The Miss Cayman Islands pageant has been a long-standing tradition since the first contest in 1932 when Gleeda Coe was the winner.
According to an article in the August 1976 edition of The Nor’Wester, the competition was the idea of Tampa photographer Jean Burgert, who was one of the judges and also took the pictures.
In 1937, one of the photographs of the first Miss Cayman was used to advertise the luxury liner Atlantis, which started her voyage at Southampton, England, and stopped at Grand Cayman.
It wasn’t until Patricia Patiño (now Langfitt) won in 1977 that Miss Cayman took part in the international pageants Miss Universe in the U.S. and Miss World in London.
Weekender talked to past winners about the history of the pageant, and their experience representing the Cayman Islands.
Harriet Lott (1972)
When Harriet Lott was crowned Miss Cayman in 1972, the winner entered Miss Caribbean Tourism and the Miss Caribbean Pageant and didn’t compete in Miss World or Miss Universe. Lott was a flight attendant (the first ever) for Cayman Airways and was sponsored by the airline.
“The year that I won had the largest group of girls that took part,” said Lott. “I was flying for Cayman Airways so they put me as number 11 because they didn’t know if the flight was going to be here, or whether I would make all the events.”
The pageant that year was in the summer at the Royal Palms Hotel and the Jaycees organized it.
“It was fantastic,” said Lott. “It was probably the learning experience of my life. Most people think a beauty pageant is just about looks, but it is about the whole package. It’s not just how you look, it is everything that you have. It’s your intelligence, your education and your personality. Life is so much more than just looks; it is what is in your heart and the way you treat people.”
While at Miss Caribbean Tourism and Miss Caribbean held in Santa Domingo and Venezuela, respectively, Lott found out that the runners-up were taking part and the actual winners of each country were at Miss Universe. So she decided to arrange the franchise for Miss Universe so that the Cayman Islands could take part.
She helped organize the Miss Cayman Islands competition from 1974 to 1983, alongside Ella Kaye and Diana Uzzell, both previous Miss Cayman winners. Lott went twice to Miss Universe as a chaperone in Seoul (in 1980 with Dealia Watler, who won Miss Congeniality) and New York, and twice to Miss World in London.
In 1982, the year before Lott handed over the organization to the lawyer Steve Mcfield, Theresa Pitcairn (Lewis) was voted Miss Cayman by public vote and she came back from the competitions with more than anyone else. She was voted Miss Congeniality at Miss Universe and ranked in the top 10 at Miss World.
Lott enjoyed her days as organizer and chaperone greatly. “If I ever got into the position where I had free time,” said Lott, “I would love to go back and help.”
Patricia Patiño (1977)
Patricia Patiño (now Langfitt) won Miss Cayman in 1977 in the first year that the winner took part in Miss Universe and Miss World.
Back then, each district had a competition, with five to 10 contestants per district, and the winner of the district went on to compete for the Miss Cayman Islands crown. Five district representatives vied for the title. It was staged poolside, at the Holiday Inn, next to the Galleon Beach Hotel. The Jaycees, led by A. L. Thompson, organized the pageant and transformed the competition into a world platform event. Langfitt was crowned to the tune of “My Caymanian Girl,” originally written for Harriet Lott by Pappie Connolly.
She remembers her time as Miss Cayman when Cayman was on the brink of a huge tourism push. “Mr. Jim Bodden was at the helm,” said Langfitt. “Cayman Airways had become a government entity that year and was acquiring its first jet aircraft to begin runs to Houston. Radio Cayman had just begun broadcasting as well, so everything pointed toward a media blitz.”
Langfitt had a background in public speaking, which helped enormously in her role of promoting the island. “Mr. Jim called me in and told me about all the ideas he had for promoting Cayman and shared his vision with me,” said Langfitt. “Then he asked me if I was up for the challenge, and what a challenge it was! I flew to Miami, Houston, Chicago, and New York, appearing at trade shows and on local television. I went to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos and was treated as a celebrity, all the while promoting our beloved isle.”
