Mon | Dec 10, 2018

Respect to 'Foggy'

Published:Sunday | October 13, 2013 | 12:00 AM
The late Deputy Prime Minister Seymour Mullings arriving at the Jamaica Expo at Kensington Great Hall in 1995.-FILE

Gary Spaulding, GUEST COLUMNIST

Seymour Mullings was one of two stalwarts of the People's National Party (PNP) over the past 30 years or so who commanded unwavering respect in Jamaica by displaying seemingly apolitical tendencies.

The two men never appeared to be ruffled by strident exchanges, crosstalk or 'throw wud', to use Jamaican parlance, in the nation's political chamber.

One was Seymour Mullings; the other was the younger Burchell Whiteman.

Mullings loved Parliament. His excellent attendance records served as eloquent testimony to the commitment and dedication to the chamber in which he served for the bulk of his 28 years in representational politics.

Such was his love that Mullings came to nearly all parliamentary sittings more than four years after he retired from active politics. In the intervening period, when he was absent from Parliament, Mullings was Jamaica's ambassador to Washington.

Given the respect that he commanded, both Government and Opposition allowed the retired public servant to quietly observe the proceedings from a special seat in the parliamentary chamber.

While Foggy would spend time lyming with legislators in the restaurant of Gordon House, before the start, he would treat the weekly parliamentary sittings with the respect to which they were entitled.

As it was during his days as an active legislator, nothing, not even the most infamously tempting verbal brawls, for which Parliament is famed, could elicit a comment from 'Foggy'. He brought that calm air into Parliament, as he did during the stormiest of political periods that was the ideological age of the 1970s.

Even in the midst of the most biting of exchanges in the parliamentary chamber, Mullings seemed unaffected, though hardly aloof, as he sat beside Michael Manley and then P.J. Patterson in the House of Representatives.

Once Mullings shared with me that he never chose the PNP. In his characteristically sociable manner, Mullings quipped that it was the PNP that had chosen him, as his family was loyal to the organisation.

Mullings then quietly ventured into advocacy mode as he highlighted the merits of politics, something he had the moral authority to do, before suggesting that I should venture into politics.

Not once during this informal exchange did Foggy suggest that I should join his party, but he was insistent that the country needed people who were genuinely interested in the political process.

A DECENT MAN

It was almost sacrilege to say an unkind word about Mullings, who was referred to repeatedly as a 'decent man'.

During a particularly scorching Budget presentation at a time when Mullings was finance minister and the inflation rate soared to as high as 106 per cent in a single quarter, Edward Seaga declared, with his dry wit, "I liked the man," before quipping that Foggy should focus on playing his piano.

It was Mullings who succeeded Seaga as finance minister after the change of administration in February 1989.

As it has been for finance ministers before and after Mullings, it is likely to have been the most challenging time for him.

Not only did inflation average nearly 90 per cent, the dollar devalued with maddening speed and the PNP looked like a one-term Government before Patterson seized the reins.

Mullings was replaced as finance minister by Patterson and took on a portfolio that seemed more compatible with his demeanour - that of foreign affairs minister - transitioning into the realm of diplomat.

Ruddy Lawson, the former MP for South West St Catherine, once marvelled that Foggy was adored by his constituents although he never indulged in pork-barrel politics.

Lawson entered representational politics about the same time as Mullings.

But while Mullings won the South East St Ann seat that he transformed into a PNP stronghold in 1972, Lawson had to wait until 1976 to sit in Parliament after he turned the tables on then the Jamaica Labour Party's youthful candidate, Bruce Golding, in South West St Catherine.

Lawson, a successful former parliamentarian in his own right, shared that he was never able to fathom just how Mullings, a man who barely lifted his voice, commanded the power to sustain the adoring attention of his constituents.

Though retired, Mullings was never forgotten in South East St Ann.

Lisa Hanna, the current MP, last year echoed the wishes of the people - that some kind of monument be erected in honour of their one-time representative, even if it is the naming of a highway in the constituency.

Gary Spaulding is a political affairs reporter. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com.