Is this the hardest working man in the Cayman Islands?

Wellesley Howell is 98, but still goes to work every day

Meet a man who has worked two lifetimes.  

Shoe shop owner Wellesley Howell turned 98 last month, but that hasn’t stopped him from showing up for work six days a week. 

Most men his age were ready for retirement when the former musician opened up his store on Shedden Road in George Town 34 years ago. 

At the time, he was a spritely 64-year-old and already had more than four decades of work behind him.  

Now he estimates he has spent roughly 80 years of his life – double the average for most people in the western world – at work. 

And he wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“I enjoy it,” he said. “If I stayed home I would not be having the time I have here. I enjoy the atmosphere, I like to talk to the customers and to watch the people passing in the street. I feel so lucky and I pray to God every day and give thanks for that. 

“When the people come by here, mostly everybody calls me Mr. Howell,” he added. “I don’t even know some of the people, but they all know my name. Many days I have a good argument with some of my customers. If they are a Christian person then usually we chat about Christianity; if they are a sports person I can talk about that, too.” 

Mr. Howell still fixes shoes, deals with inventory, accounts and handles all the day-to-day details of the business. He is in at 9am every day and leaves around 5pm. Sometimes he takes a short nap in the middle of the day in his favourite chair by the doorway. 

He has no plans to retire any time soon. 

“I don’t know of anyone else my age still going to work, but as long as I am able I will carry on working,” Mr. Howell said. 

He says there is no special reason for his longevity, he just enjoys what he does. 

“I don’t have any special secret I can expose,” he said. “All I can say to the general public is, ‘good luck’.” 

Born in Jamaica, Mr. Howell arrived in Grand Cayman in 1958 as a musician playing with a jazz band in hotels. 

“When I started, I was a brilliant saxophone player,” he said. “I loved to play music and people loved me because I brought a different style of music to the country.” 

Alongside music, mending and selling shoes has been Mr. Howell’s trade since he left school. 

“Ever since I was a boy I got pleasure out of working on these jobs,” he said. “I have made my life out of this.” 

Mr. Howell has three sons, a daughter and 14 grandchildren. 

Renee Howell said work was very important to her father-in-law. 

She said: “My husband takes him in every morning and picks him up at 5pm. When we are away we arrange a bus service for him so he can still go in. He’s very determined he doesn’t even like holidays because it means he can’t go into the shop. 

“He is still so active,” she added. “We had to ban him from climbing fruit trees in his garden when he was in his early 90s. He was still climbing trees to get coconuts and bread fruit. 

“He still beats everyone at dominoes. I don’t know what his secret is but he has a strong mind and a strong faith and I think staying active keeps him young.” 

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Another day at the office: Wellesley Howell, 98, works six days a week at his shoe store on Shedden Road. – PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER
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