Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Tribute to Peter Allison Drudge: ‘The Consummate Diplomat’

Embassy of The Bahamas, Watergate Building, Washington DC., May 1975 - Hartley Saunders, Second Secretary/Economic Affairs Officer and Peter Allison Drudge (right), Minister Counselor and Deputy Head of Mission. Many don’t know this, but Hartley competed in the Triple Jump at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, making him the first Bahamian to participate in a field event at the Olympic Games. Hartley jumped 14.59m for the 28th qualifier in that event. Peter, on the other hand, is credited with bringing the Toastmaster International Club to The Bahamas in 1968 which led to the formation of the First Bahamas Branch of Toastmasters Club 1600. Its first president was Ernest T. Strachan, who was appointed Chief of Protocol when the Bahamas became an independent sovereign State on July 10, 1973.  Prior to his Protocol appointment, Ernest worked at the United Nations, New York.

By Winston D. Munnings (Bahamas Consul General Ret.,)

Until his 1974 appointment to the Embassy of The Bahamas in Washington DC as Minister-Counselor & Deputy Chief of Mission, I had never met Peter Allison Drudge. At the time of his appointment, however, Peter was (substantively) Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs as it was then called back in the day.

While I certainly knew who he was, our paths had never crossed.  But from his Washington DC debut in the Fall of 1974 (forty-five years ago) until his transfer to Miami, Florida as Consul General three years later, Peter Drudge had unquestionably made his presence felt as an admired and skilled Diplomat during a most tumultuous period (for the newly established Bahamas Embassy) in the U.S. Capital.

Bahamian Olympian turned Diplomat, Hartley Saunders (Nov. 7, 1943 – Jun. 9, 2004) and I were Junior Officers when Peter came onto the Washington DC scene merely twelve months after Bahamian independence. At the time, Hartley had the diplomatic rank of Second Secretary (Economic Affairs).  At the time, I was Third Secretary & Vice Consul responsible for Information, Tourism, Students & Consular Affairs. This was all just a few months succeeding Ambassador L. B. Johnson’s ‘Presentation of Credentials’ on November 9, 1973, to Republican President Richard M. Nixon as The Bahamas’ first Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to the United States of America.

(Nine months later, On 9 August 1974, President Nixon, however, resigned the U.S. Presidency in the face of almost certain impeachment and removal from office over the Watergate Scandal.)

Neither Hartley nor I were products of the Bahamian Public Service system as it was back in the day and, with Ambassador Johnson coming from the private sector at the time, any outsider could have but only imagined the administrative mayhem which existed at the Washington DC Embassy during those early ground-breaking years.  Frankly speaking, to say it was quite a mess would be a gross understatement. But upon his arrival at the Washington DC Embassy (with a copy of the public service ‘General Orders’ clutched firmly in his hands) Peter took immediate charge and implemented a custom-made administrative structure specifically designed for our diplomatic circumstances in the U.S. Capital which, incidentally, served us exceedingly well during those initial years in Washington’s diplomatic arena.

Although we endured innumerable challengers perpetrated by a solitary vindictive eccentric on staff at the time, we nonetheless prevailed and Peter got us functionally on track within a few months of his arrival.

Peter’s contribution though went much further than his role as Administrative Head of Chancery.  Keep in mind the year was 1974 and The Bahamas was scarcely ten months old (then) as the world’s newest sovereign nation.  Indeed, and although the Ministry of External Affairs was a functional entity at that time, it did not become a legal one until May of 1975, almost a year after Peter Drudge arrived on the Washington DC scene.  So (again) one could but only have imagined why it was so important for overseas missions, such as the Washington DC Embassy, to have someone in place and with both feet firmly on the ground and with sound Public Service knowledge and experience during those pioneering years.

At the time and given Ambassador Johnson’s multiple accreditations to the United Nations (also) as Permanent Representative and as non-resident Ambassador to several other countries, Peter’s leadership role in Washington DC became even more crucial during the Ambassador’s frequent, but unavoidable, absences from the U.S. Capitol. As Charge' d’affaires, Peter acted on behalf of Ambassador Johnson on recurrent occasions during his three-year Washington DC assignment.

Hartley Saunders was an economics officer (B.A. Morgan State University & M.A. Howard University - Economics) with the Bahamas Development Bank before being posted to Washington DC.  Hartley had no diplomatic training or foreign service exposure whatsoever prior to his Washington DC posting.

