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David Critchley
July 22, 1925-September 16, 1993
Social worker, civil servant

David Critchley was a respected public servant whose life was devoted to tackling the ills of society, both in his native Bermuda and Canada.

A social progressive, he once said he had spent his professional life “questioning the status quo and tilting at the windmills of the powers that be.”

The first Bermudian to choose social work as a profession, he studied in Canada, and worked there for two decades before returning home in 1972 to take up the post of Director of Social Services. In 1975, he became Permanent Secretary for Health and Social Services, a post he held until his retirement in 1988.

Youth development, education and income inequality were among his concerns. He also had a strong commitment to racial equality, which was largely unrecognised during his lifetime.


Born and raised in Bermuda, Critchley was the son of Hazel Lusher and John Critchley, an Englishman who came to Bermuda with the British Royal Marines.

He attended Saltus Grammar School. In 1942, at age 16, he left Bermuda to continue his studies at Mount Allison Academy in New Brunswick, Canada, followed by Mount Allison University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1947. In 1949, he graduated from the University of Toronto with a master’s degree in social work.

In 1951, he returned to Bermuda to take up the post of Government youth adviser, serving in the post for two years. During this period, he reached across racial lines and teamed up with a group of black Bermudian activists to write a paper,  “An Analysis of Bermuda’s Social Problems”.

Written in secret, the paper took aim at the island’s property-based voting system and racial segregation, calling them “props” that allowed powerful white male leaders, known as the Forty Thieves, to “maintain their unchallenged position.”


Two years living in segregated Bermuda was as much as Critchley could bear and he returned to Canada. His wife, Molly, had recently given birth to their first child, Wendy, and as he explained in a 1972 Bermuda Sun article: “There was no way that I could see my child growing up in a Bermuda where life was lived according to such clear-cut racial barriers.

“If it hadn’t been for the fact that my mother was here I wouldn’t have had any interest in coming back at all. And when I did come back, I made my visits as short as I could manage."


Back in Canada, he enjoyed a varied career. He worked with disadvantaged and delinquent youth in Toronto and then joined the University Settlement, giving field instruction to University of Toronto social work students.

He subsequently became coordinator of youth services for a welfare council in Edmonton, Alberta, followed by four years as executive director of a children’s home in Winnepeg.  In 1967, he joined the Maritime School of Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia as associate professor.

His work in such areas as foster care, adoption and probation and with children with disabilities made him a natural fit for the post of Director of Social Services, which brought him back to Bermuda in 1972.


He was stunned by the changes Bermuda had undergone. “It was dramatic,” he told the Bermuda Sun. “When I left if anyone had told me we would move to where we are now I wouldn’t have believed them. At that time, I could see only bloodshed or things remaining as they were.”

In his new position, he saw an opportunity for Bermuda “to do some real pioneering, both in the narrow social sense and in the broad sense.”

After three years as Director of Social Services, he was appointed Permanent Secretary for Health and Social Services where his most significant contributions were the establishment in 1978 of the Child Development Project—now the Child Development Programme—for at-risk children and the appointment of Canadian David Archibald to head a Royal Commission on Drugs in 1983.

Critchley remained in the post of Permanent Secretary until his surprise retirement in 1988 two years ahead of his 65th birthday.


Although he denied being frustrated by the slow pace of change within his ministry, public comments he made within days of his retirement suggested otherwise. He was critical of Government’s piecemeal approach to addressing the needs of single parents and the elderly.  Single parents, he said, needed more financial support and teachers deserved to be paid more.

The following year, he authored a book Shackles of the Past, in which he wrote about his life, career and philosophy, the continuing racial divide, and expanded on his belief that Government needed to do much more to address social problems in Bermuda.

He was particularly critical of Government’s unwillingness to conduct research that would allow it to make informed decisions about social policy. He later said he was surprised by the criticism the book received; he had taken care, he said, to revise the original draft in order not to embarrass Bermuda’s political and labour leaders.


In 1992, the year before his death, as the Government prepared to implant a controversial restructuring of the school system, he set out his concerns in a lengthy opinion piece in The Royal Gazette.

He argued that Government needed to tackle the root causes of social problems. Warwick Academy’s decision to pull out of the Government system would inevitably contribute to a public/private school system based on race and income.

The planned reforms in education, would come to nothing if resources were not spend on ensuring teachers were effective at their jobs.

The Child Development Project, whose goal was to ensure that “no child growing up in these Island would be allowed to fall by the wayside”, had nowhere near the financial resources needed for it to reach its full potential.

But he directed the bulk of his criticism at the Education Ministry, calling it “a frightening example of an authoritarian and closed system and a denial of all that we know about the kind of human relations that are required for organisational effectiveness.”


In that, his last public salvo, he revealed he had polycystic kidneys, an inherited condition, and was undergoing dialysis.

He died a year later in Canada. News of his death brought tributes from politicians and former colleagues. They praised him for his courage and dedication and for his commitment to the needs of young people, families and those less fortunate.

Retired teacher Marion de Jean, who worked with him on the secret paper “Analysis” in the 1950s, said: “He was one of the people, when it was very unpopular to work in black causes. “He was a very progressive young white Bermudian, at the time. Dave had very strong feelings against racism. He really did do a lot to bring black people into Social Services, which when he started, was dominated by white expatriates.”

