Minister of Social Services, Information and Broadcasting Obediah Hercules Wilchcombe, a former journalist who was jailed after he refused to reveal a source and whose zeal for public service led him into politics, died suddenly in Grand Bahama on Monday morning.
He was 64.
Wilchcombe served as the member of Parliament for West Grand Bahama and Bimini from 2002 to 2017 and was re-elected in 2021.
News of his death stunned many. It is unclear what the cause of death was. Officials said he was found in an unresponsive state and was later pronounced dead.
As soon as he got news about Wilchcombe’s death, Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis, along with several senior Cabinet members and other government officials, flew to Grand Bahama.
Davis visited Rand Memorial Hospital and later addressed supporters and the country at the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) Freeport headquarters.
He remembered Wilchcombe as a courageous journalist and stalwart believer in the PLP.
Wilchcombe’s time in journalism started in 1975 when he joined the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (BCB).
He was assigned to cover then-Prime Minister Sir Lynden Pindling and covered many local and regional events.
He served in various posts at BCB, including deputy director of news, news director and assistant general manager.
“While with the Broadcasting Corporation, Wilchcombe won a national award for writing and producing the television documentary ‘Base Streets’,” a short biography of him said.
“The program illuminated the impact of cocaine on the Bahamian society. In 1989, he was appointed to lead the team responsible for the introduction of ZNS television to Grand Bahama.”
In 1999, he began hosting the radio show “The Bahamas Today” on More 94FM.
A year later, he was sentenced to a four-day imprisonment for failing to reveal the location of where he received a suicide note – which he read live on-air – that was alleged to have been written by convicted murderer John Higgs Jr.
Higgs was sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of his wife, but two days shy of his scheduled execution, he committed suicide.
Wilchcombe entered politics in 1994 when he was appointed a senator by Sir Lynden.
In 1995, he was elected PLP chairman and following the 1997 election, he was reappointed to the Senate by then-PLP Leader Perry Christie.
In 2002, he defeated the Free National Movement’s David Wallace to win the West End and Bimini seat.
The PLP won that election. It was the party’s first victory in 10 years and the first without Sir Lynden at the helm.
Christie appointed Wilchcombe minister of tourism with responsibility for the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas and Bahamas Information Services.
Though the party was crushed in the 2007 election, Wilchcombe held onto his seat.
When the PLP was returned to office in 2012, he was again appointed minister of tourism.
In 2017, the PLP lost the election and Wilchcombe, like many of his former colleagues, was voted out of office.
But he won the seat again in the September 2021 election.
Wilchcombe was leader of government business in the House of Assembly.
His sudden passing, one week before the opening of Parliament, has left the PLP reeling.
Just a day before his death, Wilchcombe expressed sadness during an interview with The Nassau Guardian over the passing of Clara Taylor-Bell, the wife of his colleague minister, Keith Bell, and the death of sporting icon and talk show host, Alpheus “Hawk” Finlayson.
The prime minister said in a statement that Wilchcombe’s contributions to The Bahamas are deep.
“Obie was a stalwart of the Progressive Liberal Party and his voice resonated as a beacon of progressiveness within the party,” Davis said.
“He was funny and thoughtful, with a great sense of our place in history. His articulate discourse and thoughtful insights were profound and often shocked the conscience of the Progressive Liberal Party, leading to meaningful deliberations and impactful resolutions.”
Davis said Wilchcombe will be remembered for his two stints as minister of tourism where he introduced sports, religious, and African-American tourism.
“His contribution to the development of the film industry was exemplary, and the success of this policy was evident when two of the top three films of 2006 were shot in our beautiful nation,” Davis said.
Former Prime Minister Christie said Wilchcombe was a dear and valued friend.
“Like most of my countrymen, I am left reeling in shock from the news of my dear friend’s passing,” he said.
“It is all so very sudden. I know that in the coming days we should have ample opportunity to recover our balance and reflect more deeply on the legacy Obie Wilchcombe leaves as a political leader and public servant.
“He was a masterly debater and an incredibly articulate spokesman. His elocution in the halls of Parliament will be sorely missed and his commitment to service will certainly be admired and emulated in the years ahead.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper said Wilchcombe was a “charismatic man who had a heart for the people and a gift for oratory”.
“His contributions are immeasurable, and he consistently embodied character, discipline, and distinction wherever and whenever he was called upon,” he said.
PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell said, “This is a shocking development for a dedicated, energetic and vibrant public servant. Our party is reeling this morning.”
Just before 6 p.m. yesterday, Wilchcombe’s body was flown from Grand Bahama to New Providence and arrived at Odyssey Aviation where many of his colleagues — some of them tearful — were gathered.
They soon joined a procession as his body was transported to the Princess Margaret Hospital morgue.
Wilchcombe is survived by his four children, Sharad, Peta, Adia and Alisa Wilchcombe; three sisters, Jacqueline Wilchcombe-Ramsey, Judith and Keva Wilchcombe; and four brothers, Jackson Wilchcombe Jr., Linden, Christopher, and Richard Wilchcombe.
He was predeceased by his parents, Jackson Wilchcombe Sr., who died in 1994, and Mary Wilchcombe, who died in 2016.