SCORES of school children stood in line sombrely yesterday, waiting for their chance to pay their respects to the late president Sir Ellis Clarke.
After all, "he paved the way for us today," says 11-year-old Sirrissa Hardath as she witnessed the changing of the guards at the Rotunda of the Red House, in Port of Spain yesterday.
A Standard Five pupil at the Guaico Presbyterian Primary School, Hardath, along with her father Seunarine and her little sister Sarana, admitted that they braved yesterday's mid-morning showers to be part of this country's history.
Clarke's funeral is the second State funeral in 30 years. The last State funeral took place when this country's first prime minister, Eric Williams, was cremated in 1981.
"I have heard so many good things from the news and from my teacher (about Sir Ellis) and I just want to be part of it, I feel anxious about the whole thing but I am glad I am here," she said.
Her father, Seunarine, added that as a parent, he wanted his daughters to understand and appreciate what this country was built on.
"Sir Ellis Clarke was the main architect of this country, he paved the way for us to be here and as a parent, I thought it was important for my children to understand that and be part of history,"
For many people the viewing of the casket lasted about five minutes as members of the protective services assigned to the area were hurrying along anyone who tried to stall the line while taking pictures of their friends and relatives signing the condolence books located at the Knox Street entrance of the Red House.
The two books, according to soldiers assigned to guard them, had more than 3,000 signatures by midday yesterday.
Martha Hagley Chandler told the Express that she was one of Clarke's cousins. She said she came to the viewing because she wanted to "pay homage to a great friend".
Celsus Pierre, who said his mother used to be a maid at the Clarke's family residence in Diego Martin, said he "knew Clarke to be a very pious and humble person who was always willing to give a helpful hand".
"I grew up with him and I have always known him to be a decent person, so I am not going to miss this for anything," he added.
Businessman and former chairman of the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), Ken Gordon said he wanted to pay his respects "to a man who has significantly contributed to this society".
"I did not know him personally, but he has served this country well and his death was a tremendous loss to this country," he said.
Magistrate Avason Quinlan said she felt a sort of kinship with Sir Ellis even though she did not know him.
"He went to St Mary's College and my son went there and so I feel that is something we share," she said as she waited in line to sign the condolence book.
Opposition MP Alicia Hospedales said she did not have an opportunity to get to know the country's first president personally, but felt that his life was one to emulate.
"The way he lived...it has challenged me to leave my own footprint in the sand," she said.