From the tender age of 16, when he first began working, the career of Leonard Norman Ebanks has been characterised by his twin passions – life and the welfare of fellow Caymanians.
Yet no one, including himself, could have foreseen what a success he would become, including his recent recognition with being named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
A can-do attitude and positive outlook helped him surmount everyday challenges but also coloured his entire approach to life. It is not often that people who have accomplished so much, can look back and utter an emphatic, “No regrets!”
Coming from a long line of seafarers, Mr. Ebanks responded to the lure of the sea at 16. Circumstances did not permit him to finish high school; so he found himself on the deck of the Inauga Shipper, run by the West Indian Shipping Company, headquartered in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In a short time this enterprising, bright Caymanian worked his way up from ordinary seaman, the lowest job on the deck, to quartermaster – entrusted with tasks such as steering the ship.
“I sure learned my lessons in the school of hard knocks,” he said. He was soon pursuing a Third Mate’s Licence to further his merchant navy career.
However, a chance routing of his ship changed all that. Traversing between Houston and Trinidad his ship’s passage began to take him past the Cayman Islands every fortnight, and the pull of home proved too strong to resist.
“It was difficult to pass by every 15 days without being able to set foot on the Cayman Islands’ shores,” he said.
He went back to high school for a brief stint, but the harsh economic realities facing his family would propel him to seek full-time employment. Having a penchant for numbers, he joined the Cayman Islands Customs Department in an entry level job.
Soon after, Mr. Ebanks became one of the Cayman Islands’ pioneer seamen-turned-banking executives, when he started working at the Royal Bank of Canada, again at an entry level. This was the start of a long, distinguished career in financial services that helped him fulfil his dream of making a difference to the territory. It also cemented his commitment to community service.
Before his 30th birthday, Mr. Ebanks achieved the distinction of being the first Caymanian appointed manager of a branch of a major international bank with operations in the Cayman Islands.
Working as an assistant manager in Jamaica, and then manager in St. Lucia, also provided him with firsthand knowledge of the economic challenges faced by people in other parts of the Caribbean, something that he was able to put to good use when he returned to Grand Cayman.
He joined First Home Savings and Loans as president and chief executive officer, roles in which he continued for more than 20 years. First Home would later be known as British American Bank, and then Fidelity Bank (Cayman) Limited.
After that, he served five more years as vice chairman of the bank’s board of directors and now, even after retirement, still offers consultations to the board. He is proud that under his leadership, First Home was one of the first local banks to offer long-term housing mortgages to Caymanians.
His vast experience and keen mind also saw Mr. Ebanks serve on a number of government boards, such as the Currency Board, the Central Planning Authority, the Government Guaranteed Home Mortgage Scheme and Student Loan Scheme.
Acknowledging his exemplary character, the governor named him a member of Cayman’s first Anti-Corruption Commission, a position in which he continues to diligently serve. He also finds time to be a trustee of the Public Services Pension Board, where he serves on a number of committees.
As a member of the board of directors of Cayman Airways Limited for five years, and then chairman for seven years, he oversaw significant growth at the national carrier aimed to spur the Cayman Islands’ tourism potential.
Other public appointments included a stint as National Housing Development Trust chairman, and serving as a board member of Caribbean Utilities Company.
In 2001, he was named one of three constitutional commissioners to review the Cayman Islands’ Constitution, in recognition of his lifelong civic engagement.
Additionally, he has also been an active member of various service clubs. As a charter member of the Jaycees, he helped secure Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach as a public property. Meanwhile, as a Lions Club member, he has served the community in a number of capacities, with a special focus on sight conservation.
Mr. Ebanks served as a founding member of the Cayman Islands Bankers Association for which he held several executive positions. A justice of the peace from 1987, and a member of the Youth Justice Panel, he has presided over Juvenile and Youth Court for many years, dispensing justice to troubled youths and their families. His aim always: to be “fair and equitable”.
Retirement has not meant a quiet life, but he says he is happy to be actively engaged in furthering the good of society. “I am sometimes busier now than before,” he said.
Yet this dedicated family man also ensures he spends quality time with Carol Ann, his wife of 43 years, their two children and four grandchildren.
Both are active church members, and Mr. Ebanks offers his considerable financial expertise to the world body of their church, travelling to international branches around the globe.
Accepting his order of chivalry, Mr. Ebanks acknowledges with gratitude the many people who have contributed to the values that have enabled him to serve the community. He makes special mention of God and his employers, who graciously allowed him to participate in civic engagement while developing his career.
He adds, “To now join other distinguished persons who have been recognised is an honour that I will always cherish.”