Remembering Sir Courtney

Author(s): Central Bank Of Barbados

Created 17 Mar, 2021
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Sir Courtney Newlands Blackman, the first and longest serving Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, who headed the organisation from 1972-1987, passed away on March 16, 2021 at the age of 88.

Friends and colleagues reflect on his life and pay tribute to him.

The Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados

Sir Courtney Blackman was, without doubt, a true Barbadian legend, patriot, and pioneer, whose contribution to public life, anchored as founding Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, was always aimed at the fostering of economic growth for the upliftment of all Barbadians.

He lived for his country, whether at the helm of our premiere financial institution, leading our diplomatic charge at our mission in Washington DC, lecturing on the university circuit in North America, or simply lending his voice to the national socio-economic debate after his retirement from public life.

It was truly a sad moment today for me when I learned of his passing at age 88 in the United States, where for almost two decades he lived, but continued to represent his country with distinction. That’s because Sir Courtney was family, friend and mentor.

For those who apply academic study to his life’s work, his greatest legacy will perhaps be his foresight in insisting that Barbados follow a fixed exchange rate regime at BDS$2 to US$1. That peg is responsible for much of our economic successes today.

Read Prime Minister Mottley’s full tribute here.

Cleviston Haynes, Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados

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.”

“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.”

Read the Central Bank’s full tribute here.

Dr. DeLisle Worrell, Former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados

Sir Courtney's was a life well-lived – long and productive. He was my mentor and friend, and that bond of friendship embraced Monica, my wife. It was thanks to Sir Courtney that I became a central banker, and I am eternally grateful for that. The day in 1972 that he recruited me to set up the Research Department for the new Central Bank of Barbados was a turning point in my life, and opened paths for advancement that I had never dreamed of.

Sir Courtney was a true leader, thoughtful, forward thinking, and generous to a fault. He supported my adventurous spirit, and I was captivated by his vision of the Central Bank of Barbados as a world class institution.

He taught me the art of management, which was his great strength. The lessons I learned from him are even now being rediscovered by the world's foremost schools of management.

Much more could be said, but suffice it to say that we have lost a giant, a master of his craft and an inspiration for his times.

Monica and I join with Gloria, Courtney's family and friends in celebrating his life, and we offer condolences to all who loved and respected him.

Dr. Marion Williams, Former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados

The passing of Sir Courtney Blackman is a sad moment for all Barbadians whether or not they knew him. Sir Courtney has left a lasting mark not only on the Central Bank of Barbados where he served with distinction, but on Barbados generally.

He was a visionary. He set high standards for the Bank and conveyed to his staff that nothing else was good enough. He also set himself goals for the Bank and instituted strategic planning in order to achieve those goals. He believed in education and training of his staff and would send them on attachments to prestigious institutions.

Similarly, he launched an education programme in economics and central banking in Barbados so that the ordinary man could understand terms like the “Balance of Payments”, etc. and know how it affected him; helping the public to understand his press conferences and press releases. He was open to foreign banks even when this was not popular and would have been disturbed to learn that some were planning to leave the region.

Sir Courtney represented Barbados with distinction long before he became an ambassador, he was thoughtful and encouraged creative thinking. He saw the Bank as a centre of excellence and worked hard to make that a reality.

Outside of Barbados he helped to frame a concept of the Barbadian intellectual as a thoughtful but practical thinker who appreciated the challenges and compromises of small economies in a world which favoured the powerful, but who continued to work toward overcoming them.

Though he was essentially a central banker, he believed that management and management practices were critical to obtaining good outcomes for any institution, not only for the public sector, but the private sector as well, and he emphasized this whenever he had the opportunity. In fact, he would frequently quote his favourite management thinker, Peter Drucker, to make his point. As a result of his belief in the importance of good management, several central bankers, and others as well, benefitted from Management courses put on locally.

He believed in the social obligation of public institutions and the Central Bank building and the Frank Collymore Hall were examples of his contribution to encouraging cultural and intellectual activities in Barbados, not only by Barbadians, but for Barbadians. The Frank Collymore Hall and the Courtney Blackman Grande Salle are examples.

Most importantly he developed a culture of intellectual exchange in the Bank and believed that his staff should be represented in as many international conferences as possible and affordable. As a consequence, many of his ex-staff were able to fill top positions in other organizations inside and outside of Barbados. He saw this as a contribution of the Bank to society.

Sir Courtney was able to realize much of his vision for the Bank and by extension for Barbados, and we who shared space in the Bank and in the island with him can attest to his outstanding contribution.

I wish to extend our deepest condolences to his family.

