We, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), are deeply saddened to announce the passing of NAGB Chairperson Emerita Dr. Gail Saunders née North, our founding Board Chairperson, who was the guiding light in the creation of the NAGB. As her cousin, fellow social historian and academic, I am honoured and deeply saddened to write this statement following her wake as the museum’s current Interim Executive Director. Dr. Saunders worked tirelessly to ensure that the Villa Doyle was saved from imminent demolition and managed to get the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Honourable Hubert Ingraham, to declare the building the home of the NAGB. She and Dame Ivy Dumont were powerhouses in getting the museum on the map and ensuring it stayed there. Dr. Saunders also worked doggedly to document Bahamian history and ensure that Bahamian Arts and Culture were recognised. As a prolific writer and long-standing Association of Caribbean Historians member, she seemed to have endless energy and determination.
She was a long-serving and hardworking board member; I had the privilege of serving with Dr. Saunders on the NAGB’s board in the 2010s under the then chairman, Stan Burnside. She and Clarice Granger were pivotal in getting things done, even in their waning years.
As a family member, I am deeply humbled because she always worried about losing her memory, which indeed did come to pass, as so many of her uncles and aunts had done before her. Fortunately, perhaps, Dr. Saunders did not suffer from the dreadful debilitation of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson, but the horrors of Dementia wreaked havoc on her. To any historian or social historian, this is the worst thing that could happen. A person’s ability to lock in details and document the past is undone by their mind’s journey into other dimensions. However, she was always elegant and wonderfully kind and generous to all she encountered.
I take my hat off to Dr. Saunders for all she did. I do wish, though, that she had documented more family stories to keep them in the realm of reality and less in the space of legend or forgetting. She had such a wealth of information, lived and otherwise.
She gave her knowledge selflessly and was dedicated to the country’s national development.
I am indebted to her in this new position because she made the institution what it is today. I have known Dr. Saunders all my life, so while my message is personal and professional, it is also a poignant awareness of how much of an impact her loss is on national memory.
The museum is beholden to Dr. Saunders for her trailblazing efforts and ground-breaking work in getting the Villa Doyle saved and reserved for national development. Too many historical buildings, spaces, and places have been lost, though many work tirelessly to document and save them.
National service of this level is not for everyone. However, those who tackle it, especially in the modern-day state, have exceptional talent and deserve special recognition for often swimming against the tide to ensure the preservation of national identity. A gentle, soft-spoken soul who worked to keep the historical past alive and move The Bahamas into the future, she was boundless. Dr. Saunders showed that much could be gained from respectful determination.
We share our condolences with the immediate and extended family and all those that loved her.
Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennet
NAGB Interim Executive Director