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Former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga dies at 89 Edward Seaga’s body being led into the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity in downtown Kingston for his state funeral. (Credit: JIS)
A grateful nation said its final farewell to former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, during a service of thanksgiving yesterday at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity in Kingston, where tributes flowed, as did the tears.
Seaga was accorded a state funeral, in recognition of the high national office he held as Jamaica’s fifth Prime Minister. Mourners, headed by his family, Government officials, and other local and foreign dignitaries, filled the pews of the majestic cathedral, a venue befitting Seaga’s final send off.
The late Edward Seaga
In his tribute, Prime Minister Andrew Holness described Seaga as a “great leader, a Statesman, a visionary and a thinker,” and a man of dignity, order and excellence; an indefatigable spirit; and a man with the courage of his conviction.
“He was a modern man, an architect, a teacher, a father, a mentor and friend – a man for all seasons, a man for all peoples,” he said.
Holness recalled personal moments he shared with Seaga for whom he became a political aid in 1995, a role which sometimes required him to prepare speeches and conduct research.
“I learnt so much from him through these encounters of research and intellectual discourse,” he said.
The Prime also recalled a particularly “touching but profound moment” when Seaga held his hands, just as the first Prime Minister of Jamaica and National Hero Sir William Alexander Bustamante had done for Seaga, reminding him “don’t forget the poor.”
“Mr Seaga never lost sight of the reason why he entered politics – to help the ‘have nots’ join the ranks of the ‘haves’. All his work, from culture to sports, education, justice, the economy, music, everything – all his work has been beneficial to the poor,” Holness said.
Also sharing personal experiences he had with Seaga, Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr Keith Mitchell, said he felt a profound sense of loss, noting that Seaga was a Caribbean icon.
“His entire life’s work may have labelled him a Jamaican, but for many of us elsewhere in the region, Eddie was a Caribbean man, a champion of regional integration (and) movement and one who advocated for change to improve the process that unites us all,” he said.
Mitchell, who was among several Heads of State and Government officials from the Caribbean who were in attendance, noted that Seaga was a true friend of his country.
He said that as a Grenadian, he was grateful for Seaga’s “bold and decisive actions” in 1983 when his country was “reeling from the effects of a political crisis”, when “Eddie demonstrated what it was to be your brother’s keeper”.
Referring to Seaga’s support for the United States invasion of Grenada following a military coup in the island, Prime Minister Mitchell said: “There may not have been unanimous support for the course of action taken then, but you were acting in Grenada’s best interest and for that we thank you.”
He said Seaga’s support for Grenada was epitomized by his attendance of the official ceremony for the elected government in 1984 after the invasion and he remained a friend of the country until his death.
For Seaga’s cousin, Metry Seaga, ‘Uncle Eddie’, as he affectionately called him, was a complex individual who was “comfortable dining with kings and queens but just as comfortable eating a roast yam and saltfish with a boiled corn”.
He noted that Seaga sacrificed his own wellbeing and that of his family to serve his country and citizens “owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people that loaned him to us…his family.”
He also read a note written by Seaga’s youngest daughter, 16-year-old Gabrielle, who said: “You have been my hero and a wonderful father.”
“I am thankful for the experiences and memories that we shared and for all that you taught me,” she added.
In his tribute, former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson described Seaga as a “titanic warrior” who was propelled by an indomitable will to succeed in whatever he did.
He also applauded “the monumental contribution and its high qualitative value which Edward Seaga has made…to the people he served diligently and led with such singular devotion.”
“The death of the last surviving member of that joint legislative team which crafted our independence and Constitution is a defining moment in our history. It allows us to commemorate the glory of our ancestors as we honour one from this generation whose memory will never perish,” he said.
Delivering the eulogy, Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie, said Seaga was a great son of Jamaica and father to many institutions and one of the greatest leaders of modern Jamaica.
He also shared the tremendous impact Seaga had on his life, treating him like a son and profoundly guiding his development.
“The achievements I have had are because of the nurturing and teaching I constantly received as an adopted son of Edward Phillip George Seaga,” he said, adding that he and others have benefited from Seaga’s guidance and are living his legacy.
