Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Frankie Bonito was playing the piano at the Rainbow in Half-Way Tree one night in 1962 when Edward Seaga walked in.
A young Karl Samuda, fresh from his studies, was enjoying the music and paused to ask who was the other man walking with Alexander Bustamante and Clem Tavares. He was told it was Seaga, who had just beaten the People's National Party's (PNP) Dudley Thompson to win West Kingston for the Jamaica Labour Party.
"I looked at him all night, I couldn't take my eyes off him," Samuda said.
His confession was greeted by the laughter and oohs and aahs of fellow legislators, who had turned up for Tuesday's special joint sitting at which Seaga was being honoured for his contribution to national life.
During the marathon sitting of the Parliament, at least three other legislators said Seaga had a direct influence on them entering representational politics.
Samuda said it took him three years before he met Seaga. At that time, he had gone with his father to a west Kingston charity ball held at the Myrtle Bank Hotel on the Kingston waterfront.
"Within two years, I had become an active campaigner for the Jamaica Labour Party in Central Manchester," he recalled.
Samuda, who was first elected in 1989, switched from the JLP in 1990 after being expelled in the wake of the so-called 'Gang-of-Five' rebellion against Seaga's reportedly autocratic leadership style.
Samuda joined the PNP but crossed the floor and re-entered the folds of the JLP after having reconciled with the party.
"How in this world could I have predicted that in one lifetime I would have been fired five times by the same man? In addition to being put on unsolicited sabbatical for nearly three years," Samuda quipped.
In the final analysis, he said "I would not be standing here today were it not for Edward Seaga."
West Kingston MP Desmond McKenzie, Central St Catherine Member of Parliament Olivia Grange, and North East St Ann MP Shahine Robinson also credited Seaga for their political birth.
And so, too, does veteran parliamentarian Derrick Smith.
The North West St Andrew MP said the summer of 1978 decisively impacted his decision to enter politics.
"As the then president of the Jaycees of Jamaica, I had reason to make a speech in Lucea and to thank the Jamaica Labour Party and Mr Seaga specifically for supporting the withdrawal of the senators in some sort of protest."
He said a few days after, Ed Bartlett, the current MP for East central St James, said Seaga wanted to see him.
"What was supposed to be a brief meeting ran into almost two hours. The net result of all of that is that at the end of the exercise, I was very impressed with Mr Seaga, and I left being assured that this gentleman would indeed be the next prime minister of Jamaica after the elections."
Seaga led the JLP to a crushing 45-15 win over Michael Manley's People's National Party. The win brought an end to Manley's experiment with democratic socialism.
More than a year after the election, Seaga called on Smith to serve his country as a legislator.
"When I gave up the leadership of the West Indies Jaycees in mid-1981, he called me and he said to me, 'That spot that I left in the Senate that I had not appointed after the elections, I was holding that spot for you and I do hope that you will accept a Senate appointment'," Smith said.
He added: "That allowed me to get into the bowels of the Jamaica Labour Party and it was at that time that I really knew the true Edward Seaga."
Smith, like all the persons who hailed Seaga last week, had high praises for his mettle.
He said Seaga is extraordinarily skilful in negotiations and has a mental strength which, he said, he has never encountered in any other human. He added that were it not for Seaga, his book of life might not have included representational politics.