Although I don’t live in Cayman anymore, I hear from Caymanian friends by email or phone so I learned recently of the National Hero award to Ormond Panton. I am writing to say, “hallelujah”.
Of the significant people I have known in my life, in various countries, in and out of the region, Ormond Panton stands out as an a unique man. In his commitment to his country, in his personal courage, in his determination to stick to his principles, in the clarity of his vision for Cayman, he stands head and shoulders above the crowd. From a youngster going to school on Harbour Drive to a politician in the Legislative Assembly, he fought injustice resolutely, sometimes earning enmity in the process. He went to court frequently over principles and always prevailed.
Everything he went at, Mister Ormond went full bore. I remember when I was writing for the Compass, that everybody in the editorial department was afraid of him, and Dave Martins was offered as the sacrificial lamb whenever the receptionist informed that Mister Ormond was on his way in. On one occasion, hearing he was coming, I recall the editor, Ursula Gill, heading for the washroom with the instruction to “Tell him I’m in a meeting.”
Mister Ormond was not easy, but in the first ten minutes after I met him I realised this was an exceptional man. Even if you knew nothing about his accomplishments, from the intensity of his speech, the topics he brought up, the knowledge of events and of human nature he displayed, you realised that this was an extraordinary individual. We hit it off from our first encounter; I was fascinated by him. Anyone who burns with intensity intrigues me, and Mister Ormond was an inferno.
Over time, as he opened up to me and as we became friends, it was clear that there was a book in this man’s life, and I told him so more than once. In a characteristic gesture, he would smile and run his hand over his mouth and dismiss the suggestion. But over time, my persistence paid off and one day he caved in, “Okay. I’ll do the book, but you have to write it.”
So began endless hours of the two of us, mostly in his office but sometimes at his home, in wonderful exchanges, with me probing, and steering, and querying, with all of it going onto cassette tapes (some of which I still have), and from that “A Special Son” emerged.
He wanted to call it “I Gave ‘em Hell” – which I thought was perfect – but I believe Miss Naomi persuaded him to make it more mellow.
During our work, more than once, he would pause, do his mouth-wipe thing, and say, “You know, I’m really enjoying this,” and at one point, a few weeks before his passing, after I had pushed him farther into some topic, he stopped with a sudden thought, stared at me and said, “You know, Dave, if you hadn’t come to Cayman this book never would have happened.” He was bit teary-eyed, and so was I.
There are all levels of love in the world including the love for someone who is so committed to something that nothing deters them from the course and in that sense, as I got to know him, I came to feel love for this man. It’s revealing that I never could call him anything other than “Mister Ormond”. I remember him constantly. I talk about him all the time. For my money, when you talk about Caymanian heroes he’s at the top of the list. Jim Bodden did more for the economy of modern Cayman, but Mister Ormond was the quintessential Caymanian fighter, even battling Commissioner Andrew Gerrard on a principle right up to the Privy Council and winning.
If you narrow the Caymanian heroes down to one, he’s the man.