- Today, Wednesday, March 8 (International Women’s Day), Jamaica also celebrates the 105th birthday of the late Lady Bustamante. She was born as Gladys Longbridge in 1912 .
- Lady Bustamante, who studied commercial subjects at Tutorial College in Kingston, worked as secretary for Sir Alexander from 1936 when he was a businessman, then a trade unionist and then a politician until he became Prime Minister in 1962.
- When Jamaica became independent in 1962, Lady Bustamante became Jamaica’s first ‘First Lady.’
Today, Wednesday, March 8 (International Women’s Day), Jamaica also celebrates the 105th birthday of the late Lady Bustamante. She was born as Gladys Longbridge in 1912 .
Affectionately known as ‘Lady B’, she was the wife of National Hero, the Rt. Excellent Sir Alexander Bustamante, who was Head of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU); Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the first Prime Minister of independent Jamaica in 1962.
In her book, ‘The Memoirs of Lady Bustamante’, she speaks glowingly of working quietly behind the scenes and beside her husband.
Lady Bustamante, who studied commercial subjects at Tutorial College in Kingston, worked as secretary for Sir Alexander from 1936 when he was a businessman, then a trade unionist and then a politician until he became Prime Minister in 1962.
“I took up my job with pride and great expectations of becoming involved more with people than with paper and pencil,”
While she was in his employ, she went 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 also highlights a humorous side to Sir Alexander, 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 describes how she found herself fully involved in some of the most stirring events in 20th Century Jamaica.
She recalls 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, 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 writes.
Lady Bustamante puts modesty aside when she speaks 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 organization, 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,”
It is very obvious that Lady Bustamante was devoted to her husband. She even went as far as to wrestle a drunk who looked as if he intended to hit Sir Alexander.
“It was then that I summoned up the nerve to grab the offender by his tie and pull him to the floor,”
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,”
This was a few months after the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which Bustamante had formed, won the general elections and Sir Alexander was sworn in as the first Prime Minister of Jamaica.
When Sir Alexander passed away on August 6, 1977, Lady Bustamante says she “was paralyzed with grief.”
She, however, forced herself to stay active, still continuing to serve as Treasurer of the BITU.
Many persons who know Lady Bustamante describe her as a humble, modest figure.
She did social work island wide, 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.
Her work has been so recognized and appreciated that ‘Lady Bustamante Day’ was declared twice – first on December 10, 1998 – which stemmed from an award for outstanding achievement from the Metropolitan Dade County of Opa-Locka in the United States, for her determination and commitment to the betterment of humankind.
And the second time on October 16, 2003, by the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), for her contribution to national development.
Among her other numerous awards over the years are: Presentation by Mayor Wagner of the Key to the City of New York, 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’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, in recognition of the National Day of Jamaica in August.