Remembered as one of Little Cayman’s biggest cheerleaders, an environmentalist and friend, Gladys Howard passed away Saturday in Texas. She was 83.
Ms. Howard is best known as the owner of Pirate’s Point Resort in Little Cayman, which she bought in 1986, and for her work to preserve the environment on the Sister Island. She had battled cancer for the last four years and spent her last months with family at her home in Tyler, Texas.
“She was a dynamic woman,” said longtime friend Betty Bua. “Everything was go-go-go; she put her mind to something and she did it.”
Ms. Bua remembered Ms. Howard, a friend for more than two decades, as a traveler and hard worker. “For my 60th birthday she said, ‘Betty, we’re going to Europe.’” And the pair traveled Europe together for five weeks.
“She loved to travel,” Ms. Bua said.
Ms. Howard was inducted as an honoree into the International Scuba Hall of Fame the day before her passing, and earlier this year the National Trust renamed its Little Cayman building after the woman who worked with the Trust through her decades on the island.
In 1986, when Ms. Howard bought Pirates Point Resort, it gave her a place to exercise two of her passions: cooking and diving, her family said.
Gay Morse, who has worked for Ms. Howard since 1988, said there were 13 people on Little Cayman when Ms. Howard bought the resort. It was remote, the plane only came a couple of times a week, and the resort had to generate its own power and water. “Those first 10 years, just the perseverance you had to have to live here,” Ms. Morse said.
Ms. Howard was “bigger than life,” she said.
Ms. Morse told a story about a dominoes game at Pirates Point when Ms. Howard put the resort down as a bet against a visiting Irishman, who bet his own pub. She won the game, Ms. Morse said, and some time later went to Ireland and claimed the pub as her own.
The man brought out the pub’s outstanding bills and told Ms. Howard, “Here’s what you own,” Ms. Morse said. But Ms. Howard, in good spirits, told the man he could have his bar back. There are several versions of the Irish pub story going around, but she did in fact win it in a dominoes game.
As well as for its diving, Pirates Point became known for its cuisine. Ms. Howard had trained as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu and La Varenne, renowned Parisian cooking schools, and, the family notes, she cooked with many notable chefs, including Julia Childs, Jacques Pépin and James Beard.
In a written statement, her family said, “Travel was part of her quest for knowledge and took her to all seven continents during her active life. Gladys’s love for plants and animals fuelled her passion for ecology, traveling with five Earth Watch study groups to China, Bonaire, Fiji and South America.”
In a blog in 2010, when she was 78, Ms. Howard recounted a trip through Southeast Asia over several months, detailing mainly the food and the diving. “Today I did my 40th dive in Indonesia,” she wrote. “The last 19 have been here at Lembeh Straits.”
She continued: “This was the second day in a row that we saw the [blue-ringed] octopus, which happens to be the most toxic creature in the entire world, if it stings you, you have eight seconds before you are dead!”
Ms. Howard had a passion for her chosen home of Little Cayman. Her family writes, “Gladys was instrumental in building the National Trust House on Little Cayman … which contains 400 acres of land, housing the largest colony of Red Footed Boobies in the Western Hemisphere.”
The National Trust over the summer rededicated the building on the site – it is now called the Gladys B. Howard Little Cayman District National Trust Visitors Centre. A plaque on the building credits Ms. Howard for her dedication to preserving Little Cayman’s environment: “Convinced that Little Cayman’s unique ecosystem should be preserved, Gladys Howard assumed a leadership role on numerous environmental and community initiatives that have contributed enormously to making Little Cayman the special place that it remains.”
In a 2012 profile, Ms. Howard recalled her first visits to Pirates Point: “The buildings were quite termite eaten,” she said. “The furniture was shot, windows were broken, the roof seeped rain, the kitchen was part of the front room and it had an apartment-size stove with a stick propping the door on the oven shut. The one Zodiac rubber dive boat had so many holes in it that the guide who took us out on our two dives stayed in the boat the entire time blowing up the raft so it wouldn’t sink.”
The resort has come a long way, winning a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence this year and a listing as one of “the best of the best” by Fodor’s Travel.
Ms. Howard takes the central place in Fodor’s review: “You’ll likely become fast friends with effervescent owner Gladys Howard, whose down-home welcome belies her upscale meals (ask to hear anecdotes of her studies with Julia Child, James Beard, and Jacques Pépin). She still watches the kitchen staff like a hawk while finding time to host weekly champagne parties on the veranda of her adjacent home and play dominoes after dinner. Somehow Gladys always wins, slamming tiles down with classic Caribbean vigor.”
At one point, Ms. Morse said, she asked Ms. Howard what they should do when she died. She said, “Well, just throw a big parade.” Ms. Morse added, “She wanted to have fun in life and she did.”
Her family writes: “Gladys’s life was best summed up in Erma Bombeck’s quote, ‘When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me.’”
Ms. Howard is survived by her daughter Susan Howard, granddaughter Antonia, brothers Edward Bravenec and Anton Bravenec and his wife Merlene, sister Nelda Roessler and her husband Buddy.
A memorial service on Little Cayman will be held during the second week of December at the Little Cayman Baptist Church, with date and time to be determined. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Little Cayman National Trust.