Pioneer: Dame Lois Browne-Evans, above, made history as the first woman called to the Bermuda Bar and later became the first female Leader of the Opposition in the Commonwealth. *File Photo
Pioneer: Dame Lois Browne-Evans, above, made history as the first woman called to the Bermuda Bar and later became the first female Leader of the Opposition in the Commonwealth. *File Photo
Lawyer and former Progressive Labour Party leader Dame Lois Browne-Evans, who was at the forefront of politics during Bermuda's tumultuous transition from rule by a white oligarchy to a two-party democracy, died early Tuesday morning at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

Her death, from what is believed to have been a stroke, was unexpected. It came three days before her 80th birthday, on Friday, June 1, which she was planning to celebrate with a party at Devonshire Recreation Club, the unofficial headquarters of her old Devonshire North constituency, which she represented for 40 years.

The party was to have been a free-for-all - anyone and everyone were invited. It typified a person who had never lost touch with the average Bermudian, and who rejected the trappings of political power.

Her death ended a remarkable career in public life that began in 1953 when a young Lois Browne made history as the first woman called to the Bermuda bar.

Ten years later came the election that launched her career in politics. She was first elected to Parliament in the history-making 1963 election, in which adults who did not own property received the right to vote for the first time.

It was also the first time that a political party of any stripe had fielded candidates.

Lois Browne-Evans was one of nine candidates who contested the election under the banner of the Progressive Labour Party, which formed earlier that year. She was one of six who were elected.

When she topped the polls in Devonshire North, ousting Bayard Dill, a lawyer and member of white ruling class, it was a foretelling of changes that were in store, now that ordinary Bermudians had the right to vote.

That election was the start of a 40-year career in politics that ended in 2003, when she resigned as an MP. Her career was defined by one in which she championed the rights of black and working-class Bermudians, who stood on the margins of power, back in the 50s and 60s.

Dame Lois could look back on a career that saw her take part in two constitutional conferences and become Opposition Leader, the first female in the post, both in Bermuda and the whole of the British Commonwealth.

The ultimate prize, taking the PLP to victory though, was something that eluded her. Although she lived to see the PLP become the Government in 1998, it would not be under her leadership.

Representing Tacklyn

Dame Lois was often a lightening rod for criticism, both within her party and without. She represented Larry Tacklyn, who was convicted of the Shopping Centre murders and led an unsuccessful and heated campaign to spare him and Governor Richard Sharples assassin Buck Burrows from being hanged in 1977. That pitted her against then premier David Gibbons.

She was also at the centre of the bitter split that saw the PLP's representation in Parliament reduced to seven seats in 1985. A group that was opposed to her leadership quit to form the National Liberal Party.

Dame Lois was born on June 1, 1927 on Parson's Road, the second of four children of James Browne, a contractor who owned the Clayhouse Inn, and the former Emmeline Charles. She was born in a segregated world, where rights people take for granted today, such as free primary and high school education, did not exist.

She attended Central School and won a scholarship to attend Berkeley Institute. She taught for two years at Elliot School in Devonshire before going off to England to study law. Her father, who was a successful businessman and first-generation Bermudian, financed her studies.

Her experience in London was crucial to her political development. She met young law students from the Caribbean and Africa who later returned home and played pivotal roles in their nations' development.

Among the people she developed friendships with were Lynden Pindling, the future prime minister of the Bahamas, and Eugenia Charles, the future prime minister of Dominica.

On her return to Bermuda she established her law practice and had a number of high-profile cases.

But politics were her forum for bringing about change. Dame Lois had joined a party that was beset by internal wrangling, which it had difficulty containing. In 1965, the PLP experienced its first split and Dame Lois was left to soldier on as a solitary PLP parliamentarian.

Things had improved somewhat for the PLP by 1968, the year of the first election held under the new constitution and the two party system. But the PLP's leader, lawyer Walter Robinson, lost his seat in that election, and Dame Lois replaced him.

Dame Lois stepped aside for Mr. Robinson in the 1972 election, and stepped into the post again in 1976. She remained at the helm of the party until 1985, the year of the split that ended with her resignation.

She was replaced by her Devonshire North running mate Frederick Wade and law firm partner, who brought the party to the closest it had ever come to victory in 1993, with 18 seats to the UBP's 22.

But Mr. Wade died in 1996, two years before the PLP was elected to power.

Dame Lois never did get her wish for independence for Bermuda, something she insisted she wanted to see in her lifetime, but she lived to see the PLP become the government.

She was a member of the first PLP Cabinet, when she became Minister of Legislative Affairs. The following year, she became Attorney General.

Even after she quit politics, she remained a powerful force in the party. She was a member of the powerful Devonshire North branch, that traces its lineage to the PLP founders, and who are now represented by a younger generation, Jennifer Smith, the first PLP premier, and finance Minister Paula Cox.

That group continues to hold sway as seen by the dispute between the party's rank and file and Premier Ewart Brown over the selection process for candidates to run in the next general election.

Dame Lois has never been a supporter of Dr. Brown, whom she felt is too American, although everybody was all smiles at last month's celebration at the renaming of the airport after Frederick Wade. Dame Lois was in fine form, talking for 30 minutes, which was 28 more than the time allocated to her. It was a sign of her standing within the party that no-one, not even the Premier, could dare stop her.

Dame Lois was married to Trinidadian-born John Evans. They had three children, Tina and Donald, both of whom live in the U.S., and Nadine.

Like any politician, Dame Lois had taken her share of criticism over the years. The most recent was her decision to accept the award of Dame, the female equivalent of a knighthood in 1999, which went against the PLP's philosophy, throughout most of its existence, that followers not accept such awards because of their colonial connotations. Dame Lois, who had declined a similar award years earlier, said she accepted it at her children's urging.

The comment that she had never quite been able to shake off was her famous "fornication in the bushes", which she never actually uttered, at least not in those exact words. It dates back to a political meeting on August 17, 1967, and according to her biographer Randolf Williams, it was an off-the-cuff remark.

In the report of the meeting carried in The Royal Gazette the following day, she told the audience to get their kicks from political meetings, not marijuana.

She then added she didn't care if a young man even spent his time fornicating "out in the bushes - at least he is going to give birth to another Bermudian."

The remarks, which were buried on page five of the newspaper, drew laughter from the gathering at the meeting, and the inevitable expression of outrage from the usual suspects, most of them unnamed letter writers to the newspaper's editor.

* This article was edited to correct a factual error.