By CLINT CHAN TACK Thursday, August 2 2012
A FRAIL former Prime Minister Patrick Manning, walking with the aid of a cane and looking gaunt, was mobbed by an elated but unruly crowd of PNM supporters on his return home Tuesday night at Piarco International Airport.
There were scenes of pure pandemonium as hundreds of People’s National Movement (PNM) supporters, from his San Fernando East constituency, surged forward when Manning, supported by his wife Hazel, slowly walked out of the airport’s north terminal following his trip from Maryland, USA.
Manning, who will celebrate his 67th birthday on August 17, had been in Maryland, since February 7, recuperating from a stroke which he suffered on January 23. He was receiving treatment at the Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar approved a sum of US$91,000 to pay for an air ambulance to fly Manning out of the country on February 7 to the Washington hospital.
Dressed in a long sleeved white shirt, black slacks and black leather shoes, with a harness wrapped around his right arm with the straps going across his back and attached to his left arm, Manning looked tired as he emerged from the airport’s north terminal at 11.30 pm. Hazel stood behind him, her hands supporting his back as he walked slowly.
As PNM supporters saw Manning, many of them — not heeding his frail physical condition — quickly surrounded him, all eager to welcome him home.
“We love you Mr Manning...I want to see the Prime Minister!...We missed you Mr Manning,” were some of the exclamations from supporters. Some of the supporters said they had arrived at the airport as early as 7 pm to welcome him and who stayed on even after learning that the arrival time of the American Airlines flight he was returning on had been delayed from 9.45 pm to 10.50 pm. Several of them had placards which had read “We love you Mr Manning”, “Amazing Grace” and “You can’t keep a good man down.”
Manning’s personal bodyguards, sensing the unruly crowd could have caused him harm, sprang into action and with the aid of airport security, started to move back supporters.
“Get back, get back!” a security guard shouted as he joined other guards and Manning’s bodyguards to form a human barricade around the former prime minister and clear a path through the crowd for him to get to his sports utility vehicle which was parked outside. “Give him some space...let him breathe,” were the instructions from the guards.
As the guards struggled to move back the crowd, Manning appeared concerned. The chaos spilled out of the terminal on to the road as the San Fernando East MP walked with a slight limp as he tried to get to his parked sports utility vehicle which was waiting to take him to his Sumadh Gardens, Vistabella home.
But when the path was made and he was able to move on towards his waiting vehicle, Manning flashed his trademark smile as he lapped up the adoration. “Oh God let the man go home and rest nah,” a supporter was heard telling fellow supporters who were trying to break through the phalanx of guards to touch Manning.
As bodyguards physically assisted Manning to get into the Sports Utility Vehicle, supporters continued to crowd around preventing the vehicle from leaving. “We love you Mr Manning,” supporters continued to shout. Manning waved back at them from the rear of the vehicle as it eventually left the terminal.
While Manning did not speak to anyone at Piarco, a post yesterday on his Facebook page summarised his feelings about the reception he received on Tuesday night.
“Thank you for the warm welcome,” the Facebook post said. Another post placed on Manning’s Facebook page read: “It feels good to be back home. I am happy. I thank God for his mercies.”
Key members of the Opposition PNM, including political leader Dr Keith Rowley; party chairman Franklin Khan; PNM deputy leader and Opposition Chief Whip Marlene McDonald; party lady vice chairman and Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox and MPs Colm Imbert, NiLeung Hypolite, Patricia McIntosh, Joanne Thomas, Fitzgerald Jeffrey and Paula Gopee Scoon; Senators Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, Fitzgerald Hinds, Dr Lester Henry, Shamfa Cudjoe and Terrence Deyalsingh were not at the airport to welcome Manning home. Party general secretary Ashton Ford was also not present.
The only sitting PNM parliamentarians who were at the airport to welcome Manning were Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne, Arouca/Maloney MP Alicia Hospedales and Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi who is also the PNM’s public relations officer.
(SEE PAGE 7A)