Bodden Town is a close knit community and it is still coming to terms with the sudden death of one of its most popular youngsters, Gerome ‘Bird’ Graham, a 20-year-old footballer who died suddenly at practice last Tuesday.
Graham was one of the fittest players on the team and had no history of serious illness. Yet, he inexplicably collapsed at the Bodden Town playing field and was already dead by the time he reached George Town Hospital by ambulance soon after.
His aunt Dean Nelson said: “Nowadays you don’t find many kids with good manners, but Bird was one of the most well-mannered men around. He adored his mother and would even insist on hanging the clothes on the line for her as he saw her doing it. I would tell him to take his head out her lap because he was not a child anymore, but he would just laugh.”
Graham’s nickname came as a small child because he had a big, funny-shaped head and long, skinny body and the joke was he resembled the cartoon character Tweety Bird. He took it in good spirit and although a tough midfielder on the pitch, he was widely known for his kindness, patience and sense of humour.
A full-time footballer, he also coached and hoped to get a scholarship to the United States. His father, Coral Graham, was a soldier in Jamaica who died a few years ago. If a football career did not pan out, Graham was considering becoming a soldier in the British Army. Graham’s mother is Susan Blagrove and he leaves two sisters and five brothers. Gerome was especially close to his brother Justin, who is a year older.
Gerome occasionally did construction jobs through family business connections and work given to him by Cayman Islands Cabinet Minister Mark Scotland, who is also the Bodden Town Football Club president.
Nelson added: “All the kids are saying who is going to make them laugh now. He used to coach at the summer football camps and the small kids loved him because he was patient and made them feel comfortable and laugh.
“Mark Scotland helped him so much, as did coach Elbert McLean and Kennedy Kelly. He was always around Elbert’s house, who loves grilling and cooking for the boys.”
Coach Elbert said: “Bird was like family. I’d known him since he was in Year 3 at primary school and he came up through all the teams. He was like a brother to my son, Charlo. They were so close.
“A more pleasant young man you could not ask to meet. Not one day that child back-chatted me. He realised, like all the other players, that I was trying to get the best out of them and I had to be firm to do that.
“Bird was always around the house and in the yard. He liked farming, too, and last Monday he came around and we were discussing what we were going to plant to extend the garden.
“He was a funny guy, played practical jokes and impersonated people. He’s gone, but will never be forgotten.”
Jeffrey Webb, FIFA vice-president, CONCACAF President and Cayman Islands Football Association president, said: “It is with deep sadness and regret that I express my sincerest condolences, on behalf of the Cayman Islands football fraternity, to Gerome’s family and teammates.
“Gerome was a valued member of Bodden Town Football Club and the Cayman Islands National Team and will be deeply missed.
I will remember him as a very respectful young man that brought joy and laughter to those around him. During this very difficult time, please keep the family in our prayers.”
Kennedy Kelly is a Bodden Town Football Club vice president. He said: “Bird was well liked and very respectful. He trained hard and had a high work rate. Two hours before he died, one of our players, Yefry Calderon, said Bird prepared him something to eat. He was very kind.
“Our football programme is not just about winning. With the help of Mark Scotland, we try to create healthy minds and bodies, good citizens.
A couple of players have slipped through the cracks but Gerome was definitely not one of them.”
The funeral is on Saturday, 23 June at the Baptist church beside Pedro Castle. Viewing will be from 9 to 10am and the funeral is after that. Family from Jamaica and the US will attend, including an uncle who is a bishop in Jamaica.