July 18, 2004

State funeral for nation's third PM

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -- Hugh Shearer, a prominent labor union leader who became Jamaica's third prime minister and steered the island through the early stages of independence, was laid to rest Sunday in a state funeral.

Thousands of Jamaicans and soldiers in crimson uniforms lined the streets as Shearer's flag-draped casket wound its way from Kingston's Holy Trinity Cathedral to the National Heroes' Park, where he was buried.

Shearer, prime minister from 1967 to 1972, died at his Kingston home on July 5 at age 81 after a long illness, sparking an outpouring of grief on the Caribbean island of 2.6 million.

"He saw himself as a person whose gifts should be used primarily in service to his people," Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said in his eulogy.

Other political leaders on hand included opposition leader Edward Seaga and Governor General Sir Howard Cooke, as well as Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent.

Alvin Curling, speaker of the House in Ontario, Canada, also attended.

Following the memorial service, soldiers fired a 19-round salute and mourners wept silently as Shearer's casket was lowered into the ground.

"I can readily say that I have never known anyone in public life easier to get along with," said Seaga, prime minister from 1980-1989, who choked up several times during his tribute. "Hugh Shearer never promoted himself."

Born of humble origins in rural Jamaica in 1923, Shearer began in his public life in the 1940s by joining the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, the island's largest.

He entered politics with the Jamaica Labor Party soon after, and was appointed prime minister in 1967 after his predecessor, Donald Sangster, died in office. Five years before, Jamaica gained independence from Britain.

Many credited Shearer with overseeing one of Jamaica's most stable economic periods since independence and for building dozens of primary schools. The economy grew at an average of 6 percent during his time in office, compared to 2.1 percent in 2003.

Shearer's administration, however, was criticized for allegedly trying to suppress Jamaica's black power movement.

In 1968, hundreds of university students marched through the streets of Kingston after Shearer prevented Walter Rodney, a Guyanese lecturer and black activist at the University of the West Indies, from getting off a plane in Kingston.

Shearer, a light-skinned black, had accused Rodney of trying to instigate violence among young black Jamaicans. He also banned the sale of black power books.

Shearer's government lost the 1972 elections to the People's National Party, led by Michael Manley, Shearer's distant cousin.

After his defeat, Shearer continued to be active in politics. When his party regained power in 1980, he was appointed foreign minister, a post he held until 1986.

Shearer is survived by his wife, Denise Shearer, and two children from a previous marriage.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.