Three years ago, as part of our Islands’ Quincentennial celebrations, the Cayman Islands Government created a holiday in January called National Heroes Day. Though many of you will have enjoyed the day of rest, relaxation and recreation, I’d like to remind you of the holiday’s significance.
National Heroes Day celebrates our strong Caymanian identity, and honours those who exemplify the highest ideals of national pride and service. Over 12 years ago, in 1993, the Cayman Islands National Heroes Law was enacted.
It officially recognizes the indisputable fact that we, just like other countries, have a lineage of people who have significantly contributed to building our national identity. We now have the means to officially record in the history books the names and legacies of these outstanding individuals, so that they can be remembered by future generations.
Since the National Heroes Law was enacted in 1993, providing for the naming of heroes, we have given the honour to two individuals for their outstanding service to the Islands. They are James (Jim) Manoah Bodden and Sybil Ione McLaughlin, MBE, JP.
Their lives are examples that inspire us and give us hope, and their contributions to the advancement of justice and equality in our society are invaluable.
Mr. Bodden was given this honour on 28 June 1994. Though Mr. Jim, as he was known to the community, passed away in 1988, he was regarded by his contemporaries as a visionary who helped to politically lead Cayman into an era of progress through modernization.
Mr. Jim was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1972, and served two terms as a member of Executive Council. As minister responsible for tourism and aviation, he was instrumental in establishing Cayman Airways and constructing Owens Roberts International Airport. He was re-elected to the Legislature in 1984 and served as a backbench MLA until his death.
Much loved by all Caymanians, Mr. Jim received the honour of a state funeral. In a moving ceremony in September 1994 a statue bearing his likeness was dedicated to him at Hero’s Circle, now known as Heroes Square, across from the Legislative Assembly.
Mrs. McLaughlin, who continues to be an active member of society and a living example of the noble qualities towards which Caymanians, especially our young women, can aspire.
Mrs. McLaughlin received the countries highest honour in 1996, in recognition of her contribution to Cayman’s parliamentary development, as well as to community life.
Among her outstanding achievements was her appointment as the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in February 1991, where her experience and resolve were appreciated until her retirement in 1996.
Mrs. McLaughlin entered government service in 1945, and was appointed clerk of the Legislative Assembly in 1959 – the first woman to hold this post in the Commonwealth. She served as secretary of the Cayman Islands Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association from 1965 to 1980. Mrs McLaughlin also undertook attachments to the House of Commons in London, and Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland, in 1966, and to the Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago parliaments in 1971.
Although we hold the names of our two national heroes in high esteem on National Heroes Day we in fact celebrate the heroism in our entire community. This was made clear on the inaugural National Heroes Day on 27 January 2003, when our country paid tribute to 500 nation-builders with the official opening of the Quincentennial Wall of Honour in Heroes Square. On that day, the black granite monument engraved with those 500 names was dedicated, and it remains on permanent display. The Wall of Honour forms part of Quincentennial Square, which includes the Wall of History and Mariners Memorial on Albert Panton Street, and Celebration Park, adjacent to the Courts. The Sister Islands have their own monument, the Wall of Distinction, located in the Quincentennial Park in Cayman Brac. The glass tiles of that monument are etched with the names of individuals who shaped the history of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
The names of the 500 Caymanians on the Wall of Honour were chosen by committees from every district of our Islands. This means that those honoured, both living and deceased, were chosen by their peers, family and friends for having made these Islands a better place, in their own way. Though each of these people lived at different times during our Islands’ history and came from all strata of society, they all have in common the qualities of fortitude and discipline upon which the Cayman Islands has built its success.
I encourage the public, especially the relatives and friends of those whose names are etched on the Wall of Honour, to leave flowers there in tribute to them. This symbol of respect can be done at any time of the year, but it’s particularly appropriate on Heroes Day.
With the example of our National Heroes, and our walls of Honour and Distinction, we all should be inspired to keep the memories of our founders alive. I encourage parents, grandparents, teachers and church leaders to teach our youth about those who built our nation. Now more than ever it is of vital importance to instil a sense of nationhood and connection to our past, in order that we can walk with confidence and vision into the future.
Finally, for those of you who work daily to make positive changes in the community, I salute you and encourage you to set an example that inspires the imaginations and aspirations of our Caymanian people.
Every day in our Islands, volunteers in the church or in community-service groups make changes for the good of our society. And even the smallest contributions can be heroic. I hope we can all work together to keep the spirit of our founders alive, and improve the quality of life in the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Kurt Tibbetts