In praise of Cayman’s finest

A tip of the hat, a clink of the glass to all those being honored during today’s National Heroes Day celebration.

Started in 2003 as part of the country’s quincentennial celebrations, the holiday is a time for residents to reflect on the struggles, sacrifices and accomplishments of Caymanians from all walks of life, as diverse as sailors, entrepreneurs, public servants and politicians.

The success story of the Cayman Islands – blessed with sand, sea and sun but precious few resources of monetary value – is an improbable tale of human ingenuity and perseverance. Today we celebrate the legacy of exemplary individuals plucked from a proud and prosperous society.

The country’s first national hero, named in 1994, was legendary figure Jim Bodden, who served in the Legislative Assembly through the 1970s and 1980s.

Sybil McLaughlin, Cayman’s first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, was designated a national hero in 1996.

In 2011, five other Caymanians were named national heroes: former MLA Thomas Farrington; the country’s first probation and welfare officer Sybil Hylton; the country’s first party politician Ormond Panton; Cayman’s first chief secretary Desmond Watler; the first female MLA Mary Wood; and prominent lawmaker and attorney William Conolly.

The actions of each of those individuals have reverberated far beyond their respective lives, and without them Cayman would no doubt be a far different place than it is today.

Back in November 2002, then-Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush explained the idea behind the holiday to other members of the Legislative Assembly, saying “National Heroes Day is another way to pay homage to our founding fathers and mothers, and reflects the high regard in which we hold our existing heroes. We believe it is most appropriate that we should take one day a year to reflect on the history of these three Islands and celebrate from whence we have come, how far we have progressed and how much higher we still aspire for each successive generation.”

In 2006, while announcing the revival of the holiday, our current Premier Alden McLaughlin, who was then minister of culture, said, “Most of the day should induce pride as focus is placed on the outstanding achievements of past heroes, but equally important, it is a day that should invoke a spirit of unity and encouragement so that new heroes may be inspired and encouraged to play their part in the future of this nation’s continued growth and development.”

But, as we know, there are both heroes and “unsung heroes,” and we would like to take a moment to sing the praises of one of the latter. His name is Elliot Guy Ebanks (“Guy” to all), and you won’t see his name on any list praising the good and the great. And yet, Guy, who was interred at Spot Bay Cemetery on the Brac this weekend, was both.

Guy lifted luggage for much of his life – yours, ours and that of thousands of visitors to Grand Cayman. He was a porter at Owen Roberts International Airport and even after he became so desperately ill, he still refused to stop working until the very end when he was unable. His body and increasingly his speech were failing him, and yet he continued to report to his post.

To his fellow porters, we can assure you, Guy was a brother, a leader, and, yes, a hero. He was to us, too. Rest in peace, Dear Friend.

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