FIREBRAND, patriot, activist, visionary, were some of the words used yesterday to describe the late Portmore Mayor George Egbert Emmanuel Lee.
He was also eulogised as an astute politician, firm leader, caring and kind individual, passionate community leader, and skilled negotiator.
Then there were adjectives like loyal, dedicated, generous, earnest, courageous, inspirational, jovial, impatient, overzealous, and humble, but it was the 'mosquito fighter' that elicited the most reaction from the throng of people who filled the pews at Power of Faith Ministries in the municipality for the Official Funeral accorded Lee.
In the remembrance, Portmore Community College Principal Karen Hewitt-Kennedy praised Lee for having the drains cleaned intermittently and for periodically fogging the air to get rid of mosquitoes which infamously plague the municipality.
"Let me tell you what we Portmoreians want to remember George Lee for. A citizen called the municipal office on Monday and said, 'I hear that Mr Lee dead. Mi never believe it when dem announce it on the radio, but then last night a swarm of mosquito start bite me, and mi hear one mosquito say to the other: 'Mosquito man' gone, Portmore belongs to us," she said, to peals of laughter from the congregation.
After the service, Pamella Grant of Gregory Park told the Jamaica Observer that was her favourite part of the proceedings.
"A true man. Tru' George Lee dead mosquito ah go kill wi now!" she said.
Lee passed away on September 29 at his home in Margate, Florida, after a brief period of illness. Up to that time he was the sitting chairman of the Portmore Municipal Council, which was established when Portmore was declared a municipality in 2003.
He was a journalist, trade union champion and politician who earned degrees in sociology and political science from Brooklyn College and New York University.
He was born in Portland on June 2, 1939 — the first of five children, and the only boy — to Egbert and Loletta Lee. He was husband to Aneita, father to Claudette and stepfather to Norman, Andrew and Rojah. He was brother to Beverley, Carmen and Gloria.
But that's only part of the story. The other side of George Lee was told in the glowing tributes showered on him during the funeral as well as those included in the 24-page funeral programme.
"I have known George Lee for over 50 years and feel greatly deprived by the sudden loss of a long-standing colleague and friend," a tribute from former Prime Minister PJ Patterson said.
Patterson was PM when Portmore was granted municipal status.
"Jamaica, and the Portmore community in particular will be poorer by his irreparable loss. His hallmark was, indeed, selfless and tireless service -- a great legacy for us all," it continued.
Noel Arscott, minister of local government and community development, hailed the late mayor for maintaining "honesty and forthrightness in his dealings with all groups and organisations".
Member of parliament for East Central St Catherine Arnaldo Brown called him a "consummate community organiser and advocate" who was not afraid of controversy. Neighbouring MP Fitz Jackson (South St Catherine) hailed his "honesty in purpose, will, commitment and capability", while Colin Fagan (South East St Catherine) called him "brother, friend, and comrade".
"George's efforts, achievements and sincerity are permanently etched in our hearts and memory, and his legacy will remain an enviable pillar on which the further development of Portmore is built," said Jackson.
Public defender Earl Witter said "George Lee in life and in love was driven by the ennobling characteristics of passion, zeal and tenacity. That is why he is celebrated by the people of Portmore and why his spirit will long pervade that place. Right on, George!"
For his part, councillor of the Hellshire Division and deputy mayor of Portmore Leon Thomas, who has
been acting for his late colleague since the council resumed in September, said, "Lee's advocacy skills, determination, forthrightness and engaging personality made him my leader in our common goals."
Lee's funeral pulled a massive crowd, filling the large church to capacity. The attendees included members of the Government and Opposition, fellow mayors and other local government officials, lay magistrates, students and ordinary residents.
Custos of St Catherine Rev Sophia Azan described his death as the felling of a great oak tree. "It will take a long time to forget a man like George Lee," she said.
Elton Bruce, who represented the Jamaica National Movement, of which Lee was the first president, and the Jamaican Diaspora North Eastern USA, described the late mayor as smart, and cunning.
"He could pack a house. Today, he has outdone himself," he said.
Merrick Scarlet, on behalf of the Portmore Citizens' Advisory Board, and Kerry Ann Chambers, on behalf of the municipal council, also gave tributes yesterday.
"Mayor Lee has left a void in the municipality and will be deeply missed by councillors, staff and the people of Portmore, who loved and respected him for the qualities he displayed, not only as a politician and leader, but as a man of passion, perseverance and utmost integrity," Chambers said.
Lee was eulogised by his sister Beverly Santouse who spoke of how her late brother got the name Emmanuel and about his childhood in St Thomas.
"Father told me that when George was born he decided to name him Emmanuel because he knew that his son was destined for greatness. Prophecy fulfilled, Daddy," she said.
Lee was interred at Dovecot Memorial Park in St Catherine.