Tribute to Courtney Newlands Blackman

Author(s): Central Bank Of Barbados

Created 16 Mar, 2021
Categories General Press Release
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The Central Bank of Barbados confirms that Sir Courtney Blackman, the first and longest serving Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, has died at the age of 88. Sir Courtney died in the United States of America where he had been living for more than 20 years.


Reacting to news of his death, current Governor Cleviston Haynes said “We are immeasurably saddened by the passing of our founding father, Sir Courtney. His vision has been the cornerstone of the Bank since its inception, and his influence is still felt in many of our activities, both economic and social. As Governor, he presided over the Bank’s transformation from a fledgling organisation with five employees to an institution with a staff complement of almost 200. He oversaw the introduction of Barbados’ national currency in 1973 and was intimately involved in the July 1975 decision, based on the instability of the British pound, to tie the island’s currency to the United States dollar at a rate of two Barbados dollars to one US dollar, a peg that remains to this day.”

Haynes stated further that “on a personal level, I had the honour and privilege to work under him during my early years at the Bank, and he had a significant influence on my career and approach to leadership. My deepest condolences go out to Gloria and his entire family.”

Sir Courtney served three terms as Governor of the Bank, from 1972 to 1987.  He was a giant in central banking and laid a solid foundation for the excellence for which the Bank is known.

His many other achievements include the construction of our headquarters, his emphasis on public education and public sector management as well as his input in national development that resulted in the creation of the international business and financial services sector, the country’s second largest foreign exchange earner today.

Sir Courtney was a fervent believer in developing the Bank’s human resources, and under his leadership several employees completed professional academic qualifications, and participated in international conferences and programmes to build out their various competencies.

An authority on central banking in developing countries, Sir Courtney lectured at major universities in Britain, Canada and the U.S.A., including Oxford, Dalhousie, and Columbia. He published several learned Papers and three books:  The Practice of Persuasion, a collection of speeches, in 1982; Central Banking in Theory and Practice: A Small State Perspective, in 1995; and The Practice of Economic Management: A Caribbean Perspective, in 2005. 

Sir Courtney Newlands Blackman is survived by his wife, Gloria, and three sons.

Governorship

He was recruited for the post of Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados by then Prime Minister the late Errol Walton Barrow. Years later, recounting the offer, Sir Courtney, who was known for his sense of humour said:

“It was 5 o’clock [in the morning]. He offered me the position of Governor of the proposed Central Bank, which I immediately accepted, lest he should change his mind. I would later tease him that I would never again accept a job offer while half asleep.”

Sir Courtney’s appointment to lead the Central Bank of Barbados was historic in that it marked the first time in the English-speaking Caribbean that a central bank was led from the inception by a native of the country. In addition, at 39, he was the youngest person ever to be appointed Governor of a central bank.

He shepherded the island through recession during the early 1980s, facing deep criticism for his calls for wage restraint from both politicians and trade unions. Nevertheless, with characteristic resoluteness, he defended his stance, as he would go on to do on a number of issues.

One of Sir Courtney’s enduring legacies was the construction of a headquarters for the Central Bank, which until then had been operating with its staff situated in different locations around Bridgetown. This project was not without controversy, however. Many felt that given the economic challenges Barbados was facing, the scope of the project should be downsized, while others questioned both the grandeur of the building and the inclusion of a concert hall in the plans for the facility. Sir Courtney dismissed these criticisms as “short-sighted” and persisted with his vision. The headquarters were quickly accepted by the public and more than 35 years later, the complex, now called the Tom Adams Financial Centre, remains a prominent feature of Bridgetown’s cityscape.

Unconventional Approach

Sir Courtney’s insistence on having a performing arts space as part of the organisation’s headquarters was considered unorthodox at the time, but also characteristic of his approach to central banking. Speaking at the official opening of the complex in 1986, he defended his decision:

“No economy can be effectively managed unless the members of that society want it to be so. We feel it important, then, that the Central Bank be perceived as serving the community and not as being against the community. We believe it is important to share our facilities with the public and to use them for the cultural and general upliftment of all Barbadians.”

Among his other community and social development initiatives were the introduction of the annual Sir Winston Scott Memorial Lecture, so named after Barbados’ first native Governor General, which has continued uninterrupted for more than four decades; and the introduction of Central Bank of Barbados-backed financing schemes for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Sir Courtney’s unconventional approach was evident even in his handling of traditional central bank operations. Reflecting on his time as Governor while in retirement, he explained why he had challenged the then-prevailing wisdom that central banking operations should be opaque and adopted an unconventional approach to leading the Bank:

“Early in my tenure a close and valued friend recommended that I should not try too hard to explain the business of central banking to the public. Mystique, he suggested, has its purposes. By then, however, I had become convinced that macroeconomic management in democratic societies would not succeed in the face of public ignorance and indifference.”

This belief gave birth to the introduction of the Central Bank of Barbados’ quarterly economic review and press conference, which the Bank still holds. Internationally, transparency in central banking is now fully championed.

Post Central Bank Career

Sir Courtney remained in public life after demitting office in 1987, regularly commenting on local, regional, and international economic affairs. In 1995, he was appointed Barbados’ Ambassador to the United States and Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), a post he held for five years. For part of that period (1995-1998), he also represented Barbados in negotiations with the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Regional governments, including Bermuda, sought his services as a consultant.

Accolades

Throughout his life, Sir Courtney received many accolades. In 1982, his former employer, Hofstra University awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his services to the Central Bank of Barbados. He would later receive a second honorary PhD, this time in law, from the University of the West Indies (UWI).

In 1998, the Central Bank of Barbados and the UWI established the Courtney Blackman Chair in Banking and Finance. That same year, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

In 2017, the Central Bank officially named its conference room, the Grande Salle, in his honour. The official residence of the Central Bank of Barbados Governor, Newlands, is also named after him.



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