Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ma Pau staff grieve over loss

‘We spoiled her’

A gilded photograph and a memorial book are now serving as a tribute to murdered senior counsel Dana Seetahal at Ma Pau Members Club, where staff were preparing to journey to the wake of “a member of the family” on Tuesday evening.

“We spoiled her,” said Ma Pau’s Sherry Persad, as she described the trauma being suffered at the Ariapita Avenue casino, where Seetahal, as a member for 13 years, would stop almost every evening for dinner and entertainment.

“Once she was there, we took care of her. She was very well-loved here.”

The mood at the club has been “sombre and gloomy” since early on Sunday, when Seetahal was gunned down after leaving the premises at minutes to midnight on Saturday.

Bound for her apartment at One Woodbrook Place, not far away from Ma Pau, she was intercepted as she made her way up Hamilton Holder Street onto O’Connor Street, Woodbrook, and shot multiple times through the driver’s window of her Volkswagen SUV.

A notice on the bar counter at Ma Pau on Tuesday advised employees that a shuttle would be provided from 8 p.m. to take anyone who was interested to Seetahal’s family home — and now the house of mourning — in Tunapuna.

Since the killing and media presence outside the club, some of Ma Pau’s high-profile members have opted to stay away, while at least one employee has had to remain at home, overcome with grief.

Persad described the club as an intimate setting where Seetahal, who valued her privacy, was able to enjoy some light-hearted fun, away from the heaviness of her work.

“She loved her job, definitely,” Persad said. “But she really enjoyed herself here.”

During a tour of the club, Persad pointed to the “Cleopatra” slot machine that Seetahal played almost exclusively.

“She had her own parking space and we would reserve this machine for her on evenings,” Persad said, adding that in the hours prior to the murder, Seetahal was in good spirits and appeared to be “her normal self”.

Seetahal would usually, as she did on the night of her death, walk through the private alley at the side of the club as she was escorted to her car in the car park behind the club.

“There was nothing out of the ordinary, “ Persad said.

When she awoke to the news last Sunday morning, Persad said she remained in disbelief until she had seen several reports in the media.

“We feel like we still cannot process this,” Persad said.

Seetahal has left the staff with many great memories.

Marketing manager Anand Rajkumar recalled his favourite memory as having occurred during one of the club’s in-house competitions, which pitted members against each other.

“Dana was seated at her machine and when her name called, she jumped up, she was so excited. There was a kind of child-like glee in her and nobody would believe this was the fearless prosecutor.”

As she was also the club’s in-house lawyer, Rajkumar had on occasion visited Seetahal at her Port of Spain office and admitted to feeling a bit nervous about interacting with her in her official capacity.

But she was “Dana” to everyone inside the club, Rajkumar said, and had no airs about being one of the most prominent citizens in Trinidad and Tobago.

Persad, too, recalled being intimidated when she first met Seetahal years ago, but quickly found out what a “sweet and brilliant” person she was.

“This loss is too great to describe,” Persad said.

The interview with Persad and Rajkumar took place just one seat ahead of what was Seetahal’s favourite corner booth at Sweet Lime Restaurant, which is also owned by Ma Pau and where the slain litigator would sit to enjoy a cigarette while looking out on “the Avenue” or waiting for dinner.

If there was nothing appealing on Ma Pau’s daily evening menu of home-cooked meals for members, Seetahal would usually seek out the shrimp at Sweet Lime, said Rajkumar.

Anyone who happened upon Seetahal while she was having a cigarette would also find the chatty side of the outspoken former independent senator.

“She was also very generous with her advice to the employees and she wouldn’t charge them,” said the grieving Persad.

Ma Pau will be closed from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. today to accommodate employees and members who wish to attend Seetahal’s funeral.