The Cayman Islands were discovered in 1503 and since that time, what were deemed by many colonial powers as swampy, mosquito ridden land masses that no one wanted and could find no use for has become the pearl of the Caribbean and the wonder of the world. Such a fete can only be attributed to the people whose efforts along the way made the Cayman Islands the subject of regional admiration and international success.
With Heroes Day fast approaching, the Cayman Islands are set to announce five new national heroes, whose efforts will be immortalized and celebrated for generations to come. They will join two others who already have been named as such.
The story of how the Cayman Islands and its people came to prominence starts around the caboose in a fishing village where everyone knew everyone and adults were parents to all. It was a world in which smoke cans accompanied youngsters to school to ward off mosquitoes and turtle meat was sold on the road side.
It was in this setting, which consisted of no banks, accounting firms or hotels, that those who would lead Cayman onto the world stage and in the process become heroes, would hone their integrity and dedication to the values that can exalt a nation.
One such person – the first National Hero of the Cayman Islands, was James (Jim) Manoah Bodden, who was born on 5 October, 1930 and died on 8 May, 1988.
On 28 June, 1994, the Governor-in-Council bestowed the title on Mr. Bodden after legislators and constituents observed the need to foster the development of a strong Caymanian identity and the desire to honour those who exemplify the highest ideals of national pride and service.
Mr. Bodden has been described by his contemporaries as a man of vision who helped to lead Cayman into an era of progress through modernization. His political career commenced in 1972 when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly, where he served for two years as a member of the Executive Council.
During his tenure, he was instrumental in the establishment of Cayman Airways, as well as the construction of the Owen Roberts Airport. He was re-elected in 1984 and served as a back bench MLA until his death in 1988.
Cayman’s highest honour has also been awarded to Mrs. Sybil McLaughlin, who entered government service in Grand Cayman in 1945 and held numerous posts before being appointed Clerk of the Legislative Assembly in 1959 – the first woman to hold such a post in the Commonwealth. She served as secretary of the Cayman Islands Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association from 1965 to 1980, and undertook attachments to the House of Commons, London and Stormont Parliaments in 1971. She retired as clerk in 1984 and later became Cayman’s first Speaker of the House in 1991, retiring from that post in 1996. The designation of National Hero was bestowed upon Mrs. McLaughlin in that same year, when she was extolled as an ultimate role model for her contribution to Cayman’s development, as well as community life.
As Mrs. McLaughlin is the only living national hero, the Observer on Sunday had the privilege of sitting down to talk with her at her home.
“It was something I never expected,” she explained, adding that she just did things in a manner that she felt was right. She attributed much of her success to the care takers who taught her to play the organ and “be a lady”, her time in school in Nicaragua and the extensive travelling she had done.
“It was great to get out there and see the world and bring those experiences back home to a growing community and burgeoning country,” she remarked, whilst effortlessly exuding an aura of grace and humility.
The five new National Heroes to be honoured this Heroes Day include, Mr. T William Farrington, Mr. Desmond Watler, Mr. Ormond Panton, Mrs. Joyce Hylton, and Ms Evelyn Wood.
Other awards to be given on the day include the Order of the Cayman Islands Medal of Honour, which has three distinctions. These are Commander, Officer and Member. To be eligible, a person should have “rendered eminent service of national importance to the Islands or should have performed an outstanding, brave or humane act to a national of the Islands or other country,” according to a Cayman Islands Government statement.
The Medal of Merit consists of gold and silver awards and will be given to individuals who have meritoriously served the Cayman Islands for many years in the arts, science, literature or other fields.
Recognition will also be given to long-serving civil servants, excepting the police, special constabulary, as well as prison and fire services.
The National Honours and Awards Bill, which was passed into law in 2010 seeks to recognise distinguished service to the Cayman Islands community. Those who receive an Order of the Cayman Islands Award will be able to place their titles’ abbreviations after their names.
These honours, all of which may also be granted posthumously, will neither interfere with any granted by the Queen, the Governor or Cabinet, nor will they supersede any award bestowed by Her Majesty.