The bright light that characterised the life of Edward Phillip George Seaga faded yesterday in sync with the last heartbeat of an illustrious life that symbolically ended on his 89th birthday.
Seaga, Jamaica’s fifth prime minister, former leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), succumbed to one of mankind’s bitter enemies — cancer.
Born May 28, 1930 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Seaga drew the curtain on his innings around 1:00 pm as medical personnel at the Florida hospital, which accommodated him for over a week, ran out of all options to prolong the life of a man who was revered by a vast number of Jamaicans for several decades.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced in Parliament that Seaga’s body will be flown back to Jamaica for a state funeral on a date to be determined.
Although he was not born on the land that he loved with a passion, Seaga was taken to Jamaica at age six months by his father Phillip George, a Lebanese/Jamaican, and mother Erna Maxwell — a woman of Jamaican/African, Indian, and Scottish heritage — fully immersing him into the Jamaican culture to which he would contribute greatly to changing in future years.
Wolmer’s Boys’ School further nurtured the young Seaga’s talent, as he not only excelled in academic work, but represented the school in seven sports, including shooting, which has since been discontinued nationally.
By 1948, having left Wolmer’s, Seaga enrolled at the highly-acclaimed Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences.
Upon his return to Jamaica shortly after, Seaga entered the music industry, promoting some of Jamaica’s foremost artistes, including Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, before being appointed to the Legislative Council (renamed the Senate in 1962) as an Opposition member in 1959, aged 29, making him the youngest member ever.
An original member of the team that crafted the Jamaica Constitution in 1961, Seaga, shortly after he was appointed senator, moved into Kingston Westerrn, the constituency he would rule, politically, for 43 years, up to his retirement from elective politics in 2005.
Having become MP for Kingston Western in 1962, Seaga trimmed his music industry activities, selling his West India Records Ltd, later renamed Dynamic Sounds, to his good friend Byron Lee in order to concentrate fully on representing the people who elected him.
The failing health of JLP founder and leader Sir Alexander Bustamante opened the door for a new successor, and Seaga emerged as that man in 1974. But he had to wait six years later to become Jamaica’s fifth prime minister after the JLP won in the bloody 1980 General Election that resulted in the deaths of more than 800 people, as the PNP and JLP engaged in a violent ideological struggle shaped by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Seaga remains the longest-serving Member of Parliament, with 10 consecutive election victories.
His Cabinet appointments included Minister of Development and Welfare from 1962 to 1967, and Minister of Finance and Planning following the death of Sir Donald Burns Sangster in 1967. During his tenure as prime minister from 1980 to 1989 he again served as minister of finance.
Starting Jamaica Festival in 1963 and spearheading the move to have National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s body flown back to Jamaica in 1964 for reburial at National Heroes’ Park (then George V Memorial Park), and the creation of the Creative Production and Training Centre in 1986 were among his most notable achievements.
A lifelong sportsman, Seaga was chairman of the Premier League Players Association, president of Tivoli Gardens Football Club, Netball Club and Basketball Club.
His professional life will be credited with having been associated with the formation or development of several national institutions, among them the HEART Trust/National Training Agency, the Jamaica Stock Exchange, Jamaica Unit Trust, Export-Import Bank, Jamaica Promotions Ltd, the Agricultural Credit Bank, the Jamaica Mortgage Bank, the National Development Bank, Urban Development Corporation, Kingston Waterfront, the Golden Age Home for the elderly, among others.
One of his cherished infrastructural developments, though, was the Tivoli Gardens housing project — a major transformation of the then Back-O-Wall settlement in West Kingston that thousands called home.
Upon his retirement from active politics on Tuesday, January 18, 2005 after more than four decades of a stellar career as leader of the JLP and member of parliament for Kingston Western, Seaga was appointed a distinguished fellow at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, doing research and writing, and was named years after as chancellor of the University of Technology, Jamaica.
He has published extensively on various topics and issues from 1954 to 2012.
Seaga married Marie Elizabeth “Mitsy” Constantine, a former Miss Jamaica (World) in 1965, but that union ended in divorce in 1995. Sons Christopher, Andrew, and daughter Anabelle were products of that marriage.
Following his divorce, Seaga married Carla Vendryes on June 14, 1996. The marriage produced daughter Gabrielle, who was born on September 16, 2002.
The recipient of several local, regional and international awards, including Jamaica’s second highest, the Order of the Nation in 2002, Seaga also received five honorary degrees from United States universities.