Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Gordon Robinson | Seaga was a man of principle

Published:Wednesday | May 29, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Yesterday, iconic Jamaican political figure, Edward Philip George Seaga, passed from us and entered the land of Legends.

He became Jamaica’s fifth prime minister in 1980 but his seminal contribution to the crafting and development of independent Jamaica began more than two decades before. It continued for over 60 years. His public affairs achievements are well known and will be regurgitated ad nauseam over the next many days, but I want to concentrate on Seaga the man of principle who left us on his birthday. We mourn.

Oh, Manny, oh; oh, Manny oh.

Why did you go? Why did you go?

You leave me all alone

Baby, please come home

But he has gone home. While he was here on loan, he dedicated his life to public service of the highest calibre in the most uncompromising way. Eddie Seaga led by example. With principle!

I can go back to a 1962 mini-revolt against Alexander ‘Chief’ Bustamante when it became known Busta intended to appoint one Cleve Lewis, a man of (shall we say) few letters, to the Cabinet. Busta called a meeting of party seniors at his home. Unknown to the participants in the meeting, Busta had asked Miss Longbridge (look her up) to prepare two rooms.

The disgruntled MPs filed into the waiting area where there was much disquiet expressed as to the Chief’s plan. Many vowed they wouldn’t have it. One person failed to join the chorus. That person was young whippersnapper, Eddie Seaga, whose expressed opinion, before Busta arrived, was the prime minister’s prerogative is to appoint whomever he wished to Cabinet.

Busta famously appeared in a floral shirt, ushered them into the meeting room and, with arms akimbo and pelvis thrust forward in a signature pose, said “Gentlemen, I propose to appoint Cleve Lewis as my minister of communications and works. I understand some of you don’t agree. Those of you who disagree with me, there’s pencil and paper for your resignation. Those who agree, please join me for champagne in the other room.”

Everyone drank champagne, but Seaga was the only one to do so with a clear conscience. Edward Seaga, man of principle. He believed in his principles and lived them, no matter who liked it or not.

This came to the fore in his bulldozing of Back-‘O-Wall to make way for the creation of Tivoli Gardens as a model community. He came under intense pressure, including from his own party. He stood his ground, maintaining that the squatter residents of that ghastly slum had been given more than sufficient notice to leave.

When asked, “but where will they be relocated?”

His reply was simple. “That’s their problem.”

He came within an inch of losing his Cabinet post but never compromised on what he saw as the only way to develop the area in accordance with the sociological lessons he learned from living in Buxton Town. Perhaps, had his example been followed, the teeming hundreds of squatter settlements dotting the Jamaican landscape now might’ve been avoided.

MUSIC PRODUCER

His early work as music producer is well known but his close partnership with Byron Lee hasn’t featured as prominently as perhaps it should. He believed in Byron, to the extent that, when Jamaica was to send a representational musical aggregation to New York’s World Fair (1964), Eddie attracted the wrath of many Jamaican musicians by sending Byron Lee and the Dragonaires instead of the Skatalites. It was Seaga who told Byron to write and record Jamaica Ska (1964; vocals Ken Lazarus/Keith Lyn). He wanted a song focused on ‘Jamaica’ that would commemorate Independence.

Ska Ska Ska

Jamaica Ska

Not many people can Cha Cha

Cha

Not everybody can do the Twist

But everybody can do the Ska…

It’s not widely known that May 28 is Eddie’s and Omar Davies’ birthday or their mutual respect, despite political differences. I remember the day Omar opened the new Tony Spaulding Sports Complex in Arnett Gardens. The plan was to have Eddie Seaga as an honoured guest. I was present when Omar was asked to invite a visiting head of state (Venezuelan president?) to the opening. He flatly refused. Omar’s reasoning was that he wouldn’t allow anything or anybody to detract from “Seaga’s day”.

Edward Seaga was recognised, respected and honoured, even by political opponents, as a man of principle.

I remember the exact moment I came to respect Edward Seaga as a man of principle.

Publicly, he and Michael Manley were arch-enemies for 20 years. It was akin to Ali vs Frazier; Fischer vs Spassky; or Jordan vs Bird. Neither gave or asked for quarter. Yet, on March 16, 1997, as Manley’s coffin was lowered, Edward Seaga paused while filing by with other dignitaries and offered a full salute to his fallen rival.

Paul Anka, as interpreted by the Chairmen of the Board, wrote it best:

I’ve lived a life that’s full

I’ve travelled each and every highway

and more; much more than this

I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few,

but, then again, too few to mention.

I did what I had to do

and saw it through without

exemption.

I planned each charted course;

each careful step along the byway

and more; much more than this

I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew,

when I bit off more than I could chew.

But through it all, when there was doubt,

I ate it up and spit it out.

I faced it all and I stood tall

and did it my way!

Edward Philip George Seaga, Man of Principle. We will remember you.

Peace and Love!

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com