Well known for her support of the arts through generous donations and valued counsel, Helen Harquail passed away on Monday, 12 August. She was 100 years old.
Her legacy is impressive and significant to these islands.
Mrs. Harquail’s foresight and pioneering arts philanthropy was the catalyst for what today is a vibrant arts community.
The long-time Cayman resident recognised early on that the arts were fundamental in all of our lives.
Indeed, she was the prime supporter of two of the country’s cultural icons – the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands and the Cayman National Cultural Foundation. In 1997, she donated the 4-acre parcel of land on which the National Gallery now stands, also contributing a significant amount to its building fund.
Some 30 years ago, she donated an 8-acre piece of land to the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, paving the way for the country’s national theatre, the F.J. Harquail Cultural Centre, home to the 350-seat Harquail Theatre. Mrs. Harquail funded its construction, stipulating that the people of the Cayman Islands would own the centre. It’s named in memory of her late husband, Frank Harquail, who inspired her passion for the arts.
The centre is a cultural foundation for the Cayman Islands, not only enriching people’s lives through the fine arts, but also preserving and developing Caymanian culture for generations to come.
Mrs. Harquail had a strong interest in the environment as well. She was a founding member of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, a non-profit group that works to preserve the island’s heritage and natural environment. She was also a National Gallery board member and the only lifetime member of the CNFC board.
She led an active lifestyle. Sports, like the arts, were a big part of her life. She was a professional ice skater and a champion golfer, and as with anything she took on, she did it with passion and finesse.
Determined and self-sufficient, she always spoke her mind. She got things done, and done right. And she never took anything for granted – a characteristic likely stemming from her humble beginnings growing up on a farm in the isolated prairie province of Saskatchewan, Canada. That was during an era when the land was being settled by pioneers, long before such amenities as electricity or running water.
Those who knew her, and those who have worked with her, have deep respect for her and high praise for her many contributions to the country.
During 2012, the year started with Mrs. Harquail being honoured at the grand opening of the new National Gallery, and then closing out the year by celebrating her 100th birthday at a party organised by her nephew Robert Wicklow on 1 December.
Mr. Wicklow noted that his aunt would often say that in life there is “debit and credit”. In other words, watch how you conduct yourself; always try and be on the credit side.
She clearly lived by those words – and Cayman is the better for it.