YCLA: putting family first


Husband and wife team Mark and Susan Merrill believe in family and want to spread the message that family should come first in everyone’s lives. 

The couple were the keynote speakers at the annual Young Caymanian Leadership Awards ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Cayman last week. 

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s YCLA event was Family: Building the Foundation. 

Merrill, a former lawyer, in 1991 founded Family First, a US-based non-profit organisation that focuses on strengthening the family unit. 

Addressing the audience of some of Cayman’s most high profile individuals, as well as the five YCLA finalists, the Merrills pointed out that before anyone can lead, they must first be able to love – a message that they said was as relevant in business and community work as within a family. 

“Our capacity to love will determine our ability to lead,” said Merrill. 

He pointed out that three M’s were important when it comes to being a leader – knowing one’s motive, method and model. 

When it comes to motive, one has to ask oneself, “Why do I do the things I do? Why do I make the decisions I make?”, he said. 

Citing an example that had some men smiling knowingly and had the women laughing, Merrill admitted to sometimes washing the dishes at home, so his wife would give him some loving that night. “It didn’t work anyway,” said Mrs. Merrill, to the laughter of the audience. 

Susan Merrill, who has undergone 11 surgeries for a weak heart and has had three pacemakers, said that her “faulty” heart reminded her every day that she was going to die. She urged the audience members to think about their own deaths and how people would remember them after they were gone. 

She told the packed audience at the ceremony that some people were easy to love and others – “porcupines” – were difficult to love. “When they feel love, you can lead them,” she said. 

The Merrills, who are parents of five teenagers, emphasised the importance of being a role model for one’s children. “We need to be role models in our homes, as well as in our community,” Merrill said, adding that the couple’s own daughters had told them that they fight when they see their parents fighting and are more caring and loving when they see their parents acting that way. 

“Our leadership grows in direct proportion to how much we love,” said Merrill. 


At the awards ceremony, Natalie Urquhart, the director of the Cayman Islands National Gallery, was named the 2011 recipient of the Young Caymanian Leadership Award.  

She says she is testament to the important role of families in a person’s life, crediting her supportive family unit of three sisters and her parents with giving her the confidence and strength to grow up to 

be a woman who faced challenges head on and who pursued her dream of a career in the arts. 

“My family is very, very close and really supports each other… My parents were really supportive of all our careers,” Urquhart says, adding that her parents urged her and her sisters to follow whatever career path they were passionate about. “They’re very proud of us all and we’re doing what we love to do,” she says. 

She says she also gets a great amount of support from her husband Sandy, who nominated her for the YCLA and collected supportive statements from her colleagues, peers and those in the arts and culture community to submit to the YCLA committee.