By Gary Spaulding
In life, George Lee was a man of small frame and big heart. He was not a noisemaker, but somehow, in his unobstrusive way, Lee was able to command attention - first as a branded journalist and then as a community advocate and politician.
Athough his vision was realised before the end of his life, with Portmore attaining municipal status, Lee never stopped working to ensure that the cause for which he lived would never die.
A patient but persistent man, Lee once shared that like 'The Gambler' in Kenny Rogers' famous song, he knew when to hold, fold, walk away, and even when to run.
He shared how he had to 'run' after the infamous Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) strike in the 1960s when no one would touch him, after he was one of two or three staff members fired from the station.
Established by legislation in 1958, JBC was launched in 1959 under then Premier Norman Manley as a statutory corporation to provide greater focus on Jamaican culture in the lead-up to Independence in 1962.
As a state-owned entity, the links to government signalled worries, with accusations of partisan journalism. A change in government in 1962 led to accusations of JBC journalists favoured by the previous PNP government, and Lee was one of the early casualties.
This triggered one of the longest strikes in Jamaican history, with Norman Manley's firebrand son, Michael, then a trade unionist, parading at the vanguard of the labour dispute.
Lee said Norman Manley, in his capacity of lawyer, took up his case. He recalled that he had to seek refuge overseas as no entity would hire him.
Lee eventually returned to Jamaica in the 1970s, but not to the media landscape. The past continued to haunt him and he was not able to escape the tentacles of political victimisation in the 1980s. Again, he said he was forced out of another public-sector job.
Lee shared how he was seated quietly at his desk as an employee of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), then a state-owned entity, when the minister with portfolio responsibility for utilities toured the building, saw him and declared, "A ya so yu deh!" Lee was soon without a job.
Once again, Lee said he was forced to retreat overseas. When he returned to Jamaica in the 1990s, it was as a relentless crusader for city status for Portmore, with housing units springing up left, right and centre without the requisite infrastructural support.
That was one of Lee's first assignments as a community agitator, and he grew in stature. He was at the vanguard of the struggles when the Joint Portmore Citizens' Association resisted the erection of the housing development called Bridgeview.
Lee and his team protested that the infrastructure was buckling under the weight of the new communities. The joint association complained that the space was the only green area remaining in the Portmore.
The Government ignored his pleas and the houses were built, but Lee earned respect from the civic-oriented people of Portmore.
Lee proceeded to marshal a formidable force comprising representatives of about 36 citizens' association from the older communities, and dared to dream that Portmore would one day attain city status.
Under his leadership, with people like the current member of parliament for South East St Catherine, Colin Fagan, on his team, Lee forged alliances with respected organisations such as the Portmore Ministers' Fraternal to advance his cause.
As the years progressed, Lee's continued advocacy for city status for Portmore - sometimes a lone voice in the wilderness - began to nudge the consciousness of others.
Portmore has not yet attained city status, but it is the first municipality of its kind in Jamaica, thanks to the indefatigable courage of George Lee, who dared to dream big. Fittingly, Lee was elected the municipality's first mayor in 2003.
Even when he was defeated in 2007 and wrestling with health challenges, Lee never yielded.
His legacy is likely to live on, as there are suggestions that Portmore could one day become the 15th parish in Jamaica.
Gary Spaulding is a political affairs reporter. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.