mother told The Bermuda Sun. "Everybody wanted to put her down. Yes, she made a youthful mistake." Instead of shunning her, however, Gordon's mother helped take care of the baby while she attended college in Ontario, Canada. When she returned to Bermuda, she married Ronald Furbert. The couple subsequently had a son, Ronald, and later divorced.
With a family of her own to support, Gordon began working at odd jobs while she continued to attend college classes. For a time, she owned and managed a restaurant, The Moonglow, in St. George's, where her mother also worked. In 1983, she took a job as a sales accountant at St. George's Club, a hotel. Despite not having accounting accreditation, she worked her way up to the post of controller. She finally earned her college degree in commerce from Queen's University and began studying for a master's degree.
Remarkable Political Ascent
Always one to speak her mind, Gordon found herself complaining more and more about public policy in Bermuda. That bluntness about the issues impressed Sir John Swan, Bermuda's premier, whom Gordon met through her sister Patricia. Swan convinced Gordon that the best way to work for change was by joining the United Bermuda Party (UBP). It was the first step in Gordon's political career.
In 1990, Gordon won a seat in the Bermuda Senate. In March of 1992, Premier Swan appointed her to his cabinet as Minister of Youth Development. She later served as Minister of the Environment, Planning, and Recreation in the cabinet of Premier David J. Saul. In October of 1993, Gordon was elected to Bermuda's House of Assembly as the representative for Southampton West.
In March of 1997, Premier David J. Saul shocked the colony-and the ruling UBP-by announcing his resignation. Saul may have been swayed by polls that showed him losing the next election to the candidate for the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). A contest for the leadership of the UBP now ensued. The stakes were high because, in a parliamentary system, the winner of the party vote would also assume the post of premier. Undeterred by the odds against her candidacy, Gordon immediately threw her hat into the ring.
The contest was hard-fought. Twenty-one UDP parliament members were eligible to vie for the $89, 000-a-year post, but many senior members shied away, afraid that Bermuda's voters were looking for "new blood." Gordon and Irving Pearman quickly emerged as the front runners. At first, Pearman appeared to have the votes to win. Gordon even announced that she would pull out of the race if that were true in order to preserve party unity, but by March 24, 1997, the tide had turned. She was the unanimous choice for party leader. "Pam seems to be the one, " a senior UBP cabinet member told Reuters. "She's the only real choice."
First Woman Premier
Now the head of Bermuda's ruling party, Gordon was duly sworn in as premier by Governor Lord Waddington on March 27, 1997. The orderly transition of power pleased Bermuda's business community. "International business is moving our economy and we look forward to working with Premier Gordon to promote Bermuda and its attractive business environment, " announced Arthur B. Sculley, Chairman of the Bermuda Stock Exchange, in a press release issued by the Bermuda International Business Association (BIBA). For her part, Gordon promised economic and political stability in the run-up to general elections to be held some time within the next 18 months.
In the tradition of her father, Pamela Gordon did not waste any time in challenging the powers that be-including the British government, the colonial masters of Bermuda. In January of 1998, she accused Great Britain of violating international agreements by denying Bermudans the right to live in Britain. Other colonial powers, such as the United States and the Netherlands, give citizenship rights to their Caribbean dependencies. Gordon also butted heads with the government in London over the issue of capital punishment, which Britain put pressure on Bermuda to abolish in 1998. "The only way they can force us to do anything is by them going through their own parliament, " Gordon told Reuters in February of 1998. Capital punishment remains on the books in Bermuda, and is popular with voters, though it has not been invoked since the late 1970s.
By the spring of 1998, Gordon was shoring up her political support, especially among blacks and labor unions, for what was expected to be a hotly contested election campaign. Now a member of the African Methodist Episcopalian Church, she remained single following her divorce and maintained a close relationship with her daughter Victoria and son Ronald. She lived with her mother in the family home at Beulah until her election to the premiership. Her mother remains convinced that Gordon's father would approve of her taking over the "family business." "He would have been absolutely delighted, " Mildred Bean told the Bermuda Sun. "He would have said: 'Although you [the establishment] didn't want me, now my daughter is in charge."
The Bermuda Sun, March 21, 1997; March 27, 1997.
The Daily Telegraph, January 27, 1998.
Reuters, March 24, 1997; March 25, 1997; February 13, 1998.
"Pamela Gordon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pamela-gordon
"Pamela Gordon." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pamela-gordon