Life is like a vapor. It is fleeting. A few hours before his passing between Sunday night and Monday morning of this week, Obie Wilchcombe spoke with a number of individuals expressing his sadness over the passing of a few friends, among them the wife of one of his cabinet colleagues. It was therefore with profound disbelief and utter sadness that most Bahamians learned of his own death.
This Cabinet Minister and government leader in the House of Assembly was in Grand Bahama to address a meeting of the Women’s Branch of the Progressive Liberal Party. As he delivered his address, there was no inkling that he was unwell. Rather, his remarks calling for gender equality and the need to protect the weak and the poor of the country resonated and will long be remembered.
Obie Wilchcombe was serving as Minister of Social Services and was inspirational in outlining the government’s agenda. His audience made up mainly of the party’s faithful, will no doubt remember the occasion for a very long time.
As tributes poured in from around The Bahamas, we are pleased that across the political divide we saw and heard genuine sentiments of sympathy for the family and friends of someone who has served the nation so well.
Rising from humble beginnings in West End, Grand Bahama, Wilchombe rose to political prominence and popularity through a disciplined life of hard work and dogged determination.
He won a scholarship in his early teen years to attend Queen’s College in Nassau, where he stood out academically. After graduation he returned to the island he loved and landed a job in the northern service of The Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas. He yearned to be a broadcast-journalist. Once given the opportunity, he excelled and received the adulation of thousands of listeners of Radio Bahamas and viewers of ZNS TV-13. With his intelligence and skills, he became in a relatively short period of time, a news reporter who could take on the assignments covering the Prime Minister as he travelled to many conferences and speaking engagements around the world.
After a series of promotions, within ten years, he rose to the position of Assistant General Manager of the Broadcast Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas.
There was no doubt that he was a supporter of the PLP and left the Corporation after the elections of 1992 when the Free National Movement came to power. By that time, Wilchcombe had earned a reputation as a good broadcaster.
By 1997, he was ensconced in the PLP, became a Senator and later Chairman of the party. There is no doubt that the then leader, the late Sir Lynden Pindling saw him as a mentee with promise. In 2002, he won election for the West End and Bimini constituency and was re-elected in 2012 and in 2021. In that period, he served as Minister of Tourism for two five-year terms.
There is no doubt that he made a significant contribution to the development of Tourism in The Bahamas and instituted a number of policies to enhance The Bahamas as a destination, with particular emphasis in promoting the family islands.
Obie Wilchcombe became a consummate politician and a highly regarded orator. He had the cadence in his speeches very similar to that of his mentor, Sir Lynden, which made him a very compelling speaker.
As the nation mourns his passing, he is remembered for the class and satire elegance in his appearance, but also as an outstanding journalist and parliamentarian.
The Bahamas is the poorer because of Obie Wilchcombe’s passing.
The poem, “No Man Is An Island” by John Donne states: “… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”