Pioneer developer, seaman, grandfather of five and Cayman’s erstwhile “Santa Claus” Rex Herbert Hughes Crighton was laid to rest following a memorial service in George Town Saturday afternoon.
Mr. Crighton, who passed away at age 81 on Sept. 13, was known to many in Cayman as the man with the big house in Spotts who put up an impressive display of Christmas lights and decorations each holiday season.
However, those who spoke in remembrance of Mr. Crighton Saturday afternoon at the Church of God Chapel on Walkers Road knew him as much more than that.
Born Nov. 6, 1933, the only child of Cayman’s “Nurse Starr,” Stella Daisy Ann Crighton, Mr. Crighton, as did many men of his generation in Cayman, served during his late teens and 20’s at sea as a ship’s engineer and did not form his first business on island until 1960. It was known as the Caribbean Furniture Company, Ltd. and was done in partnership with two Jamaican businessmen.
“[Mr. Crighton] often told the story that when business was slow, he would have his driver load furniture on the back of the delivery truck and drive around town,” said Premier Alden McLaughlin, who told Mr. Crighton’s life story at the memorial service Saturday. “He would then return to the store, rearrange the furniture and drive through town again.
“People saw this and assumed the furniture business was doing very well, and this drove more business his way,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “’That’s the art of doing business!’ Rex would say.”
Numerous business ventures were started up by Mr. Crighton and his partners, who included Cayman’s National Hero, James Manoah Bodden, including construction, auto rental and car dealership ventures and, eventually, Bodden-Crighton Development Ltd., which built the Prospect Park and Omega Bay Estates subdivisions. The company was the first in the Cayman Islands to offer financing for undeveloped land, Mr. McLaughlin said.
This was a significant development in allowing young Caymanians who often did not possess much “venture capital” to own a piece of their own country. The premier was one of those to benefit from Mr. Crighton’s particular business method.
“When I was about 23 years old, my father was boasting to [Mr. Crighton] that I was going to get married,” the premier recalled on Saturday. “[Mr. Crighton] looked at me and said, ‘Boy, you got any land?’”
Mr. McLaughlin said he spent about half a day driving around in Mr. Crighton’s old Cadillac looking for land in a new subdivision called “Savannah Groves.” After finding a plot, the young Mr. McLaughlin, then an articled law clerk at Charles Adams and Company, liked, Mr. Crighton asked for the princely sum of $13,000.
“I said, ‘Lord, Mr. Rex, that’s a lot of money’,” Mr. McLaughlin recalled. Mr. Crighton responded: “You know what, when I see that Charles Adams I’m going to tell him to pay you a decent salary!”
Eventually, Mr. Crighton sold the future premier the plot of land without even a 10 percent down payment, Mr. McLaughlin said. “With all the things he had to do, he spent half a day running around with me looking for a piece of land,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “It’s the kind of story that stays with you forever.”
In 1972, Crighton Properties was formed and Mr. Crighton continued to offer financing on land and continued developing subdivisions, with the crowning achievement coming at Crystal Harbor, a 180-acre development along the North Sound. Business partner C.S. “Casey” Gill remembered Mr. Crighton as a man who liked to do deals with a handshake and who always kept his word thereafter.
“We were business partners for 41 years with no written agreement, just give and take and respect for each other,” Mr. Gill said Saturday. “Whether you knew him or not, Rex loved people and shared what he had with people. He was loved and respected and often referred to as Cayman’s gentle hero. Rest in peace, Rexie.”
Many accounts of Mr. Crighton’s life told Saturday did make note of the Christmas lights display at his home, which he first set up in the early 1970’s and which continued to grow in size and brightness over the years.
“He always reveled in telling me year by year … one million lights, two million lights and so on,” Mr. Gill said.
A memoir from Mr. Crighton’s wife of 54 years, Cecile, said it was an annual tradition at the house for her husband to dress up as Santa Claus on Dec. 23 and walk out into the yard with a sack on his back, handing out bags of candy.
“The one thing he cherished more than food and fishing … was Christmas,” a memoir from Mr. Crighton’s five grandchildren, Ciara, Landon, Conor, Krista and Jenna read. “Granddad was truly Santa Claus come to life.
“[On Dec. 23] as each child came up to sit on granddad’s lap, we would run behind the displays to get them their bag of goodies. This not only became a family tradition, but an island tradition. Christmas will never truly be the same without our granddad there … but we know he’ll be watching over us as we continue his favorite celebration.”