Mon | Sep 23, 2019

McKenzie: I wore my first suit because of Seaga

Published:Wednesday | May 29, 2019 | 12:23 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Desmond McKenzie (centre), minister of local government, is consoled by parliamentary colleagues Olivia Grange and Dr Nigel Clarke during his Sectoral Debate presentation at Gordon House on Tuesday, May 28. McKenzie’s political mentor Edward Seaga died about 1 p.m. yesterday.

The first time Desmond McKenzie wore a business suit or enjoyed a hamburger was because of Edward Seaga.

McKenzie, the minister of local government and community development, who was born and grew up in the west Kingston community known at the time as ‘Back-o-Wall’, revealed, too, that because of Seaga, he has seen the world and dined with VIPs.

“I met President [Ronald] Reagan because of him; I went to the White House because of him. I remember meeting Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Miriam Makeba,” said McKenzie, referencing the late American president and global entertainers.

“The opportunities that were presented to hundreds, thousands of people like me who probably never had any hope are amazing. I see him as a father many of us never had,” McKenzie told The Gleaner yesterday.

But for all his kindness, McKenzie said Seaga was not hesitant to administer some good old-fashioned discipline.

“Somebody who was not afraid to pull me by the waist and chastise me,” McKenzie revealed in the House of Representatives yesterday.

“I am not ashamed to speak. I am now seeing the value of that discipline that Edward Seaga instilled in me over those years,” he continued.

For 68 brave minutes, McKenzie stood in Gordon House and delivered his contribution to the 2019-2020 Sectoral Debate. He was inconsolable afterwards.

“I’m standing here with my heart shattered,” the son of West Kingston who rose to become mayor of the capital city before he was elected lawmaker acknowledged near the end of his speech.

FIRST ENCOUNTER

McKenzie recounted that he was eight years old when he first saw this “white man” who stood out at a spiritual gathering on Salt Lane in West Kingston.

“We were all afraid of him because people used to talk about the [mythical] ‘black-heart man’ and we thought that this was the ‘black-heart man’, so we were afraid of him,” he admitted.

According to McKenzie, those fears quickly subsided as Seaga became a fixture in the community. Seaga later became member of parliament for West Kingston before going on to become Jamaica’s fifth prime minister.

“When he became the MP, as young boys and girls, we never had any vote, but we use to run around … . He used to come and pick us up [and] carry us up to Monty’s on Old Hope Road,” said McKenzie, who took over as MP for West Kingston when Seaga’s successor, Bruce Golding, retired from representational politics in 2011.

“Monty’s was like when you watch TV and you drive into the place and put the tray with the milkshake and the hamburger. I mean, that was the man that allowed me to taste what milkshake was,” he added.

“He was the one that made a lot of us know what hamburgers taste like, my first pair of nice shoes, holiday jobs … ensuring that we have good education, ensuring that there was a good foundation for us,” McKenzie continued.

But the lawmaker said his most cherished memory came in 1965 when the man who became his mentor was set to get married.

Seaga reportedly singled out a then 13-year-old McKenzie to propose a toast on behalf of the constituency of West Kingston.

“That was the first time I wore a suit. That was the first time I was ever exposed to anything of that sort. It is one of those moments you can’t forget,” he said.

“He was there in good times, he was there in bad times. There was nothing that was too great that he would not do for us,” McKenzie shared.

The late Jamaican prime minister was perceived as a polarising figure for much of his political career, but for McKenzie, that should not define him. “I don’t see him as a political representative, I see him as a father that many of us never had.”

McKenzie said he knew when he rubbed the hair of his mentor and spoke in his ear last Friday that “that was my last goodbye”.

He said Seaga, who led the transformation of West Kingston, made one last request before his passing.

“Try and remove the remaining portion of zinc fence. That was one of the last thing he asked.”

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com