KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Thousands of Jamaicans turned out Sunday for the funeral of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who was the last survivor of the generation of politicians who led the country to independence from Britain in 1962.
After a multi-faith service led by 13 religious leaders, people walked to the National Heroes Park for the burial, which was accompanied by a 19-gun salute.
Seaga’s wife, Carla Vendryes, laid a wreath along with political leaders and military officials.
Current Prime Minister Andrew Holness remembered Seaga as a humble man and a champion for the poor.
“He never lost sight of the reason why he entered politics, and that was to help the have-nots join the ranks of the haves,” Holness said. “We pay tribute today to a conscious leader, a statesman, a thinker, a man of dignity and a man of indefatigable spirit and courage of conviction.”
Caribbean dignitaries were joined by throngs of everyday people who crowded behind a chain-link fence trying to get a look at the ceremony under a blistering sun. Many wore green, signifying their support for the governing Jamaica Labour Party. They cheered and blew air horns as Holness placed a wreath.
Sophia Beswick, who said she worked seven years for Seaga, called him a “great former prime minister and a great, lovely man.”
Upton Eric Blake, a Rastafarian, said he traveled to the funeral to honor the legacy of Seaga, who was Jamaica’s fifth prime minister, holding the top post from 1980 until 1989.
“I’m bringing my family’s blessings to Mr. Seaga’s family as well,” Blake said.
Prior to entering politics, Seaga was a major record producer who operated the West Indies Record Ltd. distribution company and played a role in introducing ska to the world.
At 29, he was appointed to Jamaica’s upper legislative house by Jamaica’s first prime minister, Alexander Bustamante, who had founded the Jamaica Labour Party.
Local government minister Desmond McKenzie said Sunday that Seaga was instrumental in creating social programs.
“You are a father to thousands in West Kingston and across Jamaica,” McKenzie said.
Seaga died in Florida on May 28, his 89th birthday. He is also survived by children Andrew, Annabella, Christopher and Gabriella.