This article was taken from our archives. It originally appeared in the October 1980 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
Dame Lois Browne-Evans sits forward in her chair at her new Court Street law offices and ponders the big question. Despite the boasts of other Progressive Labour Party members, her answer was not a confident: “We will win the next General Election.” But then she was remembering the defeat of 1968 when she was certain the Opposition Party would form the new Government.
The charismatic PLP Leader preferred to put it this way: “I am as optimistic as I have ever been. If I go by the punters who are pointing the way, I would suggest that this time the PLP will be successful.”
Mrs. Browne-Evans was the first woman Opposition Leader in the British Commonwealth, followed by Eugenia Charles and then Margaret Thatcher. Since Mrs. Thatcher is now Britain’s Prime Minister and Mrs. Charles is Dominica’s Premier, Bermuda’s top woman politician is working on the theory that the first shall be last.
If that becomes a reality it will cap a distinguished career for 53-year-old Mrs. Browne-Evans. Her first “first” is now legend – when in 1953 she became Bermuda’s first woman lawyer. “It was supposed to be an historic occasion,” she said with more than a hint of disagreement. “You should look at the newspapers around in those days. They were making me so nervous as though I had done some freak thing – something which was being taken for granted all over the rest of the world.”
“There was a lot of pressure on me at the time to prove myself. But I was at the tender age of 25 and you like pressure as a challenge. I found it more of a challenge than a struggle. I had no trouble learning the law and applying it.”
The comment typifies her attitude to life in general. It is one which has earned her admiration from men and women alike without any serious suggestion of chauvinism.
Lois Marie Browne was born in Bermuda – although many have the misconception that she was born outside the island – of a Bermudian mother, who with her building contractor husband, James T. Browne, have had no serious involvement with politics. She has two sisters and one brother. One sister is a nurse in America, the other her campaign manageress and Chairman of the PLP’s Devonshire branch, Mrs. Leonie Richards. Her brother, James W. Browne is a carpenter.
After completing her local education – “I remember my daddy taking me to school at Berkeley Institute in January 1941” – young Lois went to London University in England to study law.
It was while she was in London that she met her husband, the Evans part of the Browne-Evans. John Evans, a Trinidadian who now has Bermuda status, had been serving in the Canadian Army. The liaison took place at one of the colonial centers were colonials congregated, she says. They were married in 1958 and now have three children, a son of 15, a daughter of 18 and an adopted daughter of six.
They all have the surname Evans, explains Mrs. Browne-Evans. Her name was hyphenated because of her involvement in politics. The “B” for Browne, she reasons, usually puts her at the top of the poll paper and therefore, gets her noticed first.
It was in 1953 that she was called to the Bermuda Bar, a woman in a hitherto man’s world. “I felt at the time that it was stuffy,” she says in her usual straightforward manner. “Now young ones look at me. I hope they don’t think I’m stuffy. The law should be made more meaningful so the common man can understand it. There are too many provisos. You don’t know where you are. Mystique still surrounds it.”
Mrs. Browne-Evans did not practice law in England, but after a bit of travelling around set up her own one-woman law firm in Bermuda. She was determined to make it on her own and the pressures of the time caused her to think twice about teaming up with other lawyers, especially male, because of the monopoly.
“I couldn’t go in with a man,” she said. “They would have said I had made it on the coat-tails of a man. Being the first woman, I had to prove it on my own.”
It was not until 1970 when her political career was becoming more pronounced, that a male Jamaican lawyer joined her solo enclave for three years after which he returned home. Now she has three lawyers working with her, Deputy Opposition Leader Frederick Wade, his wife Norma Wade and Joanne Browne, Mrs. Browne-Evans’ niece.
Lois first entered politics in 1963, standing for her present constituency, Devonshire North. It was the year the PLP was formed. Two years later there was a split in the Party and five of the six members of the Opposition in Parliament left the Party, leaving Mrs. Browne-Evans as the lone figure.
Walter Robinson returned as the Leader and she became the Deputy Leader. They were joined by Miss. Dorothy Thompson, the first white PLP woman in Parliament. “They crucified her in this country,” said a serious looking Mrs. Browne-Evans. “All kinds of things were threatened to her.”
In the 1968 election, Walter Robinson lost his seat, leaving the way clear for her to become the Opposition Leader, the first under the new Constitution. Sir Henry Tucker was the first Premier under the Constitution.
Politically it is her biggest ambition to lead the PLP to victory at her impending election. “Not for myself,” she stresses. “There is no point in me being Premier without the PLP becoming the Government.” She adds firmly: “We are the ‘caring’ Party.”
Like a black Mr. Thatcher, Mr. Evans, who runs a trucking and construction business, sits contentedly in the background, away from the political arena where the two Parties line up opposite each other like gladiators in the House of Assembly for their weekly battle.
There the Opposition Leader puts her wry sense of humour to good use. “Interpolating” becomes the most overused word in the dictionary and on one occasion she was heard to interpolate to one Minister: “You’d better be quiet – I’m on form today.”
Mrs. Brown-Evans says her husband votes now as he has status. He did not previously exercise his residency vote. She has warm words for him: “He supports me. Without him I would not have been able to accomplish the things I have. Being a non-Bermudian male, I think it is easier, because he is more understanding. I know a lot of males who have never adjusted. He is not chauvinistic at all. He is proud of my success.”
The ever-smiling Opposition Leader, whose face lights up with glowing animation when she tells jibing stories about Government members, has little time for hobbies. They are telescoped into travelling, reading and playing cards with the occasional bit of knitting.