From when he was a boy growing up, George Seymour had a passion for helping his peers and others in the community.
Seeing his mother sharing and extending a helping hand to others, George grew up learning to sharing and care for others as well.
“It has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, I just like helping others,” he said.
Mr. Seymour put his life on the line for his ship when he saved it from being smashed in the harbour during a freak storm in Brazil. He was rewarded a month’s vacation with pay, which was good money in those days.
Highly motivated and an energetic and self-driven person with a passion to make something of himself, Mr. Seymour used his seafaring years as a stepping stone to establish himself as a successful businessman in the Cayman Islands.
Today, at 80, the local seaman and businessman spends time puttering around his yard, enjoying the beauty of his nature garden bursting with splendours colours of bougainvilleas. There with him are also his devoted wife, Norma, as well as birds, animals and passing friends who all contribute to his peaceful way of life at home on Kitty Avenue in Bodden Town.
Returning from sea, Mr. Seymour established himself in the community and worked hard to purchase several businesses, including a gas station, garage, land for farming and raising animals. He also became a carpenter and founding member of the Lions Club of Grand Cayman and was involved heavily with the Scouting movement and other community organisations. Mr. Seymour has received many allocates for his accomplishments.
“Ten years is a long time to send away the help of men from Cayman women, who took up the responsibility of raising cows, tending plantations, building homes and taking care of children,” he said. “When the men finally came back home, there was nothing much for us to do. The seafarers found themselves at a loss, floating around the island and out of touch with reality in Cayman.
“National Hero Jim Bodden saw it,” Mr. Seymour added. “He wanted to start a trade school at ICCI, but they were against it, that was because he identified with the men returning home from sea and saw they needed to be retrained. Caymanian men were cooks, chief men, pumpers, engineers, deck hands and captains. In a way, that was Caymanian men’s downfall coming back home. I lived that life.
“Some of us came back home and found no wives,” he said. “Different things were happening not only with the country, but with families. I found another man wearing my pyjamas. It was a shock to a lot of seaman, some people had changed, the government had changed, there was a lot of money floating around and a lot of people had settled from other countries. It was a confusing thing for us seamen, Cayman was a strange place. Before that, government provided for the men of these islands and it was no difference in who did what.”
That was when Mr. Seymour said he realised government was simply not thinking about seamen returning.
“We did not leave the island unless we signed an agreement with the government to send back money to the Cayman Islands,” he said.
Mr. Seymour recalled receiving two wages – US$127 per month’s pay and the little in overtime were sent home to the family.
Mr. Seymour said at any one time people could see lots of unfinished homes scattered throughout Grand Cayman. It was so noticeable, he said, that people started to inquire about why all the unfinished buildings were there.
“Most of Cayman’s homes were built by the wives and mothers left back home,” he said.
On one trip back from sea, Mr. Seymour said he heard something that had him thinking. The late former statesman Warren Conolly said that Southwell had slowed down in taking men from Cayman. That hit hard, he said, adding that government had sent him to six different countries that were involved in being a tax haven and the Cayman government was thinking of implementing similar initiatives locally.
“We were shocked because we did not know that Southwell had slowed down taking men,” he said. “What would we do? We could not come home to dig potatoes and raise pigs because Cayman was not the place for agriculture.”
Mr. Seymour considered himself lucky. He said he met good people interested in helping seamen and Cayman reach the right footing. Seamanship allowed Mr. Seymour to do something different in his career field, and upon returning to Cayman it left him with options. Through a school correspondence arranged by the ship, he was able to become a certified mechanic as well as become an engineer.
Growing up, things were rough for George.
“It was beautiful growing up; it was hard but good,” he said.
He said shoes were a rarity. There was one school house and that was located on Harbour Drive, which was run by Thomas F. Hill, a trained Jamaican educator and local teacher Unna Bush. All the children in George Town went there, some with bare feet, some with shoes. But he said everyone was clean.
For weeks, George and friend Stacey Solomon worked hard from 2am to cut wood before heading off to school at 9am. Considering they had to walk back home to bathe and get ready.
His father drove a pickup truck for Merren’s and he would pass by and pick up the bundle to be delivered to the person they had struck the deal with earlier in the week. In those days, firewood was a prized commodity because that was the only thing people had to cook with.
With the day’s work completed, the young Mr. Seymour played cricket with Stacey.
“What was so strange and beautiful about that sport is I can’t ever remember my parents or grandparents holding a cricket bat, but every child knew how to play cricket and every parent watching was clapping as if they knew what was taking place. The children looked forward to this sport and played it every day except on Sundays, when most people went to church,” he said.
Sunday’s was a day of peace and quiet. After returning from church everyone found something relaxing to do after dinner. Those who could read shared their knowledge of the Bible and those that had a radio tuned into BBC.
Christmas was the biggest happening in the community and everyone worked hard to acquire money. The late Ernest Panton made sure the boys received a couple shilling for Christmas by getting the boys chores around the community.
One Christmas was there was no weeding to do, but George raised as much as seven shilling. When Christmas came his mother took the seven shillings. “I did not think it was fair, but she did,” he recalled. “She went to Merren’s and bought presents for everyone, I received a balloon. For me Christmas hurt that year, but what was important everyone got something.
Mr. Seymour said he admired his mother for helping others. If a lady in the community had things to be done, his mother would send him over. To make a living, she grew roses and other plants. George kept busy watering plants, caring for chickens, sweeping leaves and cleaning the yard.
During his teenage years, Mr. Seymour said he became a mechanic, along with friend Billy Webb. At the time, he recalled only two car repair shops being in George Town and to learn the trade they would have to join one.
Ramon Martinez accepted the two boys offering them 10 shillings a week and put them to work. Mr. Seymour said he was only too happy to be working and earning a wage to help the family.
As the years went by, he worked diligently in the garage. During that time the other garage closed. Mr. Martinez decided he no longer wanted his garage and Mr. Seymour took it over.
Then he got the call to go to sea. He was 21 years old with a new wife and married two months and 12 days. Before joining the ship, Mr. Seymour arranged with a friend to build a better garage, promising to
send extra money home from sea.
“Southwell had heard Caymanian men were some of the best seamen around and they wanted their services,” Mr. Seymour said. “There was no rigging we could not climb, no boat we could not sail and every morning close to 200 men gathered at Burty Panton Main office across from the post office in George Town to get on a ship. We just wanted something better for our families; some men even cried because they could not get to go,” he said.
But Mr. Seymour said while even though they were able to achieve much, years at sea took its toll on Cayman seamen.
Derrick White he said was a great banker and mechanic and many others had come from other countries and had Cayman at heart. But of course Mr. Seymour was a stranger in his own country.
“We should not have gone down the road in the way we did,” Mr. Seymour said.
He bought land in George Town but had to give it up after it was deemed not good for cattle rearing after being used as a landfill. More than 200 acres in North Side devoted to raising cattle, goats and pigs also fell at a loss for lack of buyers for the produce and meats.
Those days there were not too many outlets for farmers to get rid of items, so he travelled from North Side to West Bay selling his wares along the roadside from a pickup truck.
In West Bay, he was told by a business owner he was 10 years too early because some of the produce would just stay in the shop and spoil.
As the years went by, Mr. Seymour got rid of the gas station, turned his rental car over to another owner and paid off the money he owed the bank.
“Cayman politicians can’t come to grips with what has happened and what should be done to correct it,” he said. “They talk about taking jobs, but who is taking jobs from whom? We were a people of our brothers’ keeper, now we have a bunch of people believing they are from Silicon Valley. Someone once said if you want a man to survive do not give him a fish but a line and hook.”