Couple celebrates 60 years
When Vernon told Francine in 1992 he wanted to be a marriage officer, little did she think it would lead to a whole new career built around their love of the people and the community.
After tying the knot for close to 7,000 couples in Cayman, marriage officers Francine and Vernon Jackson are celebrating their own union of 60 years. (They declined to reveal the date.)
After Vernon retired from a distinguished career in the civil service and Francine as a life underwriter, they began what would be Cayman’s wedding planning service.
Both 82 years old and still performing marriages, the couple has not stopped giving their best advice to couples getting hitched.
“Make God the central place in your home; don’t speak to each other in anger; if you have a problem, try to stay cool before you say something you will regret,” says Francine.
It all started on a motorbike
But who would have thought a motorbike ride to church functions would be the instigator in growing their love for each other.
“Because he was a teacher with a good education, in those days he was considered a big catch and he had a motorbike and the girls like that,” said Francine, recalling her courtship days.
“For a couple of years Vernon would take us girls to church on his motorbike, and one day we realised it was just me and him travelling on the bike and our love for each other grew from there. When it came time to marry, nothing needed to be said; we just got married,” she said.
“When we got married, the tables we used were one-by-four boards nailed together and the neighbours brought all the stuff,” added Mr. Jackson.
“People were poor in those days and a wedding present could sometimes be a coat hanger or a towel, but it was the thought that counted, not like today,” he said.
“In those days everybody came to a wedding. It was announced during church service and they just turned up like it was a regular service,” smiled Francine.
Vernon and Francine also remembered some amazing and hilarious moments from couples tying the knot in the 20-odd years they have been performing ceremonies.
“One couple marrying on the beach in swimwear just had two balloons tied to each other’s wrist, which read “just married.” After they were married, they just went for a swim and I could see the two balloons bobbing in the water.”
Vernon remembers marrying a Canadian couple. “She was 75 and he was 79.
When I wrote out the marriage certificate with their room number and Hotel Victoria as their place of abode, the woman exclaimed, ‘What will the children say about our living arrangement before marriage?’”
Another bride queried the word ‘spinster’ on her marriage certificate.
“When I wrote on the certificate ‘spinster’, ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘you called me a spinster – what is that?’ I responded that is the Cayman custom.”
According to the Jacksons, their most memorable occasions have been officiating at two of their grandchildren’s weddings.
Vernon grew up in Bodden Town and Francine in West Bay. The couple married in 1951 at the West Bay United Church and made their home in West Bay.
In later years when Vernon became headmaster of the Bodden Town School, the couple moved to the district.
They have three children: Joy, Jennifer and Andre.
Unlike most Caymanian men, Vernon did not go to sea, but instead chose to make his services available to members of the community.
After returning from University, he took up teaching at West Bay School.
His first pay cheque as a teacher at West Bay School was 9 pounds 19 shilling and 11 pence – that was after a penny was taken out for government stamp duty.
Out of that, £6 went to board and lodgings; £3 pounds went to make four trips back and forth from Bodden Town to West Bay to see his mother, which left him with 19 shillings and 11 pence as spending money.
“That was a lot of money in those days. We were poor, but everyone else was poor too. People just did not have much money,” he said.
“No one knew about cheques in those days; the postman delivered the mail on bicycle to West Bay along with my salary, which came wrapped in a piece of Jamaica newspaper,” he chuckled.
He is an OBE recipient and has held positions such as Government’s Permanent Secretary, Chief Education Officer, teacher and electrician.
Vernon also has been a role model to many in the community.
Heavily involved in the church in his younger days, he spent many days travelling around the Island to preach with his family.
His oldest child, Joy, now retired, also became a teacher like her father, and a chief education officer, a wedding planner and MBE recipient.
His youngest daughter, Jennifer, once headed the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority.
She is presently Cayman’s Information Commissioner and an MBE recipient. Both daughters are also former Miss Cayman beauties.
His son Andre went into private business and opened a printing service.
Mr. Jackson along with the late Teacher T.E. McField also started football and cricket sports in Cayman.
“I remember daddy travelling to East End to preach and the people would give us so much things,” said daughter Jennifer. “They gave us watermelons, heavy cakes and so much food stuff; it was like a picnic spread.”
Jennifer also said her father did a lot of fishing and spear fishing when he was not teaching.
“I remember him asking my mother what she wanted to cook that day and she would say, ‘go get me a little bit of conch or a lobster or get her some fish’ and he would go and get whatever she wanted to cook for that day.”
The wedding planning business
Francine started her career teaching at the Prep School and moved to an insurance company where she worked for more than 25 years. She was an active member of the community, even going out of her way to pick up the money for policies.
After retiring, she started the wedding planning business and became the first Civil Registrar of Marriages for the Cayman Islands, which gave her the ability to conduct weddings as well.
“My mum would feed everybody. It was not a Sunday she did not cook that she would not have a plate to take to someone, even up to this day she is still doing it,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer said her parents still have a chest of drawers they bought together 60 years ago. “They still have some of their wedding presents, which they use up to this present day.”
Francine and Vernon are still conducting weddings at their wedding gazebo and on the beach in West Bay.
Many couples say having Francine celebrating their ceremony is the next best thing to having their own mother present.