‘We are here because we are proud of everything Seaga has done’

MONTEGO BAY, St James — The decision not to open the casket with the body of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga as it lay in state at Montego Bay Cultural Centre, yesterday, did not deter hundreds of mourners from turning up to pay their last respects to the country’s fifth prime minister.

Long before the scheduled 9:00 am start, scores of mourners from all walks of life and from across the political divide, many from as far as Westmoreland, formed queues in the sweltering heat in the historic Sam Sharpe Square, where the cultural centre sits.

Many, decked in shades of green and buttons bearing Seaga’s image, were in a festive mood as they discussed his legacy, while for others it was a solemn occasion.

Fifty-seven-year-old Patsy Williams, popularly known as “Shower Muma”, was among a group of mourners who travelled from Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, for the occasion.

“We are here because we are proud of everything that Mr Seaga has done; and it’s not because I am a Labourite. He was the man who brought Jamaica from poverty to prosperity. He is the man who gave us the Heart Trust/NTA, and the Students’ Loan Bureau,”… said a seemingly proud Williams.

She told the Jamaica Observer that she and her relatives and friends from Westmoreland will be attending several other events planned to mark Seaga’s death, including his funeral on June 23 in Kingston.

Inside the cultural centre, Seaga’s casket, which was draped with the black, green and gold Jamaican flag and flanked by several members of the security forces, was cordoned in a red, carpeted area.

Ninety-three-year-old Melita Agatha Daley, a native of St Elizabeth who now resides in Montego Bay, said she has fond memories of Seaga, pointing out that the former prime minister visited her home after the passage of Hurricane Gilbert.

She argued that she did not have a problem with the decision not to allow the viewing of Seaga’s body.

“If the coffin was not brought down here [Montego Bay], I would go to Kingston to see it. And I don’t care if the coffin was open or not for people to see the body,[because] that is the family and wife’s business, so it doesn’t matter to me,” said the elderly woman.

The closed-casket viewing of the former prime minister was of concern to many in Kingston earlier this week. However, Tishari Crookson from Hanover said “while there were persons arguing during the St James viewing as to whether there was a body inside the casket, this was irrelevant to me”.

For someone like Seaga who did so much for Jamaica, I mean, we really should come out and pay our respects regardless,” Crookson argued.

She added: “He is a great man, a very, very great man. He did a lot for the country, a lot that persons are just now finding out that they never knew before — and that is a telling to how history is preserved here in Jamaica, and also recorded. So, it is very important that persons take the time out to pay respect to their leaders and to learn about their leaders.”

It was a similar sentiment shared by 87-year-old Louis Montague from Tower Hill, who argued that “I saw him when he was alive and therefore it is nothing if I don’t get to see the body now.”

Entertainer Mackie Conscious told the Observer that “’there is a saying that the last thing a person sees, is the last thing that he remembers’.”

“For this reason, I am of the opinion that the body should not be shown,” the entertainer stressed.

Principal of Waldensia Primary School in Trelawny, Claude Rowe pointed out that Seaga has done a lot for Jamaica in terms of the constitution and the implementation of Heart Trust /NTA, which has done a lot for young people, arguing that it would be remiss of the school not to pass information about Seaga to the students. He added that since the death of the former prime minister, the school has given each class research about Seaga, which will be placed on display.

Mayor of Montego Bay, Councillor Homer Davis, custos of St James Conrad Pitkin, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, attorney general and Member of Parliament for St James West Central Marlene Malahoo Forte, Member of Parliament for St James Central Heroy Clarke, and councillors of the St James Municipal Corporation were also present at the viewing.

At about 12:30 pm, Seaga’s body was removed from the cultural centre by members of the security forces to a waiting hearse, bound for St John’s Anglican Church in Ocho Rios, St Ann, where it was expected to lie in state from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

Members of the public will also be able to pay their last respects on June 10 at Tivoli Gardens Community Centre from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm; and on June 11 at Denham Town Community Centre, also from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.

During the official period of mourning the body will lie in state at the National Arena from 11:00 am- 2:00 pm on June 19 and 20.

Seaga, who died on his 89th birthday on May 28 at a Florida, USA, hospital, will be laid to rest at National Heroes’ Park on June 23, following an ecumenical service at Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kingston.