“Up to now, our local beauty queens have been sadly under-used,” said Bodden in his congratulatory speech to Langfitt, as recorded by the Compass in 1977. “We intend to change all that, because we believe that you, and your successors can be tremendous assets to tourism and to our country.”
Langfitt said that attending Miss World was extraordinary. There were tours of London, shopping at Harrods, meeting celebrities, lunches with Lords and Marquises, an Elton John concert, the Lord Mayor’s parade and a luncheon at the Dorchester hotel where two contestants sat at each of the tables with Lords of Parliament.
Langfitt even devised a special Cayman national costume as the traditional one was an old flour-sack dress. In London, she designed a Pirates-inspired black velvet vest with white slit sleeves and black satin pants with a hand-stitched sequin Sir Turtle. The outfit was accessorized with some “Puss in Boots” style boots and a hat and sword. “When they called my name and I walked out on stage, the reaction of the crowd was unforgettable,” said Langfitt.
The experience of being in a world competition was life changing. “I will never forget being on the stage in the Royal Albert Hall. I knew at the time that the pressure was on me to represent Cayman. No one even knew where the Cayman Islands were! But they did when I left!” said Langfitt. “An opportunity like that, on a world level, gives you a wealth of self-confidence that you can draw on for the rest of your life. I never had a problem with job interviews. As a matter of fact, I never missed getting an offer for any job I interviewed for!”
While passing her crown to the subsequent winner, Wendy Daykin, according to an article in the Compass on Aug. 1, 1978, Langfitt “made an impassioned plea with the winner to regard her responsibilities as Miss Cayman seriously, as she would be traveling across the globe and would often be required to give a detailed account of what and where her country was.”
Tonie Chisholm (2015)
Chisholm has followed in the footsteps of her grandmother, the late Edna Moyle, who was the first woman speaker of the house and MLA for North Side. Moyle won the title in 1963 when the competition was for Farm Queen and was held at the Department of Agriculture on Agriculture Day.
“Not only was it a controversial win, but she entered even though her father wouldn’t allow it,” Chisholm said. “I can certainly relate to that side of her; the rebellious side that refused to allow others to dictate to her, what she was capable of and allowed to do. I know having such a strong woman in my life has allowed me to grow and develop with a strong sense of self.”
“To me, she was a Mom,” she said.
Since winning the title, Chisholm says that it has been a roller-coaster ride, and a major change to her normal routine. She has worked with the National Promotions and Events Unit at the Department of Tourism, and has started Crossfit World Gym and life coach sessions with Laura Watler. She recently signed up for Krav Maga, a martial arts skill rooted in real-life scenarios.
“I grew up doing ju jitsu, but I found that I really didn’t know how to defend myself effectively,” said Chisholm. “I’ll be working with Ronnie Hughes who has been
working diligently with the Crisis Centre, helping them empower women and children.”
She added, “It’s not only about being able to defend yourself, but it gives you the confidence to know when a situation is not right for you and knowing that it’s time to get out.”
Chisholm was asked to greet the celebrities, producers and writers visiting the island for the CayFilm international film festival when they arrived at the airport and was involved with the judging of the Young Image Makers competition and presenting awards to the winners.
The second half of this year is really when her work begins and Chisholm heads to Panama for her Miss Universe training for three weeks. The 64th Miss Universe has yet to set a date, but should be announced during the Miss USA pageant on July 12.
“For a whole three weeks, I’ll be in a different country with over 70 other women attending appearances, as well as practice for the night of the pageant,” said Chisholm. “I can’t wait. It’s getting so close, the nerves are starting to set in, but once my training is over I’ll have the tools to navigate myself through it well.”
The 2016 pageant will be held on Jan. 30, according to Derri Dacres-Lee, chairperson for Miss Cayman Islands.
“One of my goals for our 2016 pageant is to have all of the past title holders grace the stage. We want the community to see who these ladies are and recognize their achievements,” she said.