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By Kimone Thompson—

RESIDENTS of Portmore were yesterday plunged into shock and disbelief when news came that George Lee, the country’s first directly elected mayor, who was now in the middle of his second term, had passed away.

George Lee during his first swearing-in as mayor of Portmore June 26, 2003.

Lee, who was born in 1939, was 74.

Everyone to whom the Jamaica Observer spoke, from the political directorate to members of Lee’s community of Bridgeport, said they knew the mayor was ill, but had no idea how grave the ailment was.

“I was a little shocked because I didn’t know the extent of his illness,” said Tracey Ann Fraser, who has been Lee’s next-door neighbour for the past two years.

“I am saddened,” added Richard Leach, her partner.

They described Lee and his wife Aneita as very good neighbours who kept them up-to-date with happenings in the municipality.

When the Observer team met 18-year-old Shantel Haase and 22-year- old Amoy Williams walking in the community yesterday morning, it was the first time they were hearing the news. Their jaws dropped and their eyes widened.

“He died?” Williams gave out.

“Today?” Haase asked.

“It’s shocking. I knew he was away, but I thought he was back because they recently fogged the place and my father said they only do that when the mayor is here,” Haase said.

Just as incredulous was Kemar James, who lives on the same street as the late mayor.

“Today? Wow!”

“He was a friendly guy, easy to talk to, both he and his wife. I’m really sorry to hear the bad news,” he said.

Daniel Gooden was picking up dried leaves and branches from in front of his yard when we arrived.

“I haven’t seen him for a while but didn’t know he was that sick. It’s a sad thing,” he said.

The upshot for an elderly woman, who gave her name as R Morris, is that Lee wasn’t killed violently as in a motor vehicle crash or at the hands of gunmen.

“We’re only but strangers passing through,” she said. “The Father knows best.”

George Lee late Mayor  of Portmore, St. Catherine

George Lee late Mayor of Portmore, St. Catherine

Two weeks ago the Observer reported that Lee had undergone a surgical operation on his back and was recuperating at a private residence in Florida. Then, councillor of the Hellshire division and deputy mayor of the Portmore Municipal Council, who has been sitting in Lee’s seat since council Leon Thomas, resumed in September, denied rumours that Lee was suffering from prostate cancer and expressed hope that he would soon return home.

Yesterday, he said he was taken aback by what he described as a sudden deterioration in Lee’s’health.

“I didn’t see this coming because his physical state was extremely good at the time,” he said referring to a threeday trip he took to visit Lee in Florida, two weekends ago.

“The council is really shaken up, having received the news, and we want to offer condolences to his family,” he said.

The news also took Keith Hinds, who unseated Lee on a Jamaica Labour Party ticket after his first historic term in 2007, by surprise.

“I kept hearing these little rumours that he was very sick, but it was nothing I could confirm,” he said, adding that when he last saw Lee some six months ago, “he looked very robust to me” and there was “no indication at that time that he was so ill”.

“I’m really saddened by his passing. It’s a difficult thing to see happen to someone who has contributed so much to the development of Portmore,” said Hinds.

Long before he won the mayoral elections in June 2003 at age 64, Lee had been fighting for city status for Portmore. In April last year, a month after he took back the helm from Hinds, the Observer reported on his political journey.

“He set up a Portmore Municipal Development Committee (PMDC) which began strenuous representation for amenities like light, water and telephones. Importantly, the PMDC spearheaded the long and tortuous negotiations for Portmore city status. Yet, the frustrations were many. People laughed at him, saying how could he expect to have two municipal councils in one parish — St Catherine,” the article said.

His dream came true in 1998 when Government made the announcement declaring Portmore a municipality.

Since that time, Lee has famously been advocating the placement of a hospital in the city.

For that, acting mayor Thomas said he will advocate that the hospital, once realised, bear Lee’s name. In addition to that, head of the JLP caucus for Portmore Shane Dalling believes Lee should be rewarded for what he described as his selfless service with a national award.

“We believe Mr Lee, dubbed Mr Portmore, who has devoted most of his life to the development of Portmore…should be given a national award for his work in Portmore from his days as president of the Joint Portmore Citizens Association to his elevation to mayor,” Dalling told the Observer.

Meanwhile, the president, officers and NEC members of the People’s National Party said news of Lee’s passing “placed a damper on the spirits of comrades gathered at the Jamaica Grande for the first meeting of the NEC for the 2013-2014 political year”.

For its part, the JLP, through deputy leader and MP for North East Manchester Audley Shaw praised the late mayor for “show(ing) to us all the power of advocacy and the importance of willpower in political leadership”.

Lee and his wife have a daughter, Claudette Lee, and two stepsons, Rojah and Andrew Teck.



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