KINGSTON, Jamaica – Hundreds of Jamaicans, young and old and from all walks of life, filed into the National Arena yesterday to view the body of Jamaica’s foremost cultural icon Louise Bennett-Coverley.
From as early as 9:20 a.m., people queued up outside the entrance to the Arena waiting for the 10:00 opening of the two-day public viewing.
However, they had to endure a half-hour delay due to the absence of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who was attending another event, the National Independence Day Civic Ceremony at King’s House, St. Andrew.
Officials on the ground said they thought Mrs Simpson Miller would have attended and, as a result, delayed the public viewing to facilitate the Prime Minister being the first to get a look at the cultural queen.
However, only Colin Campbell, Minister of Information and Development, and Dr. Wykeham McNeill, State Minister for Tourism, Culture and Entertainment, were seen representing Government.
Former Information Minister Burchell Whiteman and Opposition Spokesperson on Information, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, were also among those at yesterday’s viewing.
Nora Blake, who carried approximately 100 children from the inner-city community of Rose Town, to the viewing, said the experience for the children “will help them to shape and understand Jamaican culture.”
One woman who travelled from St. Thomas and who stood anxiously in line to view Miss Lou’s body said it was important for her to get a glimpse of the legend.
“Ah never meet in her life, so I have to see her today,” she said.
Family members, stepson Fabian Coverley, his son, Clayton Coverley and his fiancé and other close friends stood by the coffin as members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and members of the cultural community stood guard during the viewing of the body.
For some policemen who took part in the vigil ceremony, the occasion was more than duty. One of the policemen, who identified himself as Constable A. Gordon of the Mobile Reserve, said he considered his role an honour.
“Miss Lou has done a lot for us and for me to stand guard for just one hour for her, I consider it a privilege,” he said.
Similarly, Woman Constable C. Brown said, “Standing for half hour or one hour feels like just a second.”
The coffin bearing Miss Lou was placed in the centre of a vastly decorated National Arena, neatly embellished with Jamaican colours and the sound of folk music. Her coffin was strung with medals signifying the Order of Merit and Order of Jamaica that were bestowed on her by the Government of Jamaica for her contribution to culture and social development before her death.
Despite the late start to the public viewing, persons who arrived after the designated cut-off time of 3:00 p.m. missed out on seeing the body.
To the whispering sounds of Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross, a bearer party of 10 police sergeants hoisted the coffin, draped in the national flag, on to their shoulders before placing it in a black hearse.
Miss Lou died on July 26 at the Scarborough Grace Hospital in Toronto, Canada, at age 86.
She was accorded an official funeral yesterday at the Coke Methodist Church in Kingston. Her body was be buried beside her husband, actor Eric ‘Chalk Talk’ Coverley, at the National Heroes Park in Kingston.