One summer afternoon in 1984 I was sitting off in my parent’s den engaged in a discussion about the future direction of the Progressive Labour Party with my uncle, Walter Brangman. Back in Bermuda during a summer break in my graduate studies and imbued with the socialist sensibilities that dominated my academic programme, I challenged my uncle—then a dissenting member of the PLP—for not being radical enough, for not addressing the plight of the working masses. At the time I thought we were embroiled in a heated debate but on reflection the heat and agitation was unidirectional, coming solely from me. My uncle was calm and respectful as he patiently heard me out. At one point he exposed his signature warm smile and said, “Walton, I was a lot like you when I was your age. In twenty years’ time you’ll be thinking a lot more like me.”
Walter Brangman was a man of strong convictions about what was right for Bermuda; and he never shied away from making his point. When he helped form the Members for Change inside the PLP in 1984 he wanted to see the party move to a more centrist disposition because he felt the party needed to be more inclusive and because it would enhance the party’s electability. He was a founding member of the National Liberal Party because he felt a centrist party, and one that was genuinely bi-racial, could better serve the interests of the people. That the NLP had an uphill battle in a polarized Bermuda compounded by the weakening of third parties under our first-past-the-pots electoral system takes nothing away from sincerity of the NLP’s raison d’être.
In his later years, Mr Brangman would offer his insights and experience to help elucidate the public on any number of public issues that were prominent at the time. I have often wondered why no government has ever seen fit to empanel a team of experienced and retired great thinkers as both a sounding and advisory board so that policy can be better informed. Walter Brangman would have been an excellent contributor to such a group.
No matter what the topic, no matter what the circumstances, my uncle set the standard for calm and reflective deliberation. While some of us are prone to raising our voices and vigourous gesticulation to make a point; and while the weak go for a more demeaning approach; Walter Brangman managed to be dispassionate while caring deeply about the issues. He showed me this on that summer afternoon, he reflected that during his tenure in Parliament (1976-1985) and he lived that during his successful post-Parliament career.
The island-wide outpouring of affection for this quiet, humble soldier in the battle for a more just, a fairer Bermuda is telling. He was one of many who worked selflessly to improve our social condition. As a member of the PLP while in opposition, he worked alongside a team of people who pricked the conscience of Government, oftentimes persuading it to provide for more socially progressive legislation and policy. He was not one of those MPs who sat in Parliament barely uttering a word; rather he was always engaged, always offering his views and campaigning for reform.
History has vindicated him and the Members for Change since the PLP did eventually move to a more centrist position and in large part because of this, won the seat of power in 1998. In some respects, he was also right about me.