“I am forever grateful to him, West Kingston is grateful to him for the interest he has shown in us and an unwavering commitment to us. He saw us as people, worthy individuals, and he worked hard for us.”
When the service ended, Seaga’s casket, draped in the Jamaican flag, was placed on a gun carriage.
As the walking funeral procession pulled away from the church, the first round of a 19-gun salute by the Jamaica Defence Force punctuated the air, with other rounds following at one minute intervals up until arrival at National Heroes Park, where Seaga was laid to rest.
Seaga served as Prime Minister from 1980 to 1989. He represented the constituency of West Kingston for 43 years, from 1962 until his retirement from active politics in 2005. He died on May 28 in a hospital in the United States on his 89th birthday.
Edward Seaga died on Tuesday at the age of 89.
Jamaicans are mourning the death of Edward Seaga, the country’s fifth Prime Minister and longest serving parliamentarian, who passed away yesterday as he marked his 89th birthday.
The father of four died at a hospital in Miami, Florida where he was being treated since earlier this month.
Seaga – who was prime minister from 1980 to 1989; led the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) from 1974 to 2005; represented the West Kingston constituency for 43 years; and had been the last surviving member of the committee that drafted the country’s constitution in 1962 – was described by Prime Minister Andrew Holness as a great Jamaican.
“He served this country for most of his life. He was in this Parliament for over 40 years. He is truly a great Jamaican. He participated in the framing of the Constitution and the development of so many institutions which now define Jamaica,” Holness said yesterday in the House of Representatives where a minute’s silence was observed.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (second right, front row) and Members of the House of Representatives observe a minute’s silence for the late former prime minister Edward Seaga.
He said Seaga’s passing was also a difficult time for him.
“It is, personally, a trying time for me, and I know it is also a very trying time for his family. And though they were prepared and I was prepared, at the point of the event you still can’t help but feel the emotional void that has been created by his passing,” he said.
Holness recently visited Seaga in hospital and he said yesterday that on that visit, the former prime minister had expressed thanks to the Jamaican people for their prayers.
“All Jamaica should know that when I was about to leave the hospital room, I held his hands and he squeezed my hands and said, ‘Thank you, Andrew, and tell the Jamaican people thanks for everything’,” he recalled.
Member of Parliament for Central Kingston, Reverend Ronald Thwaites expressed condolences on behalf of the Opposition.
He said Seaga dedicated his life to the Jamaican people.
Former prime minister Bruce Golding said that with Seaga’s death, Jamaica had lost one of its most accomplished nation builders whose contribution to national development spanned more than 50 years from the early 1950s when he conducted research into the social structure and folk culture of both rural communities and Kingston’s city slums.
“His trailblazing achievements as Minister of Development and Welfare, Minister of Finance and Planning and Prime Minister have left an indelible mark on Jamaica’s institutional development and constitute a huge legacy from which the Jamaican people continue to benefit…
“He was a strong leader, firm in his convictions and fearless in his approach. He was never daunted by criticism or controversy once he was convinced that the path he was pursuing was the right one. In so many respects, history has vindicated him. Edward Seaga has earned his prominence in the annals of Jamaica’s journey as a nation and his contributions will be one of the pillars on which the greatness that we achieve will rest,” Golding said.
Meantime, Prime Minister Holness said arrangements are in place for Seaga’s body to be flown back to Jamaica, and it will be received by the Government with the appropriate honour guard in place.
“Thereafter, there will be a State funeral and before that, his body will lie in State and we will advise of a period of mourning,” he said.
Holness added that a special sitting of the House would be held where Parliamentarians can pay their respect to Seaga.
In addition to helping to frame the constitution, Seaga played a significant role in the review of that constitution that led to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in 2011.
In 2005, when he retired from active politics, he was appointed a Distinguished Fellow of the University of the West Indies (Mona), whose Research Institute had earlier been named in his honour.
In 2008, he was appointed Pro-Chancellor of the University of Technology, Jamaica, and two years later he became the institution’s second chancellor.