Anyone who knows the name Linton Tibbetts can be excused for connecting it immediately with his multi-million-dollar Cox Lumber Company operation or popular resorts in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
But the person hailed in 1993 by Cayman Executive Magazine as these islands’ “most successful businessman – ever!” is the very same one who, in 2003, was made an Officer in the Order of the British Empire because of his services to the community.
Those services go beyond financial contributions to a host of worthy causes. For the last 50 years, Linton Nathaniel Tibbetts has been giving time and attention to a cause so dear to his heart that it is probably second only to his beloved family.
The recent opening to the Little Cayman Marine Museum is just the latest chapter in the story of Linton Tibbetts as a preserver of Caymanian heritage.
He was chairman of the committee that got the Cayman Brac Museum opened in December 1983. During his speech before the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, he quoted the committee’s motto: “Not for you, not for me, but for the generations to come.”
That belief, plus Linton’s reputation for getting a job done and done right, persuaded scores of Brackers to support the project by allowing cherished family treasures to be part of the museum’s displays.
Linton was also quick to credit his committee and advisors: District Commissioner James M. Ryan, MLA Captain Mabry Kirkconnell, Captain Keith Tibbetts, Mr. Guy Banks, Mrs. Hilda Bodden and Mrs. Cynthia Scott. Hilda and Leslie Bigelman from the Visual Arts Society in Grand Cayman played major roles in the museum’s physical arrangement and cataloguing.
“For many years I had been collecting, buying and even begging for many of the items you will see here on display,” he told the large crowd outside the old Administration Building that was now the Museum. “I wanted to preserve a part of our heritage before it was too late….”
It was Ryan who confirmed that day that Linton Tibbetts had conceived the idea of the museum more than 20 years earlier, making numerous trips from the US back to the island of his birth to collect artefacts as they became available.
And it was Chief Secretary Dennis Foster who noted that Linton also brought Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sprain from Cox Lumber in Florida to carry out the interior renovations and redecorations of the building.
In November 1997, Linton and his wife, Miss Polly, built the Little Cayman Museum in Blossom Village. Once again, Joe Sprain and Leslie Bigelman shared their expertise.
This museum housed the Tibbetts’ collections and items the people of Little Cayman knew would help explain what life there was like. Exhibits include a variety of hand tools, notably those used in the ship-building industry by men like Linton’s father and grandfather, and a cabinet of fine china: commemorative cups and plates tracing events in the history of the Royal Family since 1897.
Then the whole Tibbetts Family got involved in 2008 after Linton bought a nearby no-longer-used church building. Children and grandchildren turned it into the Little Cayman Marine Museum, which officially opened on 27 June.
“It is a great honour for my family to have an exhibit of our father, Captain Theo, in the Little Cayman Marine Museum,” Maxine Bodden commented later. “From his early childhood on, his life mirrored the indomitable love and respect for the sea that so many Caymanians felt back then and still feel today. We are so proud of Linton Tibbetts for creating such a wonderful museum to keep these memories alive for generations to come.”
Scuba pioneer Bob Soto was happy to contribute when Linton offered space for some of Bob’s collection. “I decided I would give him two of my commercial helmets because it’s a very nice thing he’s doing and nobody else seems to be doing anything.” Bob described the museum as small, but laid out in an orderly way so that people can enjoy viewing all the exhibits. “I would like to see something like that in Grand Cayman,” he remarked.
One of his contributions to the museum is unique in the true sense of the word: Bob converted a motorcycle helmet into use for “hard hat” diving.
The way Bob and Linton met is typical of the stories scores of other Caymanians can tell. Bob and his wife Suzy went to Cox Lumber Company in St. Petersburg, Florida, — Mister Linton’s headquarters — where they bought materials for the home they were building
Of course, they were treated well, so much so that when they needed personal help they didn’t hesitate to ask Linton. They were looking for an assisted-living facility for an American relative and, sure enough, Linton pointed them in the right direction.
That side of the man is something people who know him will not be surprised at. The character traits of hard work, good business sense and concern for others are all part of who he is.
It might be tempting to analyse how he got that way, but Linton himself provided one key when he spoke at the Little Cayman Museum opening in November, 1997.
Minister for Community Affairs Juliana O’Connor-Connolly congratulated Mr. and Mrs. Tibbetts on their achievement, then noted the next day would be the anniversary of the ’32 Storm which brought death and destruction to all three Cayman Islands, but especially Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Her comment prompted Linton to share his thoughts. He was nine years old at the time of the storm, which lasted two days and brought tidal waves 75 feet high. Among the dead were his only sister, 19 at the time, and a baby brother, ten months old. He, his parents and his other brothers not only lost family, they lost their home. They had no food for 48 hours.
Jamaica sent a warship and the crew wanted to evacuate the Brac, Linton continued, but not one person would leave.
Government reports and eye-witness accounts provide details of what happened next – people salvaging lumber from their wrecked homes and rebuilding, everybody helping everybody else with just the basic hand tools and strength of will.
Appreciation for those kinds of hardships and how people worked to overcome them is part of Cayman’s heritage that Linton Tibbetts is preserving for future generations.
Linton Tibbetts by the numbers
Born in Cayman Brac 16 July 1923
Left Cayman Brac at age 17 to work in Jamaica and Panama before joining the US Army Transportation Corps in 1943.
After working in the construction industry, purchased half of Cox Lumber Company in St. Petersburg, Florida, for $1,500 in October 1949. First year’s revenue was $48,000.
Bought a second lumberyard in 1958.
Bought out his partner, who wanted to retire, in 1961 and continued to acquire lumberyards.
Began the first of numerous projects in the Sister Islands, building the first Brac Reef Hotel in Cayman Brac in 1972 with two partners.
Opened Cox Lumber in Grand Cayman August 1989, the company’s 15th store. The company, now under Linton Tibbetts’ direction for 40 years, has annual sales of over $60 million
Sold Cox Lumber Company to Home Depot in 2006. The previous year’s revenues totalled $396 million from 28 stores, 11 truss plants, 15 door plants in Florida and Cayman.
Material for this article is taken from Cayman Executive Magazine, October1993; Caymanian Compass, 1983, 89, 97; The Cayman Islands Sun, 1983, courtesy of the National Archive; St. Petersburg Times, May 2006; Government Information Services Queen’s Birthday Award profiles, June 2003.