Cayman’s only living National Hero celebrated her 80th birthday on 23 August with scores of friends, relatives and well-wishers.
Thanking them for their presence and kind remarks, Mrs. Sybil McLaughlin summarised ‘My life has never been dull.’
Her party was like an open house, with the Sir Vassel Johnson Hall at UCCI transformed into a comfortable sitting room by curtain panels enclosing half of it. Seating arrangements included padded benches, chairs and tables on which personal photographs were displayed. There was a dedicated corner for the North Side Kitchen Band.
Half a dozen birthday cakes appeared in succession, centrepieces for the trays of traditional sandwiches and patties. Two stands for liquid refreshments kept everyone replenished.
Miss Sybil’s son Gordon served as informal master of ceremonies, while son Chris and other family members mingled with guests to make sure everyone was looked after.
Many people relaxed and stayed the afternoon to visit, enjoy the entertainment and endorse the speeches.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush told guests of the drive to nominate Miss Sybil as a National Hero after she served for 25 years as Clerk of the Legislative Assembly – the first woman in the entire Commonwealth to hold that post – and after she was chosen first Speaker of the House, 1991-95.
Mr. Bush also referred to Miss Sybil’s activities as church organist and with Christian Endeavour even while working and raising a family. He thanked her for being a role model and for her contribution to the growth and development of Cayman’s Parliament.
‘She loves us, she loves these islands and we love her,’ Mr. Bush said.
Speaker of the House Edna Moyle hailed Miss Sybil as a mother figure and mentor, noting parallels in their careers. Both joined government service as clerical officers, worked as secretary to the Islands’ Administrator, and then moved on to the Legislative Assembly, where Mrs. Moyle served as deputy clerk under Miss Sybil.
Now MLA for North Side, Mrs. Moyle was chosen by her peers as Speaker in 2005. The most important thing she had learned from Miss Sybil was how to treat people, she indicated.
Mrs. Mary Lawrence, former president of the Cayman Islands Justice of the Peace Association, spoke of Miss Sybil as a complex woman – riding her bicycle to work in the early days and modelling a red suit on television just a few months ago. As Clerk of the Assembly, Miss Sybil wrote notes on proceedings and then typed them on a manual typewriter – no tape recorders or radio broadcasts in those days.
‘She is the one we have to thank for parliamentary procedure and parliamentary government in this country,’ Mrs. Lawrence said.
She added an historical sidebar many people may not know: ‘She is the major reason we have a coat-of-arms today.’
Miss Sybil’s offices took her all over the world, Mrs. Lawrence said. ‘Wherever she has gone, she has brought back something to improve what we had.’
When Mrs. Lawrence was asked to speak at an international meeting of the JPs, she went to Miss Sybil for advice. ‘There is nothing you cannot do,’ Miss Sybil told her. So, of course, Mrs. Lawrence made her speech and was subsequently asked to speak at an even larger gathering.
Throughout the Caribbean and the Commonwealth, just say the name Sybil McLaughlin ‘and you don’t have to tell them who you’re talking about,’ Mrs. Lawrence added.
George Town MLA Lucille Seymour brought greetings and good wishes. President of the Business and professional Women’s Club Velma Powery-Hewitt hailed Miss Sybil as a lady who combined kindness and great wisdom.
In between speeches, guests were entertained by the North Side kitchen Band, later joined by Andy Martin, the Cayman Cowboy. His memory-evoking lyrics included the ode to ‘Delworth’s Super Service’ – the popular gas station-plus operated by Miss Sybil’s late husband.
Entertainment was also provided by members of the Moravian Church, saxophonist George Roberts and a Happy Birthday serenade by two year old Dwayne Young Jr.
Miss Sybil acknowledged them all. She said she thanked God every day for her family and the fact that her home is in Cayman. One of the best things that could have happened to her was to see so many friends on her 80th birthday. ‘I hope you all continue to make your valuable contribution to the Cayman Islands,’ she told them.