Over a 50-year career in sports, teaching, administration and politics, Lucille Seymour has racked up many firsts, a feat that has underlined her selection as one of the featured high achievers in Honouring Women’s Month. In sport, netball has benefited from her input.
Merta Day, Women’s Coordinator at the Department of Sports, said: “Ms Seymour is a past sports volunteer who has been awarded an British Empire Medal for her work in the community, education and sports. She was the first female chief officer in the Ministry of Sports and has been a mentor to many netballers in Cayman. She has been an educator, legislator and is also an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality.
“As a pioneer, a cancer survivor and a politician, she must be applauded for her enormous contribution to sports in Cayman. She broke many barriers and paved the way for many netballers, as well as others in our society.”
The ninth child in a large family, Seymour’s love for sports was influenced by her mother Maude and she was driven to be the first child and first female of the Seymour clan to enter college and politics.
As a young girl, Lucille had a strong interest in track and field as a high jumper who later turned to netball, where her sports career really took hold.
“I can remember competing against past Speaker of the House Edna Moyle,” Seymour says. “People paid a lot of attention to their children back then and parents got involved in events in those days. We loved to compete.”
Seymour was not lucky enough to compete at the highest levels like today’s athletes, yet her accomplishments are far-reaching. She assisted not only with the development of women’s sports, but sports in general, and the many firsts in her portfolio are proof of her commitment to women and sports.
In 1978, she was awarded the British Empire Medal and became the first Caymanian woman to be honoured by the Queen for her contribution to sports. She was also the first Caymanian woman to play netball at university level – the University of the West Indies (1971-72) and the first to attend a Women in Sports conference by the International Olympic Committee in Namibia (1998).
In 1994, she became the first female Permanent Secretary of Sports and Gender Affairs 1994-97. Over a three-year period in this capacity, Seymour recalls bringing together the 30-odd different sporting organisations existing in the country.
“By bringing all these organisations together, we were able to cross fertilise, share and express ideas. We talked about our strengths and weaknesses and how to improve what we had, including our facilities.”
Along with then Minister of Sports McKeeva Bush, six focus sports were established. “We recruited the technical directors for cricket, basketball, soccer, netball, athletics and swimming and introduced and organised departments and competitions, including inter-primary netball, cricket and soccer in government and private schools. She also facilitated the recruiting of a women’s affairs expert to assist in drafting a plan for women’s development in the islands.”
Seymour was the first president of a sporting body to host a major international tournament in the Cayman Islands – the 11th Caribbean Netball Championship (1988). In 1978 she achieved another milestone when elected president of the Caribbean Netball Association, becoming the first Caymanian woman to attain presidency of a sporting organisation.
She was also the first female principal and native George Towner to head a school and the first teacher of the deaf in the Cayman Islands. Continuing her slate of high achievements, in 2005 she was elected to serve in the Legislative Assembly as the fourth member for George Town.
The Cayman Islands Netball Association was formed in the 1960s by Reina Jefferson and Seymour was one of the directors who helped to register the organisation as a non-profit in March 1977. “I believe we were one of the first sports to do this,” she says,
Seymour is not only a founding member of the netball association, but has served as its president since 1983. During this time, she grew the organisation from 14 teams in 1983 to over 60 in all age groups today and introduced and developed the Under-16 and West Indies International netball series. She has also acted as a volunteer coach, umpire and manager for the past 30 years.
She has been CINA’s head of delegation to international games in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the Caribbean. Seymour also participated in the founding of athletics association in 1978.
Seymour believes that sport, like education, builds character and therefore it is the right thing to do for parents to involve children in some kind of sport. “It is not just about competition; that is important, but sport enables connectivity socially and psychologically with peers. The connection through sports builds leaders and great managers and empowers human beings. Every child, or person, regardless of cognitive ability, should get involved in sports.”
A diagnosis of tongue cancer 14 years ago did not stop Seymour’s pioneering work in sports.
She took on the fight with characteristic grit and is cancer-free today.
“I made a difference for women in sports and sports in general,” she says, in looking back over her career.
“Sport is important to everyone – in particular to young women.
It builds leadership skills, people have to work together as a team to achieve results. As an athlete, you quickly learn that you are an ambassador for your country, that you have to work in concert with other people and this helps women to gain confidence to interact with people from other countries.”