A Jamaican-born legislator in Brooklyn has joined nationals at home and in the Diaspora and others throughout the world in paying tribute to former Jamaica Prime Minster, Edward Seaga, who died in a Miami hospital on Tuesday, May 28.
Reports indicate that Seaga, Jamaica’s fifth prime minister, was ailing with cancer. He died on his 89th birthday.
“It is with great sadness that I join Jamaicans both in Jamaica and across the globe in the Diaspora in mourning the death of the Honorable Edward Seaga, the fifth prime minister of our beloved nation,” New York State Assemblyman, Nick Perry, representative for the 58th Assembly District in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life on Saturday. “I express my sincere and deepest condolences to his wife, Carla, his four children and grandchildren.
“Mr. Seaga was a consummate public official, dedicated to the people he represented,” added Perry, stating that Seaga “fiercely” advocated for his constituents for “the four decades plus he held political office.”
“Upon his election to prime minister in 1980, Mr. Seaga helped bring stability to not only Jamaica but (to) the entire Caribbean region, navigating Jamaica through the turbulent, unpredictable decade of the 1980’s,” Perry continued. “Upon his departure from the Prime Minister’s Office in 1989, inflation and unemployment had both fallen across the island, and Jamaica was experiencing modest but steady economic growth.
“Perhaps, most importantly, was that Mr. Seaga had unwittingly helped decrease the ideological differences of the two major parties by pushing for social changes that benefitted those in both the middle and poorer economic classes without any frightening shake up of the upper and rich classes of Jamaica,” the assemblyman noted. “Although, often mis-blamed for guns and violence in Jamaican politics, his willing participation in that iconic moment on stage with Bob Marley and Michael Manley opened the road to the end of inter-party violence that had become a much-welcomed new reality in Jamaica’s political scene.”
Perry said he salutes Seaga for his “unwavering and historic service to all the people of Jamaica and for his tenure as prime minister.
“Mr. Seaga has a legacy of successful and commendable service to our beloved nation that will stand as an unsurpassable challenge,” he said. “May his soul find a very special place of rest in heaven. Rest in peace, Eddie!”
Seaga’s body was expected to arrive in Jamaica at about 6 pm on Sunday. The Jamaica government had announced that Seaga would be accorded a State Funeral.
On Saturday, Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, Michael Henry, described Seaga as “a nation builder and cultural icon,” who was instrumental in advancing Jamaica’s creative industries, according to Jamaica Information Service (JIS).
Henry said he was Seaga’s minister in the Ministry of Culture, and worked with him as minister of state for information, “when the Creative Production Training Centre was established and where the whole process of the transference of black and white television to color” was initiated.
“When I made a decision to go into politics, I did so on the basis of Mr. Seaga’s history and what I came into contact with, in terms of seeking to serve my country,” Henry told JIS, disclosing that he was inspired by Seaga’s strength of character and zeal to enhance the lives of Jamaica’s most vulnerable citizens.
“What attracted me was his love for the poor. Love in the sense of not leaving them poor, but moving them to the next stage of development,” he said, stating that Seaga’s contribution to the development of music, literature and culture was “significant, particularly to Afro centricity.
“That contribution is immeasurable,” Henry added. “What we really need now is to see some of this implemented into today’s world, to be able to rebuild and remold the society the way that he himself had desired.”
Edward Phillip George Seaga — who was former prime minister from 1980 to 1989 and Leader of the Opposition from 1989 to 2006 — was born on May 28, 1930 to the late Phillip George Seaga and Erna Seaga, née Maxwell.
He was educated at Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Jamaica and graduated from Harvard University in Massachusetts in 1952, with a bachelor’s degree in the Social Sciences.
On Aug. 22, 1965, Seaga married Elizabeth “Mitsy” Constantine, Miss Jamaica 1965. They have two sons, Christopher and Andrew, and a daughter, Anabella. This marriage dissolved in 1995, according to the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ).
The following year, on June 14, Seaga married Carla Vendryes. They have a daughter, NLJ said.
It said Seaga’s political career began in 1959, when Sir Alexander Bustamante, the founder of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) nominated him to serve in the Upper House of the Jamaica Legislature in the Legislative Council (later the Senate).
His appointment at age 29 made him the youngest member ever appointed to the Legislative Council, which established the framework for national independence in August 1962, NLJ said.
In April 1962, it said Seaga was elected Member of Parliament for Western Kingston and he held that seat for 40 consecutive years.
“He is (was) the only person who has been re-elected as Member of Parliament for that constituency for more than one term and is the longest serving M.P. (Member of Parliament) in the history of Jamaica,” NLJ said.
Immediately after winning his seat in 1962, NLJ said Seaga was appointed to the Cabinet as minister of development and welfare.
Following the 1967 general elections, he was made Minister of Finance and Planning, and in 1974 he became leader of the JLP and the Parliamentary Opposition until the general elections in Oct. 30, 1980, NLJ. It said that during the elections, JLP won a landslide victory over the People’s National Party (PNP).
NLJ said that Seaga’s and the JLP’s mandate was renewed in the uncontested 1983 general elections. Seaga remained Prime Minister until February 1989.
Seaga was also minister of finance and planning. His portfolio included responsibilities for information and culture.
“Several economic and social programs, which have had a significant impact on Jamaica’s growth and development, were conceived and initiated by Mr. Seaga,” NLJ said.