Thu | Nov 26, 2020

‘To Sir, with love’ - Prudence Kidd-Deans relishes honour of getting unique view into Seaga’s soul

Published:Sunday | June 2, 2019 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga whispers into Prudence Kidd-Deans’ ear at her 60th birthday celebration in 2012. In the background is Seaga’s wife, Carla.
Senator Prudence Kidd-Deans broke down in tears on January 18, 2005 as Opposition Leader Edward Seaga made his final official appearance at Gordon House in Kingston.
Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga raises a toast to Prudence Kidd-Deans at her 60th birthday celebration in 2012.
AT RIGHT: Edward Seaga (left), then pro chancellor of the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), chats with Prudence Kidd-Deans at a UTech luncheon in Seaga’s honour at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in St Andrew on Tuesday, March 18, 2008.
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One of a rare group of Labourite women handpicked by the late Edward Philip George Seaga to enter his personal and political inner circle for decades has labelled the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity as “unforgettable”.

For several years, Prudence Kidd-Deans had a vantage view into the soul of Jamaica’s fifth prime minister, and in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner yesterday, she opened the mirror of her heart, blowing Seaga a kiss in tribute, saying, “This is to Sir, with love”.

“He valued and trusted women. He elevated them to positions of authority and he listened to them. He always said if a woman was displeased with you, she would make your life hell, and you would know something was wrong. He demanded much from us, from me – sometimes too much. But whatever he demanded of us, of me, he did not hesitate to give that back and more, if and when I asked …,” the former Seaga aide shared.

Seaga’s ‘water girl’

Kidd-Deans, who was active in the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP’s) Young Jamaica and Women’s Freedom Movement, also served as president of the National Organisation of Women.

She said if Audley Shaw was Seaga’s ‘water boy’, then maybe she was his ‘water girl’, who, at times, whispered political advice in his ear when he sought it.

She saw him at his best. She saw him at his worst.

She saw him at his physical and political strongest. And she saw him at his weakest.

And like the matador, at times, she watched him move in for the kill.

Still, the former senator calls him a “gentle matador”.

“When he became prime minister, it was not unusual for him to send for the women around him. He used to send for me a lot. I remember one time I wanted to go to the podium at an event and he said, ‘No, I want you around me. When you are around, you help me to think’,” Kidd-Deans recalled, adding that she was deeply “honoured” that he “valued me so much”.

Seaga’s women, she said, came in two categories, with some overlapping.

“One group was political – those on the ground – and others were professional and intellectual as well as political in their own right,” she recalled, making reference to Seaga’s shadow cabinet of 21 women, the fiercest of whom was said to be Shirley Williams.

“When any one of them called you, you knew Mr Seaga was calling you. When I called anybody, they knew it was Mr Seaga calling them. He gave me that authority,” she stated mater-of-factly.

Stories have been told of minister(s) in Seaga’s Cabinet in 1980-89 having loose bowels after hearing that one of his ‘women cabinet ministers’ was on the phone.

Kidd-Deans laughed sweetly at the memory.

“Oh Lord! That was my Edward Seaga!” she said in a whimsical voice.

Seaga, she said, was not a coward.

“He would never back down from a fight. He was a warrior – a defensive warrior. He would not be the first to start a fight, but he would not back away from one. He liked intellectual challenges and that’s why the atmosphere was so charged when Michael Manley was alive,” said the woman who met Seaga at age 13 at an October 1966 birthday party for one of Seaga’s best friends, the now-deceased Clem Tavares. She remembers being lifted by Seaga at the party when he found out that her birthday was a day apart from Tavares’.

Kidd-Deans’ love affair with the JLP began then and continued for decades, through internal and external political tornadoes.

“What he hated was back-stabbing and disloyalty. I don’t know anybody who likes that, but he despised it,” recalled Kidd-Deans, as she reflected on Seaga’s dark days in Opposition between 1989 and 2005, spanning four electoral defeats.

She recounted how he laughed at, but later admired a sitting government minister’s declaration that he was a “matador”.

“Yeah, that was my Edward,” she said with a mixture of sadness and pride.

Some have still refused, but many would later take his advice to “light a candle, sing and Sankey and find your way back home” after the political migration of the 1990-2000s.

Seaga died last Tuesday on his 89th birthday in a Florida hospital in the United States. His body will be flown to Jamaica today.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com