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Late MP Enid Bennett remembered as servant of the people

BY BALORD Henry
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaoberver.com

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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“A servant of the people,” was the most used term in describing the life of the late government minister, long-serving member of parliament (MP) and first female deputy leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Enid Bennett, at her funeral in Linstead last Saturday.

The funeral for Bennett, who died at the age of 86 at the Andrews Memorial Hospital in Kingston on December 22, was held at the St Helen's Roman Catholic Church, King Street, Linstead.

Called a Mass of Christian Burial to celebrate her life, it attracted several senior members of the ruling JLP, including three prime ministers — Andrew Holness, Portia Simpson Miller and Bruce Golding — as well as a number of Cabinet ministers, including Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange; Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda; Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck; and Minister of National Security Robert Montague.

Also among the mourners were Dr Christopher Tufton, who now represents Bennett's West Central St Catherine seat in parliament, as well as Alethia Barker, the only member of the PNP to ever have won the seat (1997).

Leader of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) Dr Peter Phillips was represented by former Cabinet minister and party chairman Robert Pickersgill. But, it was the Mayor of Spanish Town Councillor Norman Scott, who read his tribute.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles and President of the Senate Senator Thomas Tavares-Finson represented the Houses of Parliament, while Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams represented the local authorities.

The funeral service for Bennett, who died after a brief illness, started under a sunny blue Linstead sky, and lasted some three hours before a huge thunderstorm close to the end sent mourners on the outside scurrying for cover beneath two sizeable tents with television coverage of the happenings inside the small, overcrowded church.

The heavy showers hardly disrupted the service, but dozens of umbrellas were needed to keep mourners covered from the rain which flooded the churchyard and the streets lined with numerous vehicles, including Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses loaded with mourners.

Bennett was, eventually, laid to rest at the rustic Heathfield Catholic Cemetery in the town best recalled in the words of the Jamaican mento lyrics, “Carry me ackee go a Linstead market…”

Prime Minister Holness acknowledged that Bennett was “a servant of the people”, whose political slogan was “I promise to serve”.

Holness noted that he had entered Parliament in 1997, the year she retired after seven consecutive terms representing West Central St Catherine.

He said he welcomed the opportunity and the “distinct privilege” of working with her within the party after her retirement from parliament, and found her to be “a wonderful spirit”.

The prime minister said that in speaking with Bennett in the last years of her life, he recognised that she was not afraid of death, and confronted her mortality, ”and told me what she wanted to see for the party and the country”.

In his message, read by Mayor Scott, Dr Phillips noted that Bennett had retired after over 30 years in Parliament, “with her integrity intact” and was always respected by members on both sides of the aisle.

“We celebrate the life of a noble lady, a woman who was as beautiful inside as she was outside,” former Prime Minister Golding said.

He noted that while politics has become a “thankless job”, it was important to recognise that “she gave so much of her life to improve the lives of others”.

“She was passionate about welfare of the people she represented…(and) she commanded my admiration, my love and my respect,” he added.

Both Simpson Miller and Grange recalled the firsts that Bennett had achieved — milestones for women in Jamaican politics, and especially in Parliament.

They noted that she was the first woman to sit a record 30 years in the House of Representatives.

Parliamentary records show that Bennett died with the record intact for sitting 30 consecutive years in the House. Simpson Miller is the longest serving woman, with 34 years, but that excludes the period 1983-1989 when the PNP boycotted Parliament.

Simpson Miller who, like Grange, wore full black, said that Bennett lived “an exemplary life of service, commitment and dedication to her people and the nation” and was “a model representative and a model human being”.

She hailed Bennett as among the women who had served their parties, by building their constituencies into bastions of support for the party.

“She showed quiet dignity, undying love and cared for the most vulnerable…and she paved the way for us women in politics,” the former prime minister added.

Grange, meanwhile, said that women on both sides of the aisle in the House of Representatives owed Bennett “a great debt of gratitude”, adding that she has walked in her footsteps for most of her political life.

“She made us as women in the Labour Party feel that we really matter,” she stated, adding that she has pledged to deepen her commitment to the people of Jamaica, in honour of her.

Dr Tufton, who has represented her West Central St Catherine constituency since 2016, paid respect to Bennett as “an extraordinary politician and an extraordinary woman”.

He said that it was her love and devotion to the constituency “that propelled her to become the first woman to be elected consecutively to the House of Representatives.

The sermon was preached by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kingston Kenneth Richards who, in recalling Bennett's service, said that there is a need for “more virtuous men and women” in all aspects of life in Jamaica.

The archbishop urged Jamaicans to commit themselves to becoming more honest with each other, and refrain from deception.

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