Visitors will no longer be able to see local icon Cleopatra Conolly telling tales of Cayman’s past and its culinary history in her usual seat at the Morritt’s timeshare resorts in East End.
Miss Cleo – as she is affectionately known by most people – served as the head chef at the resort’s kitchen through its various incarnations for 32 years. Sje has regaled guests with her stories and her culinary wisdom since she retired nine years ago and was appointed ‘ambassador’ of Morritt’s.
She said she was told by resort owner David Morritt earlier this month not to return to the resort unless she is invited.
‘He said ‘I cannot afford to pay you to come to the club and sit down and do nothing’,’ she said.
Miss Cleo, when she was given the post as ambassador for the resort, was given a letter by then-manager Chris Bowen, who has since died, stating she would receive a salary of $350 a week for life, regardless of whether she attended the resort.
General manager of Morritt’s, Dutch Hoffman, insisted Miss Cleo had not been fired and would continue to get her weekly pay and be sent lunch every day from the resort.
‘She is still being paid her full salary. She does not have to be [at the resort]. It is a situation where, whether she is there or not, she is guaranteed her salary for life,’ Mr. Hoffman said.
Mr. Hoffman added that the company had decided that it would be better for the 83-year-old’s health if she did not come to work each day.
He said guests would still be told where she lived if they wanted to visit her or get her to sign her cookbook ‘Miss Cleo’s Kitchen’, which is on sale at the resort.
But Miss Cleo, sitting outside her cottage home in Gun Bay on Saturday, claimed she knew nothing of the plans to retire her from active duty before Mr. Morritt came to her home on Saturday, 3 January.
‘I was shocked,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know anything about it until then.’
She said she feels well enough to carry on working at Morritt’s, though was willing to put in fewer hours, and said she would go back to her post if she were asked. ‘But I was never offered an option… I’ll really miss talking to the guests.’
Miss Cleo, who has been suffering from eye problems and is blind in one eye since developing temporal arthritis – which involves the inflammation of an artery at the side of the head – in recent months, said: ‘I don’t need my eyes to talk to guests.’
Regular guest Nancy Ball is furious at the decision to remove Miss Cleo, saying the octogenarian played a major role in life at Morritt’s.
‘We were looking forward to seeing her. This is our third trip. It’s so wonderful to see her familiar face. I bought her cookbook and used a lot of her recipes. She is just an icon.
‘Staff didn’t even seem to know she was gone, they were still directing new guests during their orientation last Monday to Miss Cleo’s corner in the lobby. That has since been taken down.’
She added: ‘We loved seeing her, she always looked a million dollars. ‘I’m not coming back here, I am so upset.’
Mr. Morritt could not be reached for comment by press time.