Seaga turns 85 today

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, May 28, 2015

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FORMER Prime Minister Edward Phillip George Seaga celebrates another birthday today -- a simple matter of a mere 85 years.


Seaga served as the fifth Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1980 to 1989. He also led the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party from 1974 up to his retirement from elective and competitive politics in 2005 when he left Parliament to take up the post of Distinguished Fellow at the University of the West Indies. He was leader of the opposition from 1974 to 1980 and again from 1989 to the beginning of 2005.


Seaga, a graduate of Wolmer's Boys' School, was born on May 28, 1930 in Boston, Massachusetts to Lebanese father Philip George Seaga and mother Erna Seaga, formerly Maxwell, she a mixture of Indian, Scottish and African blood.


The youngster soon moved to Jamaica with his parents at age three months and from an early age set out to carve an indelible mark on the Jamaican political, social, and cultural landscape.


A former finance minister and minister with responsibility for development and welfare (including culture), Seaga was up to recently the last politician to have served the House of Representatives before the island gained Independence in 1962. Having served as a senator in the then Legislative Council, he also contributed to the crafting of Jamaica's Constitution. His work in the areas of music, art and craft, and other avenues of culture earned him many uncontested accolades over several decades, and presented him as a cultural guru who had no equal.


Seaga, whom political analysts have suggested has "mellowed" with age, pleasantly shocked past and present parliamentarians and political activists at a function to honour another former prime minister, PJ Patterson, who celebrated his 80th birthday on April 10 this year.


Seaga, in a toast to Patterson in recognition of his political longevity, presented the former People's National Party president and fierce political foe with a file of newspaper clippings and news items on Patterson's time as prime minister -- a gesture that Patterson embraced with glee.


Seaga's impressive political career started in 1959 when he was named by then Opposition Leader Sir Alexander Bustamante to serve in the Upper House (Legislative Council) at age 29 -- the youngest person to be so appointed.


He stepped up a gear three years later when he was elected member of parliament for West Kingston and represented the constituency for 10 terms until 2005. He is credited with transforming the general West Kingston area, in particularly the area now known as Tivoli Gardens, which before had been known as Back-O-Wall (some refer to it as Back-Of-Wall).


So impressive was his habit of winning the West Kingston seat that there was little debate in any given election year regarding whether or not he would be triumphant. Perhaps the only person who doubted that Seaga had a chance of losing West Kingston was a brash young reporter, a former soldier, who, at the time of the 1989 election, walked up to Seaga in the nomination centre at Denham Town Primary School and posed the question: "Mr Seaga, what are your chances of winning the West Kingston seat?", to which Seaga appropriately responded: "Don't ask me no damn foolishness, man."


An impressive sportsman, he is presently chairman of the Premier League Players' Association, and is still much involved with Tivoli Gardens Football Club, which he has supported as member and president for over 60 years.


Seaga's sojourn into sports administration followed his impressive journey as a sportsman at Wolmer's Boys' School, where he participated in seven sports, and five at Harvard University in the United States, from which he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in social science in 1952.


Known for his tough, in-your-face attitude, and as one who defended whatever he believed in, Seaga earned the respect of many who supported him politically, and those who didn't.


The eyes of the world were trained on him after he won the 1980 general election, when he became the first foreign leader to visit newly elected United States President Ronald Reagan at the White House in Washington, DC. Seaga still has a wooden chair given to him by the late movie star in his study at his North East St Andrew home.


Seaga serves, too, as chancellor of the University of Technology.


Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies also celebrates a birthday today.


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