During the Cayman Heart Fund Red Dress Gala held Friday night at the Grand Cayman Marriott, fund founder and Chairman Emeritus Suzy Soto said this is the last year she would be involved with orchestrating the event.
Knowing Mrs. Soto and her level of energy as we do, we’re not going to hold her to that statement 100 percent. Nevertheless, now is a good time to take a moment to pay tribute to Mrs. Soto for her immeasurable contributions to the Heart Fund, other causes, the hospitality industry and the Cayman Islands as a whole.
About four months ago, Mrs. Soto received the Cayman Culinary Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. (In addition to founding the Heart Fund, Mrs. Soto was one of the principle movers behind the first Taste of Cayman celebration in 1988 — just to give our readers a taste of Mrs. Soto’s myriad of contributions to the community.)
During her acceptance speech, she regaled the audience with stories about her “early days” in Grand Cayman, when she and her first husband Eric Bergstrom established the Tortuga Club in East End in 1963. She would go on to open the Cracked Conch Restaurant in 1981, which she sold in 2005.
It was there, at the Cracked Conch, that the Cayman Heart Fund was born. In 2007, at her own birthday party at the restaurant, Mrs. Soto declined gifts, and instead collected checks from her guests to start the fund.
The Heart Fund and its annual gala have, of course, grown since then. The event now attracts some 300 attendees and raises an average of $30,000 to $35,000 per year. The money goes to a number of programs and services, including the Cayman Islands Hospital cardiac recovery unit; portable defibrillators in public schools on both Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, and in the RCIPS helicopter; an annual health fair; the Children’s Health Task Force in public schools; doctors’ symposiums; last year’s celebration of World Heart Day; and ongoing efforts to purchase a new ambulance for the public hospital.
If anyone has earned the right to take some time off and relax with family, it’s Mrs. Soto. Of course, we don’t know how “relaxing” that might be, considering Mrs. Soto, with her late husband Bob Soto, have eight children, 19 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, at last count!
Scuba diving pioneer Mr. Soto, himself a local legend in his own right, was perhaps Cayman’s greatest treasure hunter. Now, Mrs. Soto may or may not be a hero, but she certainly is a treasure — this Mr. Soto well knew.
At the end of last year, Mrs. Soto published a biography of Mr. Soto, filled with stories told in his own words, called “Extraordinary Adventures.” In the book, an entire chapter is dedicated to his wife, called, “Adventures with Suzy: 1998-2006.”
One anecdote, “A dangerous night in Little Cayman,” recalls their building of Sir Turtle Beach Villas in Little Cayman. It was, as they say, a dark and stormy night on the tiny Sister Island, when Mrs. Soto started experiencing chest pains. Medical personnel at the Little Cayman Clinic instructed Mrs. Soto to get to Cayman Brac right away. The problem was — no flights were being allowed, because of the weather. Eventually they were able to secure a boat (what else, considering it’s the Sotos), and made good their journey despite rough seas.
We’ll allow Mr. Soto to continue the story here: “We made it to the Brac, got to the hospital and I went to get the car. When I returned to the hospital, Suzy was lying on the cart and I asked why they were not taking her in and the doctor said, ‘We’re dealing with an emergency, a man tried to kill himself by stabbing himself in the stomach.’
“I said, ‘Well, he wants to die and my wife wants to live, so tend to her now!’”
And what a life she has led.