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Seymour 'Foggy' Mullings- a gentleman from boyhood

Published:Wednesday | October 16, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Seymour 'Foggy' Mullings
Seymour Mullings ... never lost an election in South East St Ann.

Louis Marriott, Contributor

WHEN I entered Jamaica College (JC) as a boarder in January 1947, one of the most unpleasant aspects of that prestigious institution was bullying - not just the common ragging that was a feature of life in boarding schools, but downright crude cruelty inflicted by muscular senior boys on small defenceless juniors.

As I learnt about the relatively recent history of the place, I marvelled at the fact that some of the more notorious bullies would have been the beneficiaries of the war that Michael Manley was reputed to have successfully waged on bullying in his senior years as a boarding student when most of the 1947 bullies were juniors.

In my boarding house, though, there was one senior boy who was an emphatically conspicuous non-bully. He was a scholarship holder from Claremont, St Ann, whom I first met as a fellow member of the school choir under the baton of the famous George Goode.

As JC boys were referenced only by surname, I knew him as Mullings. His peers called him 'Foggy', but juniors like me were not privileged to utter senior boys' nicknames. I learnt his first name - Seymour - when, as a third-former, I became official scorer for the school's first XI cricket team, for which he bowled orthodox offspin and sometimes wielded a useful bat in the lower order.

His greatest claim to campus fame, however, was his virtuoso piano-playing, which had him sharing organ-grinding duties in the chapel with a couple of teachers who clearly could not match his sublime skill.

Behaved like a Friend

Unlike the bullies, who apparently regarded themselves as enemies of small boys, Mullings behaved like a friend. He was my dormitory monitor for a year and once threatened me with punishment for insolence, which, coming from any other senior source, would have had me quaking in my shoes.

He reached for his toothbrush and toothpaste in his locker, handed them to me and commanded, "Come and brush my teeth." We both collapsed in a fit of laughter, and that was the end of the matter. That brief episode was an example of Mullings' lack of venom and his ever-present creative sense of humour.

There was a period some years after Jamaica College, in which I saw him fairly frequently, as he courted a talented young actress who was my colleague in the Caribbean Thespians Dramatic Society. He was then a commissioned land surveyor and a renowned jazz pianist. He was still the gentleman that I knew in our boyhood days - well spoken, civil, friendly, unselfish, modest, caring, compassionate, patriotic, a pillar of integrity; precisely the type of product that JC designed for Jamaica and for the world.

Bittersweet Experience

His first essay into representational politics was a bittersweet experience. In 1969, Mullings was chosen as the People's National Party's (PNP) standard-bearer to replace a party giant, Dr Ivan Lloyd, who was the first PNP candidate to win an election when he took the St Ann parish seat in the unicameral Legislative Council by-election in 1942. Two years later, in the first general election under universal adult suffrage, Dr Lloyd won a large majority as the PNP candidate in South-Eastern St Ann against the national trend by which the party won only five seats in the 32-member House of Representatives.

Dr Lloyd won huge majorities in successive elections thereafter and South-Eastern St Ann was clearly one of the safest PNP constituencies in Jamaica. However, in 1969, claiming difficulties with the new PNP leadership of Michael Manley, Dr Lloyd resigned his parliamentary seat, thus forcing a by-election.

After Mullings' selection as PNP candidate came, the news that Dr Lloyd's son, Garland Lloyd, a young JC old boy, was the Jamaica Labour Party candidate. The intriguing question then was: Is South Eastern St Ann PNP or Lloyd territory? Mullings won the seat comfortably and went on to become as dominant as Dr Lloyd had been in the past.

With the PNP in power in 1972 to 1980, and again in 1989-2007, and with several government reshuffles, Mullings held, at different times, a variety of portfolios - minister of agriculture and fisheries; finance and planning; foreign affairs and foreign trade; land and the environment; local government; and mining and Natural resources.

He was deputy prime minister from 1993 until his retirement from active politics in 2001, when he took up the post of ambassador to the United States of America, which he held for three years.

From the man in the street in Claremont to the other side of the House of Representatives, he was always respected as fair and balanced, dignified, friendly and non-confrontational in his politics and administration, and a man of unquestionable integrity.

In his term as minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, he paid several visits to London on duty. In the high commission's lobby was a pipe organ, a relic of the days when the building was church property. It is said that on each of Mullings' visits the staff of the high commission, JAMPRO and the Jamaica Tourist Board would be treated to a 'Foggy' Mullings organ recital.