Climbing the Ladder Roy Bodden

Perhaps it’s not that surprising that a boy who once lived in a former garrison headquarters surrounded by history and inspiration became a cabinet minister responsible for education in the Cayman Islands, and now, president of the University College of the Cayman Islands.
Growing up in Guard House in Bodden Town, Roy Bodden wondered about the half-buried cannon in front of his home.
Asking around, he learned they had been used to guard the Bodden Town channel in its days as Cayman’s capital, and his interest in Cayman’s history and society was peaked.
As a youngster, he’d listen in on the stories told in his home by the men who came from the east, from Gun Square and from along the road toward George Town.
“In my bedroom I would overhear them chew the rag, as they called it. My mom would reprimand me for “catching gapseed” or eavesdropping,” he said.
“I wanted to find out more about us as a people, and hear of their adventures abroad as well.”
Working for Harwell McCoy, Bodden was a voracious reader, transporting him from what was at times a harsh home life.
He says his father was a man with two personalities.
“When he was sober he was fun, hardworking, and friendly, and then he would be a devil for months,” he said.
“He didn’t live to see 50. He died while I was at college. But irrespective of how he was, we loved him,” he said.
“And we had good family support, in particular from my paternal grandparents and my mom, who was known as Sunshine. But we were reared by the village, not like today. All the neighbours laid claim to the kids, and I became everyone’s son.”
With the encouragement of his headmaster Vernon Jackson and his mother, Bodden made the decision to go into education.
“In those days, we had very little, we had to equip ourselves as best we could with education,” he said.
Jackson was definitely an inspiration.
“I was struck by all the poems he’d read and all the lessons he’d give about life and applying yourself,” said Bodden.
“Yet at the same time he was unassuming, with no air of officiousness.”
After high school, Bodden attended teacher’s college in Jamaica, then worked as a teacher at George Town Primary from 1967 to 1970.
From 1970 to 1975 he then took on the role of principal of East End primary, which he looks back on as the best years of his life.
“I loved the school, I walked a mile and a half to go there and by the time I’d get there I’d have collected many of the kids along the way,” he said.
“I had a great relationship with the people there. I was a hero to them, my eyes well up when I think about that time.”
In 1975 he departed for Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, to study sociology and then pursued his Master’s degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.
Returning to Cayman, and joining the civil service, Bodden says he entered politics with some trepidation.
“Where I came from politicians were not held in the highest regard,” he said.
“I also told myself I had to maintain my integrity and honesty. My mother really wanted me to be a university professor but there was no money in that.”
During his last four years in politics, he put his educational background to use, serving as Minister of Education, Human Resources and Culture.
“When I lost the election, I’m actually surprised I took the loss the way I did after 16 years in politics,” he said.
“I did not feel resentment, I resigned myself, and with it came a feeling of relief.”
Having already written three books he recently sent another to his editor.
“Now I want to put out a new book of stories I gathered from the old men,” he muses.
But these days he’s more than a little busy in his new role.
Bodden says he already had a connection with UCCI, having advocated its transformation from a community college into a university college during his time in office. In recent years he worked there as an adjunct professor – and thanks his students for getting him the president’s job.
“My students used to tell me I should be the president,” he said.
“The Premier called me asking how he could get me back. I really did not have any interest, but he kept saying I beg you to consider doing something in education, he was persistent,” said Bodden.
Weighing the implications of such a decision, Bodden’s love of being an educator helped him make up his mind.
“I’m in the best place now,” he said.
“I want to help these students, many of whom will not go beyond the degree they earn at UCCI, to get past the insularity of living in a small place like Cayman and help them get a perspective of the world at large,” he said.
He wants to help them to see where the people of Cayman fit into the greater global family.
“We didn’t make this miracle ourselves. We just can’t take it for granted that things will stay this way. The world doesn’t owe Cayman anything.”
True to form, he has lots of ambitious projects in the works for the college.
“I’d like UCCI to be more than just a degree granting institution,” he said.
He hopes that by being exposed to different perspectives in Cayman’s multicultural society, students will benefit in more ways than just academically.
“I want the students coming out of here to be true citizens, well rounded and ready for the world, possessing respect for others,” he said.
“And I want younger generations and those people who have made Cayman their home, to have the chance to share Cayman’s history.”

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