Lady Bustamante Served Selflessly


Lady Bustamante, widow of National Hero, The Rt. Excellent Sir Alexander Bustamante, who died yesterday (July 25), at age 97, was a defender of women’s and workers’ rights, as exemplified in her steadfast stance for port workers in 1938, alongside Sir Alexander Bustamante.
Affectionately called ‘Lady B’, she was committed to the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), and was its Honorary Treasurer up until her death.Lifelong friend of Lady Bustamante, Seragh Lakasingh, in an interview with JIS News, spoke of her humility.
“Humility was the hallmark of her life. Even at the helm of the country, she remained humble. She was never swayed by positions and status; she was easily accessible. She was all things to all persons,” he said. In her book, ‘The Memoirs of Lady Bustamante’, she spoke glowingly of working quietly behind the scenes and beside her husband.
Born Gladys Longbridge in 1912, she hailed from Parson Reid, near Ashton in Westmorland. In her book, Lady Bustamante said she was a “welcome baby,” even though she was born out of wedlock.
“Being born out of wedlock was not a major issue in rural Jamaica then,” she wrote.
Lady Bustamante, who studied commercial subjects at Tutorial College in Kingston, worked as secretary for Sir Alexander Bustamante, a man she admired due to his concern for the poor.
“I took up my job with pride and great expectations of becoming involved more with people than with paper and pencil,” Lady Bustamante wrote.
She was a private secretary to Mr. Bustamante from 1936 when he was a businessman, then a trade unionist and then a politician until he became Prime Minister in 1962. “I was privileged to stand with Alexander Bustamante, behind him first and beside him ever after,” she wrote.
Lady Bustamante recalled going with him, while she was in his employ, all across the country by car, often times being his driver. “We went to remote little districts speaking to the people, seeing how they lived and noting their problems,” she wrote. She also highlighted a humorous side to Sir Alexander Bustamante, revealing that she called him Mr. ‘B’ and he pronounced her name ‘Glad Ice’, which reflected the close-knit relationship they shared.
In her memoirs, Lady Bustamante described how she found herself fully involved in some of the most stirring events in 20th Century Jamaica. She recalled that on Monday, May 23, 1938, thousands of port workers took strike action and marched to Victoria Park to get direction from their leader, Sir Alexander Bustamante, and during the upheavals, she found herself in the forefront of the action.
“A series of unlikely events led me into the thick of trade unionism and politics. Before too long, I would become deeply involved in the movement to reform Jamaica. The folks at home would marvel at the fact that the quiet, Sunday-school organist from Ashton was in the forefront of national upheaval, fighting for the under-paid working class and the hungry unemployed. Almost all my working days have been spent in this service; even now so late in life, I am still fully committed to trade unionism and I propose to continue that way until that breath has left my body,” she wrote.
Modesty would not be mentioned when she spoke of the women’s role in the BITU at that time, even though she respected the men’s input.
“We women were the mainstay of the Union’s organisation, though we could hardly have functioned without the brave men who toiled day and night, facing all sorts of criticism and opposition as they tried to help the workers. Bustamante was the busiest of us all, scouring the rural areas, forming branches, listening to grievances, offering solutions and calling publicly upon Government as well as private employers to deal fairly with the masses. On nearly all these trips I was by his side, taking note of important details, seeing to his personal welfare and offering advice based upon my own experience, close contact with the people, and of course, a woman’s intuition,” she wrote.
So devoted was Lady By to her husband, that she wrestled a drunk who looked as if he intended to hit Sir Alexander Bustamante. “It was then that I summoned up the nerve to grab the offender by his tie and pulled him to the floor,” she wrote.
When Jamaica became independent in 1962, Lady Bustamante became Jamaica’s first ‘First Lady.’ “He just announced to me that he was going to marry me,” she wrote.
This was a few months after the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which Bustamante had formed, won the general elections and Sir Alexander Bustamante was sworn in as the first Prime Minister of Jamaica.
When he passed away on August 6, 1977, Lady Bustamante wrote that she “was paralysed with grief.” She, however, forced herself to stay active, still continuing to serve as Treasurer of the BITU. She lent her support to many causes, including her beloved Bustamante Hospital for Children, of which she was Patron.
Many persons who knew Lady Bustamante described her as a humble, modest figure. She did social work islandwide, particularly among port workers and their families, in sugar communities and among children of destitute parents. She was also actively engaged with work at a number of voluntary and charitable institutions.
For her contribution to National Development, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), declared October 16, 2003, as Lady Bustamante Day.
Among her other numerous awards over the years were: presentation by Mayor Wagner of the Key to the City of New York USA, in the form of a gold pendant, in 1963; Committee for Christian Education of New York and Jamaica Award for service of dedication to the people of the world; Gleaner Special Merit Award for Outstanding Service to the nation in 1979; Plaque for outstanding public service to Jamaica to mark the end of United Nations Decade of Women (1976-1986), in 1986; Harmony in the Homes Movement, Model Family Trophy in recognition of ‘Widow – Exemplary Family Life’ in 1985; Golden Orchid Award from Venezuelan Government in recognition of dedication to Sir Alexander Bustamante’s ideals in 1979; Woman Inc. Award for the Celebration of Womanhood in 1988; and in 1990, Certificate of Welcome from Mayor Bradley, on behalf of the people of Los Angeles USA.

JIS Social