Winston Cox, Former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados

Sir Courtney and I met 59 years ago. He was a teacher at Harrison College, and I was one of the schoolboys he was trying to instruct in the techniques of historical analysis. Whatever success attended his efforts was due entirely to his skill and patience as an instructor. Through that skill and patience, I would later be taught many valuable lessons during the 14 years I worked under him at the Bank.

One simple but ever so valuable a lesson he taught me was that you should respect the decisions of those to whom you have delegated the authority for making the decisions. He and I had gone to London to meet with various bankers and were invited to a black-tie event. We had to rent the appropriate gear, which we thought would be accepted as a legitimate travel expense. There was an unwelcome delay in approving the claim of expenses and delays always spelt trouble. The trouble became clear when about a week later Governor Blackman called me to his office to tell me that he would not overrule the Accounts Department which had determined that tuxedo rental was not a refundable expense. Said he: “You should never overrule your accountant’s interpretation of the financial rules for your own benefit.”

Sir Courtney’s courage and fortitude were unflappable. In the face of public criticism, especially for arguing that there was a link between incomes, the balance of payments, and the stability of the exchange rate, he stood his ground. And what solid ground it has proven to be! The paradox is that his call for wage restraint, for which he was excoriated by the unions, has protected the post-independence gains in the standard of living that Barbadians enjoy.

He protected the staff of the Bank from political interference by defending and shielding those who had attracted the ire of politicians, and by refusing to divulge financial information about staff to which politicians had no right.

Sir Courtney’s vision and hopes for Barbados are evident not only in the Central Bank building, but also in the quality of the institution housed within it. He paid particular attention to putting in place the operational systems required to successfully run a central bank, and to investing in developing and guiding the staff needed to operate and manage those systems.

The building was a further test of his mettle. His friends and detractors alike seized upon the four towers as they rose out of the ground. His friends, flirting with the universal appeal of the double entendre, referred to them as “Courtney’s Erection”; his detractors made unflattering comparisons to the infamous tower of Babel and excoriated him, the Bank, and the Government for wanton extravagance; others saw the building as a symbol of hope for the upward trajectory of Barbados’ social and economic development. The wit lives on, the excoriation has passed, and the extravagance is now hailed as foresight. In the hands of succeeding generations of leaders and policy makers that hope, like a flame, has at times burnt brightly, at times flickered; and at times smouldered. May it never be extinguished!       

Sir Courtney had many qualities beside unflappable courage and fortitude. He was a great storyteller and had a laugh that was like the sea, even at his own jokes! He had a great store of wisdom and learning, unquenchable curiosity, deep compassion and empathy. But above all was his devotion: devotion to the ideals of personal integrity and excellence; but even more his devotion to his friends, his family and to his wife.

To Lady Blackman, to his sons Christopher, Keith, and Martin, and to their families, to Sir Courtney’s brothers and sisters and to the entire Blackman family, we extend our condolences.

Courtney, rest in peace, may light perpetual shine on you as angels waft you through the skies.

Winston  

Trevor Campbell, Member of the Central Bank of Barbados Board of Directors

I have known Sir Courtney Blackman from my days at Harrison College in the early 1960s. He was my History teacher when I was in form 2.2 or in second form, and he maintained high standards while at that school.

When I joined the staff of the Central Bank in October 1991, Sir Courtney had already left the Bank and was replaced by the late Dr. Kurleigh King. However, Sir Courtney always maintained his connection with the Bank, especially with the Research Department where I was proud to be a member.

At regular intervals, I received overseas phone calls from Sir Courtney. He always expressed an interest in my research topics and never hesitated to provide his advice which helped to enhance the quality of the paper. Further, I remember attending a Monetary Studies Conference as a representative of the Bank at the Hilton Hotel in Trinidad and Tobago in 1992 where I presented my first paper. Sir Courtney was also in attendance at that conference and I recall that during the morning and lunch intervals, he took time to join my table. I gained significant knowledge from him not only on economic matters, but on his relationships with Prime Ministers, National Hero, the late Right Excellent Errol Barrow, the late Right Honourable J.M.G.M “Tom” Adams and the Right Honourable Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford. There is no doubt that he has had a tremendous impact on my life, both as an economist and as a person and I consider myself fortunate to have met him during my life. Barbados will be the poorer without him and he will be sadly missed. May he rest in peace.

Novaline Brewster, Chief of Corporate Communications at the Central Bank of Barbados

The late Sir Courtney Blackman was a mentor, a teacher, a coach, and a friend. I treasure the nuggets of wisdom he selflessly imparted to me during our conversations when he visited the Bank. We chatted candidly about his growing up in St. David's, life as Governor, his contribution to public service, management and leadership, public relations and communications, and of course, his beloved family.

