New Year’s honours

Governor Stuart Jack has named two Caymanians to be awarded the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour. Dr. Alfred Benjamin is honoured for his service to agriculture; Sarah Alice Mae Coe is honoured for her service to the community.

Dr. Alfred Benjamin

Dr. Alfred Benjamin, an agriculture and veterinary pioneer in the Cayman Islands, ascribes to the philosophy ‘country before self.’ For his services in the field of agriculture, he has been awarded the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour.

During his nearly 20 years as Chief Agricultural and Veterinary Officer, he has presided over the tremendous growth of the Department of Agriculture, from 20 to 60 employees; and has been instrumental in implementing controls and regulations that help to protect these Islands from the introduction of pests and diseases.

After assuming his CAVO duties in 1988, Dr. Benjamin assisted with the strategic development of a then-fledgling agricultural sector. He ushered in the first five-year strategic plan for Cayman’s agricultural development, which laid the groundwork for rapid improvements within the sector, as well as the strengthening of the DoA. Dr. Benjamin then directed successive five-year periods of continued development, until his retirement on 1 December 2007.

As a result of these strategies, farmers who once raised livestock and produce for subsistence have begun commercial farming operations.

Embracing the daily and long-term challenges associated with a newly developing sector, Dr. Benjamin engaged the cooperation of local stakeholders in protecting our borders from diseases such as rabies; foot and mouth disease; West Nile Virus; avian influenza; and for 12 years, the pink hibiscus mealybug.

During his tenure he also played a pivotal role in maintaining strong ties with the Florida Department of Agriculture, and the Jamaica Ministry of Agriculture. Dr. Benjamin also was instrumental in establishing relationships with regional partners, such as the Caribbean Institute for Research and Development; the Food and Agriculture Organisation; the Pan American Health Organisation; and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

Other accomplishments include initiating and concluding discussions with St. Matthew’s University regarding the introduction of a veterinary school. Dr. Benjamin supported its charter in 2005, leading to the opening of a veterinary teaching hospital at the DoA complex in Lower Valley in 2007.

His accomplishments also include the start-up of the first farmer’s market; establishing a new animal rescue shelter; enhancing local plant propagation; facilitating the introduction of tissue culture material for economic and disease-free plant propagation; and overseeing the construction and opening of an abattoir.

Dr. Benjamin was born in Maraval, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1945. He graduated from the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, Trinidad, with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture in 1969; and from the University of Guelph, in Ontario, with a doctor of veterinary medicine degree in 1979, and a master’s in clinical reproductive physiology in1980.

He has lectured extensively on livestock production and health, botany, and zoology within the Caribbean region; and conducted research in animal production in several Eastern Caribbean islands.

Dr. Benjamin has also spent much time mentoring young Caymanians on the job, as well as others who expressed interest in agricultural and veterinary studies. ‘My dr.eam,’ he says, ‘is to set up a private facility so that these youngsters can continue to learn and serve in a practical environment when they return home from their studies.’

A man with a huge passion for family, he enjoys hosting friends and relatives in his home. He’s married to Rhonda Benjamin (née Ross), with whom he has two daughters, Olivia and Liana. He also has a daughter and son, Cavelle and Robin, from a previous marriage.

Dr. Benjamin, a former Rotarian who still conducts his personal and professional affairs according to the tenets of the Rotary four-way test, enjoys being outdoors, taking care of his garden, and swimming. He is a big lover of soccer. Dr. Benjamin also performs the duties of an elder at the Savannah United Presbyterian Church.

Mrs. Sarah Alice Mae Coe

With a profound sense of dedication to family and country, Mrs.. Sarah Alice Mae Coe has served the Cayman Islands for more than 40 years. For her service to the community, she has been awarded the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour.

‘I accept this recognition with great humility. I like to serve quietly and without fanfare, but I am proud of this honour,’ she said.

Mrs. Coe, who is the community liaison officer for Walkers, volunteers on numerous committees regarding the environment, youth development, heritage, education and justice. Her commitment to serve is grounded in having been raised by a Christian family, where her mother’s gentle, yet strong guidance taught her that it is better to give than to receive.

Her social conscience was further honed as she helped her mother with daily community service activities, many of them through the West Bay Presbyterian Church.

‘I developed a community spirit by the way I was brought up. I was taught that no matter how difficult life was for me, there was always someone less fortunate and it was my God-given duty to reach out,’ she said.

Mrs. Coe (née Jackson) was born on 18 January 1946 in West Bay. She was educated at Miss Izzy Powell’s private school; the government school in West Bay Town Hall, and subsequently in George Town; and at Cayman High School (later renamed Cayman Islands High School).

An exceptional student, she was the last and only successful candidate in the Cambridge Overseas Exams in 1963, after which she went on to do business and commercial studies. She also completed three years of the Jamaica Local Exams.

Today Mrs. Coe is a member and elder of John Gray Memorial Church, serving on its Facilities, Family Life and Mission Outreach committees. She has also been involved as a Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teacher.

She chairs the West Bay District Committee of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands; and the Concerned Citizens Group (through which she is a member of the Non-Governmental Organisation’s Constitutional Working Group).

Mrs. Coe also is deputy chair of the Cayman Islands Beautification Committee, representing West Bay; a board member for the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO); and a tutor with the Cayman Islands Reading Aides, which provides tutoring at Her Majesty’s Prisons as well as in the wider community. She is a member of Walkers’ Green Committee; and has been a member of the West Bay Heritage Day Committee and the Quincentennial Committee.

Furthermore, Mrs. Coe participates in the Chamber of Commerce’s Mentoring Programme. ‘It is up to us adults to encourage character building in our young people, as this can make a huge difference in the lives of these children and impact our society positively,’ she said

Living that truth by example, she and her late husband, Elgin, raised sons Steven and Brian, and one foster son, Peter. Mrs. Coe added that her grandson, Ethan, was born to Steven and his wife, Nicole, three days before Mrs. Coe’s 60th birthday. ‘He was the best birthday gift ever, and confirmation that God is good, all the time!’ she said.

Her duty to service also extends to politics, with Mrs. Coe making two runs to represent West Bay in the Legislative Assembly. Her role as an advocate for the people of her country has also transported her into the international arena: In 2003 and 2004 she, along with others from the NGO Constitutional Working Group, represented the Concerned Citizens Group before the UN.

‘It was Ghandi who said the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others,’ Mrs. Coe said. She also believes that Sir Winston Churchill had it right when he said, ‘You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.’