Cathy Gomez’s role as chaplain at Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward is only the latest in a string of unplanned developments, which have involved some of the Cayman Islands’s more colourful characters of the past decade.
She was chief operating officer for Craig Brown, the short-lived Heath Services Authority CEO, who fired her in 2006, then himself ran foul of political pressures in a prolonged public drama, fired before finally returning to his native Canada the same year.
She – like dozens of other high-profile local figures – worked for Desmond Seales, larger-than-life personality and newspaper owner. She still pens a column for the weekly publication.
She authored a book, “Coping with Sudden Job Loss”, her 2007 thesis for her St. Stephen’s College, Canada, master’s degree in pastoral psychology and counselling, which was published worldwide in 2010. That, in turn, led to guest lectures, regular classroom appearances at the University College of the Cayman Islands and her role at Northward.
She ran a private counselling practice between November 2009 and November 2012, and spent two years as a full-time school counsellor at “Little Prep”, the primary school division of Cayman Prep and High School.
Ms Gomez spent 31 years and nine months at Cayman Islands Hospital, creating, along the way, Grand Cayman’s only alcohol and ganja testing lab, as well as working as the sole analyst for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service for 20 years.
She also founded the Blood Donors’ Association, earned a degree in medical technology in Canada, and another degree in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota, subsequently running as many as 11 sections of the hospital, all the support services and its 150 employees.
Finally, Cathy Gomez, nee Clifford, grew up in a household of professionally accomplished siblings, married to airline pilots, business owners and a former commissioner of police. Not the least of these is her “baby brother”, she says, the sole boy in the clan, Charles Clifford, lawyer, former minister of tourism and legislator and recent independent candidate for Bodden Town.
“I love him to death,” she said. “There was never any competition there. I am so proud of my family. My grandmother had 10 children; now that was a large family.”
That extends, of course, to her own two children, Crystal and Kristopher, by former husband and recently retired top-ranking civil servant Kearney Gomez, an accomplished mainstay of local government for as long as anyone can remember.
“None of these things were planned,” she says, still slightly breathless from the breadth of the journey, “but they have involved caring professions. Hospital administration had very little contact with patients, but I have come full circle and am thoroughly enjoying it,” she said.
Born 59 years ago in Trinidad, where her father worked for two years, Ms Gomez attended Cayman Prep and then the Cayman Islands High School before its 1992 re-christening as John Gray. Her degree in medical technology followed, and the start of her career at Cayman Islands Hospital.
Her forced departure in 2006, she says, was among the worst moments of her life. “I was there 31 years and given an hour-and-a-half to clear my desk,” she said. “That is a hurt I will carry my whole life.”
She says Mr. Brown was himself a victim of the pressures at the time; “a scapegoat”, she says, but she was so disturbed by her dismissal that she turned to volunteer work in a resolute flurry of activity.
“I didn’t know what to do. I volunteered in the church office, the credit union, at prep school. If I had not had a relationship with God I don’t know what could’ve happened,” she said. “But these experiences just make you stronger. I can stand on my own two feet, and I know what I did for the HSA. I have broad shoulders; I know there is more in store for me.”
Eagerly, Ms Gomez steers toward the subject of what she calls her “spiritual life”, which began in earnest in her late-30s with a kind of revelation of sudden grace as she sat in church one Sunday.
“I bent down to look up a passage, Jeremiah 29:11,” she recites from perfect memory, “where God says ‘I have a plan for you’. The Bible just flopped open to the very page. It blew my mind, gave me goosebumps.”
It took her another seven years to apprehend the full depth of the message that, believe what you may and scheme as you might, God has plans for you and will not be denied.
“After the HSA, I was doing my master’s in pastoral counselling and two things happened,” she said.
She completed her “Coping with Sudden Job Loss” thesis, which found its way to a German publisher, and she was “called”, as she describes it, to the prison.
“All I wanted to do was counselling,” she says, starting at the prison as a volunteer in 2006, two weeks after leaving the hospital, ultimately completing her degree requirement for 300 hours of supervised sessions.
“I was just drawn to it and I had to do a practicum, and that is how I was introduced to the prison,” she said. “I helped those guys and they helped me.”
Appointed full-time chaplain in early July last year, Ms Gomez sees between 15 inmates and 20 inmates per week, each volunteering to meet her.
“We talk about anything affecting them, emotionally, generally, spiritually, whatever bothers them,” she said. “I help them get to grips with themselves. We talk about reintegration, the anxieties they have. They are all human beings.”
She works with their families and other members of the community, touching on broad areas of anger management, inmate intake, assessments, education and sentence-planning.
“I live now sharing my story, a testimony of forgiveness and the value of education,” she said. “Use your talent for God. My philosophy for prison is that I don’t look at [inmates] as criminals. They are human beings created by God, and I am not judgmental.”