Walton Brown Jr, a government backbencher, former minister and longstanding member of the Progressive Labour Party, has died at the age of 59.
An activist, political observer and staunch advocate for Bermudian independence, Mr Brown, who represented Pembroke Central, traced his political career back to 1983. After years as a pollster of Bermuda’s fractured political landscape, Mr Brown served in the Senate from 2007 to 2010, and was elected to Parliament in 2012.
David Burt, the Premier, said he was “totally devastated” by the news.
Mr Burt added: “My personal association with Walton goes back many years and I learnt so much from him through his wisdom, experience and guidance.”
John Rankin, the Governor, said he was “shocked and saddened” to learn of Mr Brown’s death. Mr Rankin added: “As Governor, I was pleased to engage with him both as a Member of the House of Assembly and as a minister.
“I always found him to be a most thoughtful individual and I give thanks for his service to Bermuda.”
Mr Burt said of his colleague: “He struggled alongside us in Opposition, locked arms with us in front of the House of Assembly and spoke passionately in the House on the issues that mattered so much to him and so many Bermudians.”
He added: “In him, Bermuda had a writer, a teacher, a human-rights activist, a champion for Bermuda’s sovereignty, and a fighter for Bermudian workers. But our loss cannot match that of his family who now mourn a father, a brother and a son.”
Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, said the PLP had lost “a party stalwart and an excellent MP who always put Bermuda first”.
Mr Cannonier recalled discussing politics with Mr Brown when he became involved.
“His insights were, and continue to be, a tremendous help and I will always be grateful,” he said. “Later, Walton and I used to meet often for breakfast, where I had the privilege of discussing with him, the direction of Bermuda, regardless of political outlook.”
Damon Wade, the chairman of the PLP, called Mr Brown a “longstanding passionate advocate for social justice in Bermuda”.
Mr Brown served as chairman of the party’s Pembroke branch, and in 2007 was appointed to the Senate by then premier, Ewart Brown, who is also his cousin.
It was the same year that Mr Brown campaigned for the PLP in Pembroke West, a traditional United Bermuda Party stronghold, and an area where he grew up.
He retained Pembroke Central in the 2017 General Election and was appointed to Mr Burt’s first Cabinet, as Minister of Home Affairs.
Mr Wade said: “The PLP will miss Walton and his strong advocacy for Bermuda’s sovereignty, his determination to strengthen immigration on behalf of Bermudians, his political insight and, perhaps, most importantly, his friendship.
“We are thankful for having known Walton Brown and grateful for his work and sacrifice. Bermuda is richer for his commitment to our island and our people,” Mr Wade continued.
“Yet, as the PLP family mourns the passing of a beloved comrade at arms, his family, his loved ones and his friends are also mourning his loss.
“We are committed to standing with his family and encourage all of Bermuda to stand with his family during this time of bereavement.”
Mr Brown, a prominently left-leaning member of the party, was committed to human rights, including equality on sexual orientation.
He wrote on gay rights in 2011: “If the Human Rights Act is to have meaning and applicability for all, then change must begin here.
“Bermuda in the 21st century must first take this minimal step if we are to continue down the road to justice for all.”
In his role as home affairs minister, Mr Brown was forced to strike a balance in 2017 with the Domestic Partnership Bill, replacing same-sex marriage with civil unions.
His lifelong backing for independence included serving as chairman of the Committee for the Independence of Bermuda.
Mr Brown taught history and politics at Bermuda College from 1988 to 2000.
He was a keen researcher into social issues and the author of several books.
A graduate of the Berkeley Institute, Mr Brown studied political science at Queens University in Canada, followed by York University.
He operated an online news site, Bermuda Network News, as well as a polling firm, Research Innovations, which he set up in 1991.
He launched the monthly Bermuda Business and Investment Review in 1997, and attempted to launch a second daily newspaper through a company he set up in 2007, Vista Mar Ltd.
Not all his businesses were a success: Mr Brown was embroiled in a court battle with a former employee over unpaid wages at his business, MediaCom, which he settled in 2010.
He had a broadcast career on the radio show “Bermuda Speaks”.
Mr Brown gave up the home affairs portfolio in a Cabinet shuffle last November, and held the post of Minister for the Cabinet Office until he stepped down in April.
Police reported yesterday that Mr Brown had been found unresponsive at noon in his residence on Ferrars Lane, Pembroke.
His death was certified at the scene by an on-call doctor.
Foul play was not suspected, and a cause of death is being investigated.