Sir Courtney and I met before my joining the Bank in 2001 through his sister Janice, with whom I share a birthdate, and his niece, Sharron, my best friend. My friendship with Sir Courtney solidified when I became a central banker because we constantly interacted when he was a guest of the Bank or was visiting the island. He called and dropped in to see "his girls" (Arlene and Novaline) on Level 10 whenever he was in Bim on personal business.

He introduced me to Peter Drucker, the late management guru, whom he emulated. He quizzed me on his publication The Practice of Persuasion and encouraged me never to stop learning. I recall his advice, "Novaline, if your degree is older than five years, it is obsolete." This warning reinvigorated my passion for continuous learning, if only as a tribute to our founding father.

He would also bounce ideas for speeches. He explained that such an approach to speech writing helped him to crystallise thoughts and gain other perspectives. That was another lesson from Sir Courtney.

I  am glad that Governor Haynes allowed me to plan the Grande Salle's renaming in his honour in 2018. Working with his wife and family, my Comms team and I produced our best event ever. I endured sleepless nights, and a few heartaches on account of some suppliers, but in the end, the family was immensely thankful and pleased. They still speak fondly and appreciatively of that ceremony. Producing that activity was one of my proudest days as a central banker.

My family and I join the Bank and the country to express our deepest condolences to his wife, Lady Blackman, who taught me French at secondary school, his sons, Christopher, Martin, and Keith, as well as his siblings.

The Bank and the country have lost a visionary leader, a colossus, a caring human being who put people at the centre of everything, and who built a solid foundation for a world class institution.

May he rest in peace.

Hyginus “Gene” Leon, Incoming President of the Caribbean Development Bank

I would like to echo my condolences to the Blackman family and the CBB staff on the passing of a true central banking icon.

Sir Courtney was a trailblazer within the region as well as on the international circuit, and I too owe to him the gratitude of allowing me the opportunity to carve a profession path that gained significant momentum and inspiration during my tenure at the Central Bank of Barbados. Beyond that tenure, Sir Courtney continued to indirectly mentor and inspire through the various interactions we had at conferences and in casual conversations. His infectious and thunderous laughter will always remain with me, as well as his vast storehouse of and penchant for recanting stories and nuggets of history — always a joy to be with!

May he rest in peace, and his memory remain etched with all of us whose lives he touched.

Shelton Nicholls, Senior Financial Sector Expert, International Monetary Fund

His forward-looking, pragmatic and participatory style to central bank management was legendary and quite instrumental in developing central banking as a discipline in its own right in the Caribbean region. He was a strong advocate of monetary cooperation and effective management, and will always be remembered and cherished as one of the founding fathers of central banking in the Caribbean. As a Governor, he was an active participant in the Regional Programme of Monetary Studies and was always available to share his ideas and experiences with the younger generation of scholars and central bankers in the region. He has left us an incredible legacy to build on!

I wish to offer condolences on behalf of Janice and myself to his family and friends, the regional central banking community, and to the Central Bank of Barbados.

Monica Hinds, Central Bank of Barbados Retiree

Sincere condolences to the extended Blackman family as well as the Central Bank of Barbados family. We have all lost a great Barbadian who had an intense interest in the growth and development of those who crossed his path. It was Dr. Blackman who encouraged me to take a leave of absence from the Bank to pursue studies in London leading to my ACCA. For that, I am forever grateful.

As the first Governor of the Central Bank, his vision for the institution resulted in its transformation from an office with just a handful of employees to what became the most respected regulatory organization in Barbados.

He ensured that the Bank's officers had the authority to independently carry out their responsibilities and were exposed to various international conferences and seminars which allowed them to interact and network with fellow central bankers. Many of us, the early employees, owe him a debt of gratitude for the foresight with which he governed while simultaneously developing us.

His earthly work having been completed, I pray that he will rest in peace.

Kaytrude Linel Franklin, Central Bank of Barbados Retiree

I am indeed saddened to learn of the passing of Sir Courtney Newlands Blackman. In May 1974, while still a student at the Barbados Community College, I applied for a position of Bank Clerk at the Central Bank of Barbados and was granted an interview. I met Dr. Blackman during my second interview and he approved my appointment, on probation, as a Clerical Officer in the Research Department from July 1, 1974. In so doing, I became the first employee from a comprehensive school or newer secondary school to join the mainstream staff complement of the Bank. 