A former print media Journalist, I was a Sales Representative (The Catholic University of America – Political Science & International Relations) in 1973 then attached to the Bahamas Tourist Office in Washington DC.  I too had no formal diplomatic training before my eventual transfer from the Bahamas Tourist Office to the Bahamas Embassy although I had attended a week-long United Nations-sponsored workshop a year prior on ‘Protocol Essentials’ held at Georgetown University, Washington DC.

Ambassador Johnson (LL. B London) was a partner in the Bay Street law firm of Isaac, Johnson & Company when he was appointed Ambassador to the U.S. White House on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  He too had no formal diplomatic training as such but, and as a very successful and respected Barrister in his own right, he was certainly better prepared than most for the important mission Prime Minister Lynden Pindling had especially assigned to his friend who, incidentally, was also the Best Man at his (the Prime Minister’s) May 5, 1956 wedding to Dame Marguerite McKenzie Pindling. (At this writing, Dame Marguerite Pindling has just recently retired as Governor-General.)

Peter Drudge, on the other hand, (and only a few knew this) had had a stretch with the Canadian Military Service some years prior which, apparently, had served him well and of which, apparently, was enough to catapult us and our small diplomatic Mission through the unchartered waters of Washington DC’s pre-eminent diplomatic landscape.

With Ambassador Johnson’s blessing and guidance, Peter moved post-haste when he arrived in DC to jump start relations with many of the Congressional mucky-mucks on Capitol Hill (especially with members of the powerful and influential Ways & Means House Committee) as we were then struggling to define our primary objectives as the pioneer representatives of the new Commonwealth the Bahamas in the U.S. Capital.

In retrospect though, and even while some had later whispered (I am told) that Peter’s diplomatic style and demeanor was not always to the Ambassador’s penchant, let me say right upfront that this was far from the truth. Fake news if you will. Peter’s style was effective and, although sometimes combative, Peter and Ambassador Johnson had an incredible and exceptional working rapport.  Furthermore, and given the intolerable conditions under which the Embassy had to ‘represent’ in Washington DC during those early Oris Russell (then the MEA Permanent Secretary) years, we didn’t have the time, quite honestly, to just sit around waiting to be ‘directed’ by those staunched colonial UBP leftovers (then) in control at the Ministry of External Affairs.

This period Peter used to call “Diplomatic Training 101” for both Hartley and me as the Minister-Counselor was mostly very open-minded with sharing information with us while generously permitting for our rapid exposure to ‘raw diplomacy’ which had accelerated tenfold during this time. 

By the Spring of 1975, I guess anyone could have correctly held that the Embassy of The Bahamas was well on its way to establishing an identifiable foot-hold in Washington DC, and that those who needed to know KNEW that The Bahamas had arrived and, indeed, had a noticeable presence in Washington DC’s Foggy Bottom.  Being one of three diplomatic tenants (at the time) in the trendy Watergate Condominium and Office complex certainly did not hurt.

I think though that Peter’s greatest contribution in Washington DC as a Bahamian diplomat was during 1975-1976. Under the supervision of Ambassador Johnson, Peter led our small diplomatic squad on a very ‘hush-hush’ but calculated undertaking sanctioned by Paul Adderley (then) Minister of External Affairs which was, in the Minister’s own words: “…To Make a stern but vigorous case on Capitol Hill and to make certain that U.S. lawmakers on the influential Ways & Means Committee (in specific) understood the economic implications and potential hardship of an impending piece of U.S. legislation on a new nation such as we were at the time…”  Because of a very worrying piece of Legislation at the time, all hell was about to break loose on Capitol Hill, and our little ‘7 by 21’ Bahamas (more so than any other tourism destination in the Caribbean) was dead center in this legislative assault. 

While Ambassador Johnson was merciless in his incessant meetings with some very prominent Senators and Congressmen whose votes were central to this approaching piece of legislation, Peter, Hartley and I also had our work cut out for us too.  Then, there was no INTERNET, no cell phones and certainly no email.  But, with the assistance of Hogan & Hartsen, a well-connected republican law firm with substantial lobbying influence in Washington DC during those days, we got together with many high-ranking legislators on Capitol Hill to discuss and privately promote The Bahamas’ interests well before the Legislation in question went to the full house for voting. 

