Mourners gathered Saturday to mark the passing of Julia Almeria Hydes, known affectionately as Aunt Julia. She was 106, Cayman’s oldest resident.
Family and friends of the West Bay native, including Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush and Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose, remembered Mrs. Hydes for her love of music, strong work ethic, and quick tongue. She passed away on Nov. 30.
“She taught us how to live, and she taught us how to die,” Mr. Rose said, speaking from the podium at the Wesleyan Holiness Church in West Bay. Statements came in from government, the National Museum, National Archive and others, calling Mrs. Hydes a “national treasure” and praising her spirit.
She was known as a drummer and songwriter. Many called her a cultural icon for her place in Cayman Islands folk music. Henry Muttoo, artistic director for the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, said during the funeral service, “What a woman; what an artist; what a prime example of a Caymanian.”
He said the foundation has many recordings of Mrs. Hydes and her music to make sure her work lives on for future generations.
Reading a message from her 35 great-grandchildren and 21 great-great-grandchildren aloud at the service, Gideon Barnett said, “Seeing how everyone speaks about you and how they hold you in such high regard makes us think of how we took for granted all the times we spent together. As kids, we did not realize that you were such a revered icon of the Cayman Islands.”
Born Jan. 25, 1909, the youngest of 12 children, Mrs. Hydes raised her five children as a single mother. She lived for much of her life in Boatswain’s Bay, and worked over the decades weaving thatch rope, for a dry cleaner and later as a domestic, all the while playing music to supplement her income.
“She loved playing Christmas events,” said Alston Ebanks, reading her obituary at the service. In fact, he said, she played those holiday events right up until her final years.