Being Miss Cayman

 In September the Miss Cayman pageant committee announced it had cancelled its 2009 Miss Cayman pageant, originally due to take place on 26 October.

The committee said that the decision had been made due to a lack of funding. The Miss Cayman pageant is subsidised by $100,000 of government funding.

“I [am] disappointed that the strides I have made at both the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants will serve no benefit, as we will not have a participant at either pageant in the coming year,” Miss Cayman Nicosia Lawson said, adding that she placed in the top 16 in the talent segment at Miss World, and was also recognised at Miss Universe.

“According to many independent pageant gurus I was a shoo-in for the top 15 [at Miss Universe], which speaks volumes for a country that is not normally placed among the best in pageantry, whether officially or unofficially.”

Lawson also added that she understood why the committee made the decision it did. However, it would seem that this is not the first time in the pageant’s history that a year has had to be skipped.

“I never crowned the following Miss Cayman, there being trouble in the ‘contest camp’,” Donna Myrie-Stephen, who was crowned Miss Cayman (as Donna Myrie) in 1981. “Miss Cayman was selected by postal ballot.”

A Caymanian Compass article from the Tuesday, 4 May, 1982 issue is headlined “Donna Myrie: Miss Cayman Islands could well reign forever – trouble continues in contest camp”.

Tasha Ebanks Garcia, who was crowned Miss Cayman in 1995 (as Tasha Ebanks) had a two-year reign due to the cancellation of the 1996 pageant.

“Due to issues in the franchise there was not a pageant in 1996. During that time, the pageant was organisationally in a transmission which required a year of restructuring,” Ebanks Garcia said.

A Caymanian Compass article that appeared in the Friday, 25 August, 1996 issue, discusses the troubles that the Miss Cayman committee had in putting together the 1995 pageant. Because there were just three contestants, the pageant was downscaled and moved to a different location, leading to a host of problems on the night. Ultimately, that year’s issues proved to be a precursor to the cancellation of the 1996 pageant.

However, despite the fact that all three Miss Caymans interviewed have experienced – or will experience – two-year reigns, all three are complimentary about the experience of being Miss Cayman and representing the islands, due to a number of opportunities that the title presents its holder.

Community service
Lawson is pleased that the extended reign will give her “more time to work on community service projects which I was unable to undertake within the one-year spell.”

Community service is a large part of the Miss Cayman role, despite the fact that ‘platforms’ were only introduced to the pageant in recent years.

Myrie-Stephen recalls becoming the “Rotary’s Sweetheart” during her reign, while Ebanks Garcia relished the chance to become involved with the Junior Achievement programme, a cause she has remained close to ever since.

“I have always had a passion for the needs of young people and wanted that passion to serve as the cornerstone of my Miss Cayman platform,” she said. “Over time I became totally convinced in the effectiveness of the Junior Achievement programme to create change in young people and to instil a hopefulness in them for a better future.”

A few years after her reign ended, Ebanks Garcia travelled to the British Virgin Islands, where she spent six months assisting in the establishment of the Junior Achievement programme in that territory.

Broadening the horizons
Something that both the present and past Miss Caymans acknowledged was the travel opportunities that the title afforded them.

“Travelling with the Department of Tourism was one of the main duties at that time and I remember making numerous trips all over the world to promote tourism,” Myrie-Stephen said, adding that the chance to travel was one of the reasons she entered Miss Cayman.

“Travelling with the Department of Tourism on their promotional trips to the United States was definitely a highlight of my year,” said Ebanks Garcia. “I can remember thinking how glamorous the jet-setting life was and with every trip that I took I felt like I was a part of that life.”

The year that Ebanks Garcia reigned, the Miss World pageant was held in South Africa, and her trip involved a one-day layover in London, during which the committee had organised for someone to meet her and show her the city.

“I can remember thinking that I was the coolest person ever as I was sightseeing the city of London in an authentic London city cab,” she said. “[Being Miss Cayman] gave me the opportunity to meet, interact and live with people from more than 70 countries around the world.”

A trip Myrie-Stephen enjoyed remains a Miss Cayman tradition today.

“Shopping for the ‘wardrobe’ – all the girls going overseas on a shopping trip together with chaperones to choose the competition wardrobe. I remember I was 98 pounds, so nothing could fit me! So instead I purchased 15 pairs of shoes,” she said.

That purchasing decision was no doubt the early sign of a passion for fashion which has led Myrie-Stephen to open her Le Classique stores, which she now runs out of two locations on the island.

Lawson has met many friends from all over the world during her travels as Miss Cayman.

“The experience of being Miss Cayman Islands has not only contributed to my personal growth but has widened my contact base, as I have forged friendships with contestants from both international pageants and I have become acquainted with many well-respected persons within career fields that are of interest to me,” she said.

Shaping a future
Although for past Miss Caymans, such as Myrie-Stephen, the period of their reign is more than 20 years ago, the experiences the pageant and title afforded them have helped to shape them into the women they are today.

“I absolutely feel that being Miss Cayman has helped to propel and enhance my path in life in many areas,” said Myrie-Stephen, who is not only a businesswoman but also the director of the Batabano carnival and a volunteer with many non-profit organisations. “In 1981 being crowned Miss Cayman, having the responsibility of representing my islands as an ambassador, it was instinctive that I become the role model expected of me.

“My experience as Miss Cayman instilled the desire in me to give back to my community, to participate in charities and organisations for the betterment of the Cayman Islands. While my level of participation varies from issue to issue, my friends are always asking me ‘where do you find the time to be involved in so many causes?’”

Ebanks Garcia, who is now married with two children, attributes much of her success today to her past experiences, including, of course, being Miss Cayman.

“I believe that we become the people we are in part because of the experiences we have engaged in,” she said. “Before Miss Cayman I had extreme doubts about what I was capable of doing and I set my glass ceiling very low …

“I remember a high school counsellor asking what my plans were after high school. I replied that I would go on to university. After looking at my file her recommendation was that I reconsider and instead attend a college in pursuit of an administrative or secretarial career. Today I am in the last year of my doctorate degree in psychology.”

She added: “One of the pieces that I took away from the Miss Cayman pageant was that I can do anything and the only person that can limit me is me.”