In my humble opinion, the (somewhat) predictable passing of that piece of legislation (The U.S. Tax Reform Bill of 1976) by the U.S. Congress was the conclusion of the first serious bilateral test case for Bahamas-U.S. relations since The Bahamas gained its independence from Great Britain three years earlier. During that time, and if some very powerful anti-Caribbean influences on Capital Hill had their way, it could have been far worse … especially for Convention business to the Caribbean Islands like The Bahamas.

The section of H.R. 10612, 94th Congress, Public Law, 94-455 that was to impact The Bahamas the greatest had to do with ‘Foreign Convention Deductions’ which resulted in Bill’s passing (anyway) while imposing some new limits and limitations on the subject matter of conventions overseas in the future.  But again, the outcome could have been far worse for The Bahamas.

But Peter did what he knew best and, looking back, that phase of my diplomatic training was unquestionably a learning experience second to none and one that money could not have bought.  As if it was yesterday, I remember only too well a small dinner celebration that Ambassador Johnson hosted at the official Bahamas residence in Chevy Chase, Maryland three days after the Capitol Hill vote.  It was a dinner for eight which included the Ambassador and Mrs. Johnson, Peter and Mrs. Cecile Hartfield-Drudge, Hartley and Rachel (his wife) and Jennifer and me. It was undeniably a most commemorative event when Peter toasted the Ambassador saying: “Excellency, we didn’t get all we wanted for The Bahamas, but we definitely got much more than we had expected.”  Being in Washington, Peter concluded, “made it all worthwhile.” And what a proud moment that was for all of us present, I thought.

Peter Allison Drudge indisputably left his signature in Washington’s diplomatic sand (as well as in Miami’s also), so to speak, and a legacy on which I am proud to say had unequivocally fashioned my philosophy and behavior (then) as an emerging diplomat.

In time, I too went on to another posting (1986) which was to eventually succeed my dear friend, Peter Drudge, as the third accredited Bahamas Consul General to be appointed in Miami. Peter Drudge was the second Consul General following Milo Butler Jr (son of the Bahamas’ first Bahamian Governor General) who was the first Consul General to be appointed to Miami.  Once again, and because of Peter’s outstanding performance there (as particularly documented by the Secretary of the Miami Consular Corps in 1978), it was so much easier for me to discover an early comfort zone in Miami from which to launch my own legacy which lasted for eight years until, UN Ambassador James Moultrie and I was abruptly terminated in 1992 by Hubert Ingraham’s Free National Movement who won the General Election that year.

I will miss Peter Allison Drudge very much. During those early days in Washington DC, Peter and I spent much time together exchanging views and stories about countless topics native to us in The Bahamas as Bahamian citizens, but mostly about our responsibilities abroad as representatives of the Government and of the People of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

In more recent years (again I am told) some have alleged that Peter Drudge was a bit too “flashy” and not your “emblematic” public servant turned diplomat.  Others have even whispered shamefully amongst themselves that he was a “one-man’s band” and not a “team player”.

Say what you will and think what you must (if you insist) about Peter Allison Drudge but know this:  Peter Drudge was as Bahamian as they come and, in truth, more Bahamian than most.  For the short time, I knew him and worked under his supervision, he was a nobleman at best who always strived for excellence and believed in and supported any and everything (and anyone) Bahamian. Peter also became my friend and a very dear one at that. 

I didn’t get to see Peter much after he left Miami for Canada to be with his son Murray and daughter-in-law Rose Coutinho-Drudge, but I kept in touch with him often through his Canadian family and I thought of him equally.

Peter was one of the good guys and was as transparent to those who had eyes to see and didn’t wink when it was politically expedient to do so. In other words, Peter was the Real Monty! Again, one of the good guys whom successive governmental administrations in The Bahamas seemed to have totally forgotten when annual ‘Meritorious Service Awards’ were being presented to deserving public officers.  Perhaps, in time, he will be properly recognized and reminisced posthumously for his service to the Bahamas Government and to the Bahamian people. Perhaps Ambassador Johnson (too) will be remembered as well.  That said, I have my doubts these wishes will ever come to fruition but, what the heck, stranger things have happened … eventually.

Those early days in Washington DC were, without a doubt, vintage years.  Now, and as the sole living survivor of that first wave of Bahamian Diplomats to be posted to the U.S. Capitol shortly after Bahamian Independence forty-five years ago, I honor the memory of my dear friend Peter Allison Drudge by saying: “Rest in Peace Peter.  You’ve done an excellent job! You have certainly earned a well-deserved rest. I will miss you my dear friend, but you are forever and always in my prayers and in my thoughts.”