Matriarch, benefactor and mentor and a familiar figure in the Sister Islands, Pauline “Polly” Tibbetts passed away on Jan. 4 in St. Petersburg, Florida. She was 89.
A memorial service celebrating her life was held on Jan. 7 in St. Petersburg.
Mrs. Tibbetts and her husband, the late Linton Tibbetts, were well known in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, with their extended families spanning far and wide.
“My grandmother grew up as an orphan in Kentucky but began making her first trips to the Cayman Islands soon after she married my grandfather in 1948,” her grandson Michael Tibbetts said.
“She was known and loved by many – particularly in the Sister Islands. We are thankful that she lived a long and joyous life.”
Mrs. Tibbetts and her husband, a Brac native who became a successful building supply businessman in the United States, made quite an impact on the Sister Islands. Mr. Tibbetts was behind the construction of the Brac Reef Hotel and later the Brac Reef Resort.
Mr. Tibbetts was also instrumental in the formation of Red Carpet Airways in the 1970s, which flew from Tampa/St. Petersburg to the Brac three times a week for about a decade.
“My grandparents loved the peace and tranquility of Little Cayman,” said Michael Tibbetts.
“They often visited my grandfather’s family on Cayman Brac but I think they liked the seclusion of Little Cayman.”
The couple’s extensive personal collection of artifacts associated with the seafaring and pioneering history of the Islands’ early settlers led to the opening of the Little Cayman Museum, which is dedicated to preserving the unique heritage of the Sister Islands.
Mrs. Tibbetts was on hand for the opening of the museum in 2014, an event attended by numerous dignitaries including Premier Alden McLaughlin and Deputy Premier and Sister Isladnds MLA Moses Kirkconnell.
“My grandmother loved to host meals at their home on Little Cayman, often welcoming visitors for a fish fry and homemade ice cream,” he recalled.
“She continued traveling to the islands with her family up until a few months ago.”
Mrs. Tibbetts’s obituary in the Tampa Bay Times notes that she was one of six children living in Harlan, Kentucky. Orphaned at an early age, she and her sister Alta were separated from their siblings. While two elder boys joined the military, and the youngest were taken in by relatives, the two girls were sent to the Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy, now known as The King’s Academy, in Seymour, Tennessee.
According to the obituary, “The girls lived on campus year-round, completing their graduation requirements in three years. She was class secretary-treasurer two years, Young Women’s Auxiliary secretary three years, and played a role in the class play three years.
After her graduation, Polly attended Carson-Newman College. Her college career was cut short to care for her older sister who was ill.”
The obituary notes that soon after, the family reunited after her older brothers finished their military careers, and invited the girls to move to St. Petersburg where Mrs. Tibbetts became the matriarch of the family.
She was married in a double ceremony with Alta, who wed Jack Hurlston on Easter, March 28, 1948.
“Polly and Linton each brought into the relationship a solid commitment to hard work and a deep appreciation for family relationships. When their four children were born, they were raised in a Christian home and instilled with the same values that carried their parents through difficult times. Family was God’s greatest blessing to her and filled her life with great joy and affection. Her faith in and love for God guided how she lived her life. Polly was also known for her laughter, hospitality and generosity,” notes the obituary.
Mrs. Tibbetts was honored by the King’s Academy as Outstanding Alumna of 2013 for her generous support of the school that meant so much to her.
Living her life guided by the Bible, Mrs. Tibbetts’s favorite verse was Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourself, it is a gift from God.”
“She was a great example of how life should be lived – unselfishly, loving and forgiving each other, giving to those in need, and loving God,” the obituary notes.
Mrs. Tibbetts was predeceased by her sons Daniel E. Tibbetts and David N. Tibbetts, and is survived by her two daughters, Mary L. Brandes and her husband Russ Brandes of St. Petersburg and Donna E. Hooker of Louisville, Tennessee; her nine grandchildren, Jeffrey Brandes and his wife Natalie, Tyler Brandes and his wife Ashley, Polly Klepacki and her husband Kenny, Kyle Hooker and his wife Adrienne, Ryan “Bubba” Hooker and his wife Jessica, Angela Hooker, Michael Tibbetts and his wife Rebecca, Emily Allenbach and her husband Mark, and Jessica Buchanan and her husband David; and 19 great-grandchildren, Liliana and Madeline Allenbach, Benjamin, Warren and Carson Brandes, Charlotte, Colin and Conor Brandes, Bradyn, Bryce, and Brylee Hooker, Daniel and Ellyson Hooker, Madison Brandes and Reece, Wesley and Corinne Klepacki, and Caroline and Lydia Mae Tibbetts.