Dana SAROOP Seetahal provided much needed and highly appreciated professional services to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) at “peppercorn rates which should make some (in her profession today) blush when they submit their invoices”.
This was stated in the tribute paid to Seetahal by International Criminal Court judge and former DPP Geoffrey Henderson read by Seetahal’s sister Susan Francois at the “service of comfort” held in “solemn remembrance of her life and work” at the Aramalaya Presbyterian Church in Tunapuna yesterday.
Francois is the head of the Financial Investigations Unit (FIU) .
Aspects of Dana Seetahal SC’s multifaceted persona were revealed as her family, friends and colleagues eulogised her.
From a public point of view, the population always knew Dana Seetahal was a frank, independent speaker, a fearless prosecutor and a formidable defence attorney, a writer who could “deconstruct” the complex legalese in her newspaper columns, a hard worker and a stickler for perfection who sometimes liked to buff, and a mentor as she schooled generations of lawyers.
But the average citizen also learned yesterday that Dana Seetahal loved and enjoyed life and had a playful side. We learned that she had her own peculiar dance called the “Dana strut”, that she liked good food, could cook a mean sada roti and curry chicken, was stylish and cared about her physical appearance and that she nurtured and cherished friendships.
Merlin Boyce told us that Seetahal was “thrilled to cross the savannah stage” as she carried the banner for UWI Birdsong during her days as a law student, that she was good at karate. Boyce said during their 40-year friendship, when they would talk about various things, “we would say ‘just like in the movies’. It is ironic that her end fitted such a description”, Boyce said. She noted that the country was united in grief in a way that it had not been since the Strike Squad.
All spoke of her love for the country and for her family. And her nieces and nephews described her as “superwoman”. “She pushed the limits of love”, one of them said, noting that she celebrated all their achievements and milestones.
But Henderson’s words about her willingness to give her legal expertise at “peppercorn” fees to the State also told the country and the legal community that Dana represented what every attorney ought to aspire to be, in every way.
The service was attended by politicians, members of the judiciary and people from every walk of life. Rev Daniel Teelucksingh, who was in the Senate for part of the period that Seetahal served as independent senator, delivered a sermon, trying at times to lighten the mood and ease the raw pain of Seetahal’s loss. He noted that she was more than Dana, more than a physical presence. She was an “indestructible force”.
“Well done, Well done, good and faithful servant, enter the blessedness and joy of your Lord,” Teelucksingh said.
Entertainer Machel Montano’s prepared a song, especially adjusted for Seetahal. Throughout the performance his voice was hardly recognisable as a broken Machel delivered his worse vocal performance vocally, but his strongest performance emotionally. “Dana, as a country, as a friend, as family, we love you...I love you,” he said.
Susan Francois said Seetahal’s friends came from all backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and religious persuasion. She described Henderson as a friend who was extremely close to her.
“It is difficult to speak in the past tense about Dana...She was petite and many were the jokes that referred to her vertical challenge, but Dana was a towering figure, larger than life,” Henderson said.
“It had a lot to do with her love...her deep love of our country, her understanding that law and justice were not necessarily the same, and the important of seeking justice...and above all the desire to give back to our country. For me, that is what made Dana so great”, he said.
Justice of Appeal Mark Mohammed said Seetahal, despite all her accolades, never lost the common touch. “She remained uncomplicated...Dana was the eternal optimist, and an avid reformer, who called a spade a spade with no level of personal animosity.
“Her legacy and true essence and spirit could never be extinguished by a bullet,” he noted.
Larry Lalla, who used to be in chambers with her when she worked with Israel Khan SC said she was the “life” of the chambers. “When Dana was in chambers, you knew by her hearty laugh and loud voice”, he said. He recalled the robust arguments between herself and Khan, who might say something “inflammatory” which Seetahal would challenge. But, Lalla noted she bore no ill-will to anyone. “Her heart was that of an innocent child, incapable of negative emotions and ill-will,” he said.
Former government minister and friend Christine Sahadeo, perhaps summed up the mood of the congregation, still trying to come to terms with the tragic death, when she said: “I wish this were a bad dream”.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar did a reading. Pupils from Seetahal’s old high school, Bishops Anstey sang “Who would True Valour See”.
Seetahal was described as a “treasure”, “a gem”. Seetahal came from Wilkinson Street, El Dorado, to “become a giant” in Trinidad and Tobago and the region, according to Lalla.
“She was not born greatness, but achieve greatness,” said Boyce. “She would continue to live with us all. And, Boyce added much to the delight of the congregation, the Dana he knew, “by now would be engaging St Peter in some heated debate”.
In short, Seetahal’s life and sadly, her death, are a lesson for us all.