East Ender reminisces about tourism’s early days

East End resident worked in Cayman’s tourism industry for more than four decades

Having spent 45 years in the tourism business, East Ender Doralee McLaughlin has a treasure chest of memories to share, stretching back to the industry’s early days.

Now 63, Ms. McLaughlin’s time in the tourism industry began when she was just 18. Finding her footing and liking the work, Ms. McLaughlin followed a career path that led to many interesting roles and earned her numerous accolades along the way.

In 1995, she won a Stingray award from the Cayman Islands Tourism Department and the Ambassador of Tourism award for the eastern end of the island. In 2004, she was recognized as “Accommodation Employee of the Year,” as well as earning numerous employee of the month awards.

Born and raised in humble surroundings to parents Beltram and Roselee Connor of East End, Ms. McLaughlin said jobs were scarce and finding someplace to work meant going the extra mile. Growing up in the 1960s and early ‘70s with 16 siblings, there was very little money to go around, but they had lots of fun, she said.

“It was not hard times, but my father and mother had it much harder. Whatever everyone had, they would share with each other,” she said.

“I wanted a job so badly, one day I just up and walked all the way from East End to Tortuga Club, reaching almost Colliers, seeking a job. There I met Suzy Soto, the owner and manager of the old Tortuga Club, who at the time owned it with her husband Eric Bergstrom.”

The year was 1971. Ms. Soto offered her a job on the spot and Ms. McLaughlin started working two days later.

Looking back on her career, Ms. McLaughlin said she would forever be glad for the start she got at Tortuga Club. In those days, East End’s Tortuga Club was the only hotel on Cayman’s cool windward coast.

The Caymanian Weekly of July 6, 1972 listed the small hotel’s rates at only JA$10 per person per night. The price included a welcoming drink, three meals daily, an air-conditioned room and use of all facilities.

On her first day on the job, Ms. McLaughlin was given the bedrooms to clean, but her duties gradually changed to cleaning the lobby, washing dishes in the kitchen and sweeping.

“It was hard sometimes, some days we had to retrieve water from the sea to carry out some chores when the generator went off. It was a small hotel with just 14 rooms,” she said.

For her pay, Ms. McLaughlin received $22 at the end of the week.

“My first paycheck was $22, but I got so much with that it was a blessing. I had two children at the time and I was able to buy them something for Christmas, food and a blanket.”

Recalling those early years, Ms. Soto said Ms. McLaughlin and her other staff were like family.

“I did not have any family on Cayman at the time, so the tender moments with workers were wonderful,” Ms. Soto said.

She recalled when another young girl from East End, Cleopatra “Cleo” Conolly came looking for work.

“I never worked for anybody in my life, and I never had to take orders from anybody, and don’t know how I will take orders from you,” Ms. Conolly told Ms. Soto when they met. “I told her, ‘You will take orders, but I will never give you an order without telling you why,’” Ms. Soto replied. “I was not too proud to do anything that I asked them to do. We were all equal and I loved them all very much,” she said.

Ms. McLaughlin recalled Ms. Soto’s parting words to her and other staff: “When you leave a job, leave on good terms because you might not know when you might need that person again.”

When Ms. Soto sold the Tortuga Club, most of the staff, including Ms. McLaughlin, left to work at hotels in George Town.

Ms. McLaughlin’s next stop was the Radisson hotel, now the Marriott resort, where she worked for five years. She then spent four years at the Grand Pavilion, and finally, 17 years at Regal Beach.

A perk of the job working in an international environment for the humble girl from East End was the chance to make many overseas friends.

“Friends would call to find out what I needed and bring it for me,” she said.

Looking forward to spending time with friends and family once her working days were done, sadly, retirement was a bittersweet milestone for Ms. McLaughlin; her husband Morris of over 30 years passed away just four days short of Ms. McLaughlin’s last official day of work. Now she shares her time off with her three children, Mitchell, Donnova and McCarron, and her grandchildren.

Despite changing times, Ms. McLaughlin still loves the tourism field and says she would head back there any day.

“However, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,”she says.

“I might miss it but there is a time to let go, move on and smell the roses.”

Doralee McLaughlin shows off awards she earned while working in Cayman’s tourism industry. – Photo: Jewel Levy

Doralee McLaughlin shows off awards she earned while working in Cayman’s tourism industry. – Photo: Jewel Levy

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