'An outpouring of love, honour and appreciation surrounded Rev. Dr. Charles Saunders, 72, on Valentine's Day during a lavish luncheon for his retirement as an educator, and from certain key positions in the Baptist faith.
Highlight of the day was when Speaker of the House of Assembly Italia Johnson donated $50,000 over a 10-year period to the Charles Saunders Scholarship Fund.
This honour came on the heels of a two-mile road connecting Pinewood Gardens to Sea Breeze, christened the 'Charles Saunders Highway' by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.
Under the theme: "To Sir, With Love", the three-hour function was sponsored by The Jordan Prince Williams Baptist School, where Saunders served as principal for 23 years. Overall, he has dedicated 54 years of service to education in The Bahamas.
A humble but forthright Saunders thanked administrators, staff, teachers and students for the occasion.
"My dear friends, my ministers, for the love, affection admiration and good-will you have so lavishly showered upon and demonstrated towards me yesterday and today, I am exceedingly and eternally grateful," Saunders said.
"This luncheon is a fitting climax for 23 years of what one would term in theological jargon, 'a wilderness journey' at Prince Williams."
The special event was held under the patronage of Governor General Dame Ivy Dumont, her husband Reginald Dumont, and Reverend Dr. William Thompson, president of Bahamas National Baptist Missionary & Educational Convention Incorporated.
About 325 persons, some decked out in the traditional red and white Valentine's Day colours, gathered in the ballroom at Nassau Marriott Crystal Palace Resort & Casino to pay tribute to "a model public officer, exemplary citizen, and godly man".
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham in his Keynote address highlighted the achievements of "this multi-talented man" in church, school and the community.
The Prime Minister said he was also pleased to accept the invitation of the school to join them in this special occasion when they paid "well-deserved tribute to an outstanding Bahamian who is not only a prince of the Baptist Church in The Bahamas, but who, during a career spanning almost a quarter of a century, made an important contribution to the furtherance of education in our country".
Saunders retired as principal of the Jordan Prince William School in December, 2001. He is also retired from the presidency of The Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, a post which he relinquished in 1998 following 17 years of dedicated service.
He is also a retired civil servant.
"For many years, Saunders has been an icon in the Baptist movement in The Bahamas," the Prime Minister said.
Saunders served as advisor to Government on education, on the Board of the College of The Bahamas, on the Advisory Council to the Minister of Education, vice-chairman of the 1993 Task Force on Education, and chairman of the Implementation Committee of that Task Force.
The Prime Minister said it was not surprising that under Saunder's watch, as President of The Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, that C. W. Saunders High School was established, in 1988, and the Bahamas Baptist Community College, in 1995.
A past director of the Central Bank of The Bahamas, Saunders gained wide public service administrative experience culminating in his appointments as Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education in 1975, a position from which he retired in 1977.
Saunders also provided "stellar services and leadership" as chairman of the Police Services Commission from 1992 to the present, the Prime Minister noted.
Ingraham pointed out that in the final quarter of the 20th Century, Saunders followed, with some considerable success, in the footsteps of Bahamian Baptist giants such as the late Rev. Dr. Harcourt W. Brown, the Rev. Talmage Sands, and the Rev . Reuben E. Cooper Sr.
"Like his predecessors in the church, Saunders has sought to promote respect for, and protection of, the rights and the dignity of God's people in The Bahamas," the Prime Minister added. "Throughout his life, he stood for improving the lot of those least able to assist themselves, the young, the elderly, the disenfranchised. His fearless stance in opposition to the inbred inequalities and prejudices which blighted our country during the period of minority government form an important part of our history," Ingraham added.
"His corporate efforts contribute, in no small way, to the peaceful social revolution which led to radical change in the lives and prospects of tens of thousands of Bahamians, Baptists and non-Baptist alike."
The Prime Minister also revered Saunders as a powerful and dynamic pulpiteer, who decided early in life that he would commit his life to the service of God and of his fellow-man in The Bahamas.
As an educator, the Prime Minister noted that under the "wise leadership" of Saunders, the Jordan Prince Williams Baptist School had evolved into a state-of-the-art academic institution.
And, he also credited the erudite scholar for influencing the "progressive steps" in education, particularly since the Free National Movement became the government in 1992.
The luncheon was complimented with special presentations and gifts from various clergymen, who flourished under Saunders' guidance. Music was rendered by the JPWBS Ensemble, accompanied by the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band.