Former Health Minister Ann Cartwright DeCouto said: “He was a special man. Because although he was a civil servant, he took an interest that was visible to the public. According to the rule book he strayed, but he did it out of the best interest of Bermuda.”

Critchley was survived by his wife and four children, Wendy Davis Johnson, Beth Charlton, Spencer Critchley and Owen Critchley. He was buried at North Port, Nova Scotia, where his family spent their summers. A memorial service was held later in Bermuda.


In the years since his death, there has been greater public awareness of his commitment to racial equality.

Shackles of the Past was one of several Bermuda books about race and resistance that were acquired in 2015 by England’s Oxford University.

In July 2016, he was one of several Bermudians honoured by Government’s Emancipation Committee in a ceremony at Ruth Seaton James Auditorium.

Two decades after his death, Critchley's concerns about social and racial inequality and the Island’s education system seem as pertinent today as they were during his lifetime.

Editor’s Note: Critchley was the sole white co-author of  “An Analysis of Bermuda’s Social Problems”. The other co-authors were Wilfred Allen, Alphonso Blackett, Yvonne Blackett, Edward de Jean, Marion de Jean, Carol Hill, Georgine Hill, Hilton Hill Sr., Leon Parris, Norman Pogson, Eva Robinson and Walter Robinson.

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July 22, 1925—Critchley is born in Bermuda

1942—Enrols at Mount Allison Academy

1947—Graduates from Mount Allison University with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

December 30, 1948—Marries Molly Simmons, of Digby, Nova Scotia, a fellow graduate of Mount Allison University

1949—Graduates from the University of Toronto with a master’s in social work

1951-1953—Has first stint in civil service as Government Youth Advisor; with a group of activists co-writes paper  “An Analysis of Bermuda Social Problems”

1953—Disillusioned by Bermuda’s segregated society, he quits post and returns to Canada

1953-1972—amasses a wealth of experience in Canada, including working with disadvantaged youth, running a children’s home and also serving as an assistant professor of social work

1972—Returns to Bermuda to take up the post of Director of Social Services; is struck by the change Bermuda has undergone

1975—Promoted to Permanent Secretary for Health and Social Services

1978—Child Development Project is established.

1984—Royal Commission on Drugs, chaired by David Archibald, is established

1986­—Drug Commission publishes its final report.

1988—Critchley retires three years before his 65th birthday

1989—Publishes Shackles of the Past

1992—Criticises political leaders for failing to come to grips with the root causes of social problems

September 16, 1993—Dies in Canada

"I have spent so much time with disturbed children and adults and seen how extremely difficult it is to get any significant change in a person’s behaviour. What you’ve got to get into is the fundamental thing—prevention.”—Bermuda Sun, September 9, 1972

"I think they (single parents) are the truly heroic in this community. They raise their children by themselves; they love their children, care for them and work their behinds off to send their children overseas to college.”—Bermuda Sun, April 8, 1988

“I find it alarming that Bermuda remains an island where black and white young people seem, apart from the activities of one of two youth groups with religious sponsorship, to have so little meaningful contact with each other. …This would seem to mane that there is no difference between the situation that existed in the early 1950s and now.”—Shackles of the Past

“However, I hope that somewhere along the line someone in authority will pay some attention to the fact that middle schools and comprehensive schools will almost certainly aggravate an already serious problem if we first don't make sure that our teachers are effective.”

“I have no doubt that, if we would take off the blinkers and do some real fact-finding about our Bermudian casualties, we would find that we have a potentially dangerous significant minority of Bermudians who, like Buck Burrows, have not experienced adults as caring, understanding, and free from pretence—all documented requirements of effective parents, teachers, and anyone else who has any significant contact with other human beings.

“But of all such persons, teachers are the last resort when home and other nurturing resources are deficient. Teachers are also the only ones where we can assure that they have the human relations skills so desperately needed by what we have come to call our underclass.”

“What catastrophe will it take for us to realise that, if we don't somehow rise above party and pocket politics, the bell that has long since tolled for our wayside brethren will toll for us and ours? Who knows? Perhaps we have been dealt a losing hand that we must play. Is that the real story of mankind? If so, what a tragedy and what a loss for this potential wonderland and example to all nations of a realm fit for human habitation.”
David Critchley, The Royal Gazette, June 12, 1992

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Further Reading

“Creating a ‘department of well-being’”, Mid-Ocean News, July 29-30, 1972

“Let’s be a pioneer in social work, says Mr. Critchley”, Bermuda Sun, September 9, 1972

“Single Moms Deserve Better”, Bermuda Sun, April 8, 1988

“Ex-civil Servant Attacks Government”, The Royal Gazette, June 1, 1989

“Let’s Have Value for money—Youth budget fails those most in need”, Bermuda Sun, March 9, 1990

“Time to hang up the gloves”, The Royal Gazette, June 12, 1992

“Writer, ex-civil servant Critchley dies”, The Royal Gazette, September 18, 1993

Shackles of the Past by David Critchley, Engravers Ltd., 1989

Me One, The Autobiography of Pauulu Kamarakafego By Pauulu Kamarakafego PK Publishing, Bermuda 2002

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