As Lilla Roberts celebrated her 104th birthday yesterday with family, friends and parishioners at her church, she credited her long life to God.
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Outpouring of love for Dana
“I love you... how could you leave so soon...” Soca star Machel Montano shed his showbiz clothes, tamed his locks up and donned a black suit to croon that goodbye melody to slain senior counsel Dana Seetahal at yesterday’s funeral service. Montano’s appearance, accompanying himself on keyboard, highlighted the two-hour plus funeral service at Aramalaya Presbyterian Church, Tunapuna. The church was packed to overflowing with dignitaries for the 5 pm funeral. Crowds also gathered in tents outside the church and on the road. Montano, who was Seetahal’s client, had been among those who rushed to the scene of the crime last Sunday after Seetahal was assassinated in Woodbrook just after midnight. At yesterday’s service, Montano, wearing dark shades, told the congregation he met Seetahal several years ago and they had formed a “family” in which she had been the matriarch.
He said after the murder he asked his attorney Keith Scotland, another of her colleagues, “who will take care of us now?” Montano, who sang the tune emotionally and soulfully, said he had composed and adapted it for the funeral. There was applause not only for that rendition but also for some of the tributes paid to Seetahal, particularly by her young nieces and nephews. Her nephew, Devanan Persad, won a strong murmur of agreement from the congregation when he said: “There has never been and never will be a calibre of bullet or ammunition to extinguish my aunt in any way. “You can’t kill an idea with a bullet, it’s impossible and aunty Dana was an idea.”
Persad added: “She lives in your consciousness. This is just the body, bullet can’t do that (kill an idea).” Persad said the Hebrew meaning of Seetahal’s first name was “God is My Judge”. He added: “So her name will live on...” Other nephews and nieces—Antal Teemul, Sathyam Seetahal, Melissa Persad, Lendl Persad and Phillipe Francois — described Seetahal as a great aunt, a role model and “a superwoman.” They remembered her as a lover of family gatherings and organiser of Christmas dinners, an ace scrabble and chess player. At least two, including her nephew who lived with her at one time when he attended UWI, struggled with emotions but remained calm. Another niece, Dr Janine Seetahal, who did a scripture reading, ended with a breaking voice. Seetahal’s niece, Leanna, who practised law at Seetahal’s chambers, said: “I wish you peace aunty...” Another niece, Danielle Francois, sat in the front pew, solemnly hugging a large teddy bear.
Siblings struggle with emotion
Seetahal’s sister, Susan Francois, who delivered the eulogy, read a tribute to Seetahal sent by her colleague of many years, former DPP Geoffrey Henderson, who is now a judge at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Francois said Henderson was extremely close to Seetahal and had sent the tribute, entitled “A National Treasure”. Henderson, in the tribute read by Francois, stated that Seetahal had a deep love of T&T and a huge desire to give back to T&T and make it a better place. “She loved public service,” Henderson stated. He said Seetahal had done a lot of work for the DPP’s office at peppercorn rates and had mentored lawyers, young and older, and shared her experience freely. “We marvelled at her tremendous work ethic... she was formidable in court,” he said. Henderson said when Seetahal took “silk”, assumed the status of senior counsel, none questioned the decision and many thought it should have been given sooner.
“Dana’s silk was true silk,” Henderson noted. His tribute noted Seetahal was also a good resource to the Caricom criminal justice system. Henderson said Seetahal had loved writing the newspaper columns she did and gave careful thought to each and their selection, clarifying complex issues and those which were obfuscated by others. He said her nickname was “Seets” and though sometime rough, she didn’t have a bad bone in her body. “She was honest, loyal, fair and fearlesss. Her murder by gutless cowards has left a deep void,” Henderson said, adding Seetahal’s parents had given T&T a national treasure. Francois, after concluding Henderson’s tribute, said up to last Sunday morning she had five sisters, “Now I have four.” Saying Seetahal was the family’s guiding light, Francois added: “I can speak words of the loss and devastation we feel but they would be woefully inadequate. “We will shed tears that she has gone, but we will smile because she has lived. We will open our eyes and see all she has left and we will cherish her memory and let it live on.”
Francois, though looking strained, maintained her composure through the delivery. But when Francois concluded her contribution in a slightly shaky voice, “Go with God, my sister ...,” her bespectacled brother in the pew behind hers, broke down and held his head in his hands. Seetahal’s law school mate, Merlin Boyce, elicited smiles when she related how Seetahal enjoyed facials, designer clothes and hair styling. Boyce spoke about how both might have ended up at the Red House on July 27, 1990 to see former schoolmate Joseph Toney, but Seetahal had said the Parliament was “too boring...” Rev Daniel Teelucksingh, delivering a stirring sermon, elicited nods including from the Chief Justice Ivor Archie when he said: “T&T is no easy place to govern.” Also on the programme were prayers by RC priest Fr Clyde Harvey and Pundit Rhandir Maharaj. Attendees comprised a who’s who of the legal, political and law enforcement hierarchy. Among the PP and PNM leaders were Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith, former president George Maxwell Richards, Foreign Affairs Minister (Tunapuna MP) Winston Dookeran, Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie, National Security Minister Gary Griffith, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, PCA head Gillian Lucky, UWI principal Clem Sankat, Justice Vashist Kokaram, attorney Martin Daly, PNM’s Dr Keith Rowley, Amery Browne, Nafeesa Mohammed and others.