Dr. Blackman would stop by my desk to quiz me and follow up on my progress whenever he came to the department. I was appointed to the permanent establishment on January 1, 1975.  The Staff Association was soon established, I was elected to the Executive Committee and later became the President. It was during those years that I was able to observe and learn from the great skills, talents, and vast knowledge of this colossal leader

He was a student of management who understood the art of management and became a management guru. His style reflected a marked difference between systems, policies, and people.  He wanted the best for his staff and created a caring and nurturing environment for them. He was comfortable with staff at all levels and knew them by name. Additionally, he was a consummate gentleman whose imposing and distinguished but welcoming presence filled the room when he entered.

The Bank has lost its founding Father. Barbados has lost a loyal, devoted son of the soil. Take your rest Sir. You have done well.

To his sorrowing wife Gloria, his sons, grandchildren, siblings, numerous family, and friends, I extend my deepest condolences. 

I pray God have mercy on his soul and that he rests in eternal peace. One Love.

Carl Moore, Central Bank of Barbados Retiree

Public relations for Sir Courtney Blackman was not about optics. He considered it an integral function of management.

As soon as I joined the Central Bank of Barbados as Public Affairs Officer in January 1981, I was invited to sit at the conference table with senior management. He did not believe that the public relations officer should be “lost away” under an assistant to the Secretary or the Human Resources Manager.

He was a disciple of that American management specialist Peter Drucker.

Before I entered the Bank in the Treasury Building, he had enrolled me in a three-week course in Trinidad conducted by English public relations guru Frank Jefkins.

Brimming with ideas on my return to Barbados, I soon came up with a thick impressive document laying out a public relations programme for the Central Bank of Barbados.

He studied it for three days and called me in to his office. Leaning back in his chair, he said: “This is an impressive document, Carl, but I first wish to see a philosophy of public relations at this institution. You’ve put the cart before the horse.”

I spent the next nine months drafting and re-drafting a policy document underpinning the Bank’s public relations philosophy. Then, one Monday morning in November of that year he called me in and said: “Now, we can proceed with public relations at the Central Bank.”

My most enjoyable first six years in any Barbadian workplace was spent working with Sir Courtney as construction began on the new headquarters building at Church Village.

As head of a new Barbadian institution which he joined at the tender age of 39, he directed the Bank through six of its most challenging years, from ground-breaking in March 1981 to its opening on September 18, 1986, when the Errol Barrow Cabinet boycotted that function.

When he started the Bank in 1972, with a staff of five, including an IMF operations specialist, Rudolf Kroc, Sir Courtney brought a solid grounding in management and money, and experience in international banking on Wall Street.

I admired his courage and fortitude in the face of public criticism. It came to the fore during those tortuous years of construction on the new headquarters building, derisively dismissed by some as “Courtney’s Erection” as the first of six concrete towers protruded ten storeys above the Bridgetown skyline, utilising a process called slip-forming, a technology applied in Barbados only once since then, at the cement plant in St. Lucy.

I will always remember his raucous laugh at the topping out ceremony on September 5, 1984, when the structure reached the top before the roof was attached. In the presence of Prime Minister Tom Adams and Anglican Bishop Drexel Gomex, he said to me: “I now have twelve erections!”

Sir Courtney always thought it would be unwise to erect such an imposing structure in the heart of Bridgetown and not include a social dimension; hence the Frank Collymore Hall and the Grande Salle, which now carries his name.

He did not settle for second best. During the closing stages of its construction, he insisted that nothing less than a Steinway 9-foot orchestral concert grand piano should grace the stage of that concert hall, named for an outstanding Barbadian man of letters.

He graciously accepted my suggestion that a steel plaque with words by English art critic should adorn the entrance to the main building, now known as the Tom Adams Financial Centre. It reads:

“When we build, let it be such a work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon them: ‘See, this our fathers did for us’.”

To quote the fourth Governor, Winston Cox: “The wit lives on, the excoriation has passed, and the extravagance is now hailed as foresight.”

At the entrance of the Courtney Blackman Grande Salle is another plaque – this one of his selection – by Pablo Picasso:

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

After three terms of office, Sir Courtney moved on in 1987 to establish an even wider footprint in the region and further afield, including becoming the Barbados Ambassador to the United States.

Years after his departure from Barbados, I always knew when he was back home. His trademark laugh would sail across Turquoise Avenue from #69, his younger brother Wally’s home. Then, he would walk across to #71 and we would have a lively chat.

No one enjoyed a laugh more than Sir Courtney Blackman. I shall miss him.

 

Send us you tribute to Sir Courtney here.

 



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