On Monday, October 26, Jamaica will mark the 109th anniversary of the birth of the country’s second Prime Minister, Sir Donald Burns Sangster.
The late statesman, whose image is on the $100 note, and for whom the international airport in Montego Bay is named, has left a legacy of distinguished service to the nation spanning over 34 years.
Born in St. Elizabeth in 1911, to Cassandra and William Sangster, Sir Donald was educated at Munro College from 1921 to 1929, and was admitted to practise as a solicitor in Jamaica in 1937 when he was 26 years old.
He was known as a multi-talented sportsman, participating actively in cricket, football, athletics and boxing while attending Munro, and was captain of the St. Elizabeth Parish team in the Nethersole Cricket Cup Competition.
Sir Donald entered politics at the age of 21 in 1933, when he was elected to the St. Elizabeth Parish Council. He became Vice-Chairman of the St. Elizabeth Parochial Board in 1941.
In 1944, he contested but lost the South St. Elizabeth seat as an independent candidate in the country’s first General Election under the new Constitution, which granted Universal Adult Suffrage.
He would join the House of Representatives five years later, when he won the South St. Elizabeth seat in the 1949 General Election as a member of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). This same year, he was elected Chairman of the St. Elizabeth Parochial Board.
Known for his humility, Sir Donald steadily continued to build his political career, going on to become the JLP’s First Deputy Leader in 1950 and serving as Minister of Social Welfare from 1950 to 1953.
He also served as Leader of the House of Representatives and Minister of Finance from 1953 until 1955 when the JLP lost the General Election and he lost his South St. Elizabeth seat. Later that year, however, he successfully contested a by-election for the North-East Clarendon constituency.
In 1962 when the JLP was returned to office, Sir Donald was re-appointed as Minister of Finance and House Leader, and was subsequently appointed as Deputy Prime Minister. He relinquished the post of House Leader in 1966.
Sir Donald accompanied then Prime Minister and later National Hero, the Rt. Hon. Sir Alexander Bustamante to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London in 1962.
He attended the conference as Sir Alexander’s representative in 1964, when he was appointed to act as Prime Minister, as a result of Sir Alexander falling ill. He continued to act as Prime Minister when Sir Alexander’s illness persisted.
While acting as Prime Minister, Sir Donald retained the post of Minister of Finance. He was also Minister of External Affairs and Minister of Defence.
Also, as Acting Prime Minister, Sir Donald attended the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London in 1965 and Lagos in 1966.
Following the victory of the JLP in the General Election on February 21, 1967, and the resignation of Sir Alexander Bustamante, Sir Donald was appointed Prime Minister on February 22, 1967 while simultaneously retaining the posts of Minister of Finance and Minister of Defence.
As Prime Minister, he had completed forming his Cabinet and had only attended one session of Parliament before he suddenly became ill and was sent to Canada for specialist treatment.
Sir Donald succumbed to his illness and passed away on April 11, 1967. Four days before he died, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
During his short, yet impactful lifetime, Sir Donald distinguished himself as an outstanding leader, who advanced Jamaica’s visibility in the international arena.
He is perhaps best remembered for his work to have Jamaica accepted in all major international organisations such as the United Nations (UN), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Sir Donald was Jamaica’s representative on the West Indies Regional Economic Committee from 1950 to 1955, and Leader of Jamaica’s delegations to the Commonwealth Economic Consultative Council Conferences in 1951, and 1963 to 1966.
Jamaica was the host country for this conference in 1965 and Sir Donald presided over the sessions. He also led Jamaica’s delegation to the World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington from 1963 to 1966.
Interestingly, Sir Donald served as Governor of the World Bank from 1963 until his death in April 1967.
He established Jamaica as a nation of sound financial integrity and a leader of the new nations in the Commonwealth and the Caribbean.
Of note, Sir Donald was a member of the Joint Committee of Parliament, which framed the Constitution for Independent Jamaica, and he was a member of the delegation that went to England in 1962 for discussions with the British Government.
Sir Donald sat on the Jamaican delegation that received formal admission to the UN in 1962, and was a member of Jamaica’s delegation to the Heads of Commonwealth Caribbean conference in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in 1963 and in Kingston, Jamaica in 1964.
He also led the delegation to these conferences in Georgetown, Guyana in 1965 and in Bridgetown, Barbados in 1966. In addition, he led Jamaica’s delegation to the Canada-Commonwealth Caribbean Countries in Ottawa in July 1966.
Sir Donald also served on a number of public boards and committees. He was a member of Manning’s Home Advisory Committee, and of the East and West St. Elizabeth School Boards. He was a Director of Jamaica Vegetables Limited from 1943 to 1949, and he also played a prominent part in the St. Elizabeth Scouts.
He was also a member of the Munro and Dickenson Trust, the Black River Drainage and Irrigation Board and was a member of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Jamaica. In addition, he was appointed Chairman of the University of the West Indies Grants Committee in 1963.
At the time of his untimely death, Sir Donald, who was a bachelor, was 55 years old.