A crowd numbering in the hundreds gathered in Georgetown, Guyana to pay their last respects on Tuesday at the state funeral for former President, Mrs. Janet Jagan, who died last Saturday morning of an abdominal aneurysm after being admitted to Georgetown Public Hospital. She was 88.
As family, friends and politicians gathered outside the parliament buildings to pay tribute, Mrs. Jagan was remembered as an outstanding citizen whose contributions shaped the nation.
“Death snatched from us an incomparable patriot and nationalist, an extraordinary woman who dedicated her life to the fight for freedom and for the social and economic advancement of all Guyanese,” President Bharrat Jagdeo said in his tribute. “Janet Jagan remained, to her dying day, a very approachable person, always willing to listen to the problems of the ordinary person, and ever ready to offer whatever assistance she could muster. She helped thousands of Guyanese without ever craving attention or public accolades for her kindness.”
Edwin Carrington, Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said Mrs. Jagan “served her country in tumultuous times and displayed a fortitude and uncompromising commitment to her ideals which ensured that she maintained her focus through the most difficult of circumstances”.
Carrington offered condolences to Mrs. Jagan’s family and the people of Guyana on behalf of CARICOM.
“Her invaluable contribution to Guyana will long be remembered,” he added.
The Order of Excellence recipient had been ailing for some time. A memorial inter-faith service was held in Toronto last Sunday and Guyana’s Consulate General here in Toronto has opened a Book of Condolences.
The American-born wife of the late former president, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, was president herself for almost two years from December 1997 to August 1999.
The women’s rights activist and journalist helped to form the country’s current government, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), in 1950, and was a member of its central and executive committees until her death. She was the party’s general secretary from its inception in 1950 to 1970.
Her varied career included being the editor of the Mirror newspaper; the country’s first female town councillor, first female deputy speaker and among the first women in parliament where she was also minister of labour, health and housing, minister of home affairs and prime minister. She also served a short stint as Guyana’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Mrs. Jagan ran successfully for the presidency of the country after the death of her husband in March, 1997. It was a highly controversial election and, at her public swearing-in, court papers were served on her in an attempt to halt the proceedings.
Her period as president was marred by political unrest with protests led mostly by the opposition People’s National Congress (PNC). An accord brokered by leaders of CARICOM in which she agreed, among other things, to serve for just two years, failed to stem the controversy and unrest, during which time the PNC boycotted parliament until July 1998 when she and PNC Leader, Desmond Hoyte, agreed on terms at a meeting in St. Lucia.
Mrs. Jagan’s presidency was also marred by a paralyzing public service strike in 1999. She announced her resignation in August, 1999, saying: “I can no longer offer to the nation the vigorous and strong leadership that I had sought to provide during my 20 months (in office)…”
Following her time in office, Mrs. Jagan continued to play a role as a patron of the arts and in helping to preserve her husband’s memory and legacy. As recently as last week, she attended a lecture in her husband’s memory.
A statement which was released Saturday by the PPP said, in part: “Mrs. Janet Jagan was a woman of indomitable will, unshakeable determination, perseverance and patience. Her contributions to the political landscape of Guyana will be remembered and revered as long as the Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo Rivers continue to flow.
“Like the late president, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, their lives will continue to influence young politicians in Guyana…”
Mrs. Jagan was born Janet Rosenberg on October 20, 1920 in Chicago, Illinois. She married Dr. Jagan on August 5, 1943. In December of that year she moved with him to what was then known as British Guiana and worked as a dental nurse in his clinic. She soon became involved in the labour struggle and as a member of the first ever union in the then colony, the British Guiana Labour Union.
Mrs. Jagan was an avowed Marxist/communist and is said to have played an influential role in Dr Jagan’s early political development.
She leaves to mourn her son, Dr. Cheddi Jagan Jr., daughter Nadira Jagan-Brancier, five grandchildren and many other relatives.
Mrs. Jagan’s body was cremated following the funeral.