I hope readers recognized the late Sir Alexander Bustamante as the wise Caribbean prime minister portrayed in my book “Hill-an’-Gully Rider.” I was always fascinated by the sly old fox, and the devious ways in which he achieved his usually admirable objectives, and I couldn’t resist using him as a model.
Growing up in Jamaica, it was Busta’s cousin and political rival, Norman Manley, that I most admired. Manley was so brilliant, so uncompromising. His logic was unassailable, his integrity unquestionable. But later on I came to realize that in the real world, the one who does the most good is often the one who breaks – or at least bends – the rules, and who knows when to let his heart inform his head.
That was Busta. He understood that politics is theater, and he played to the gallery. But behind the stagecraft was a keen intellect and a noble vision.
I got to thinking about Busta last night when I read on the Jamaica Information Service web site that his wife and former secretary had died on July 25 at the age of 97. The item announced that “condolence books have been opened at Jamaican diplomatic missions in Canada for members of the public to pay their final respects to the late Lady Bustamante.”
One book is at the Jamaican Consulate General in Toronto, 303 Eglinton Avenue East, while the other is at the Jamaica High Commission in Ottawa, 275 Slater Street. The books at both locations will close on Friday.
An official funeral is to be held on August 8, when Lady Bustamante will be interred beside her husband in National Heroes Park in Kingston. The day has been designated a National Day of Mourning. Busta died in 1977 at the age of 93.
It’s hard for me to picture “Lady B” as being 97 years old. When I knew her back in the Sixties, she was a vibrant woman with a great sense of humor. And that’s the way I will always remember her, eyes twinkling and a smile playing at her lips. But there was much more to her than that. She was a passionate advocate for women’s rights and a staunch supporter of the trade union movement.
The former Gladys Longbridge was Busta’s private secretary for more than a quarter of a century, working tirelessly by his side to seek out and redress the grievances of the downtrodden. When Jamaica became independent in 1962, then-Prime Minister Bustamante asked her to become Jamaica’s first “First Lady.”
I don’t think Jamaica will ever see Busta’s like again. The day of the charismatic leader is probably gone for good. Today’s problems call for a more corporate style. And with the passing of Lady B, an epic era has faded into history.
Photo shows the Prime Minister and Lady Bustamante. For more pictures, click:
For more on Busta, click: