We are tempted to call Vernon Jackson, who died this weekend at the age of 87, a “pillar of the Cayman Islands community.” However, that would not be entirely accurate. Mr. Jackson, really, was part of the foundation.
On a personal level, we share our condolences with Mr. Jackson’s family, particularly wife Francine, to whom his loss is a source of deep sorrow. But as a society and a country, the people of Cayman should recognize what Mr. Jackson’s passing represents, and that is the flickering out of one more star from the constellation of a historically great Caymanian generation.
Mr. Jackson was a member of that final group of Caymanians who grew up in the “old Cayman” – marked by a seafaring culture, near-universal hardship and adherence to conservative values; who came of age before the advent of the “Cayman Miracle;” and who as an adult prepared the country for the explosion of growth and economic prosperity brought by the financial services and tourism industries.
Every time we receive news of the passing of someone from Mr. Jackson’s era, we mark the loss of an individual who was an integral ingredient in the traditional Caymanian identity.
But even amid a remarkable generation, Mr. Jackson himself stood out as a particularly remarkable person whose life was guided by a love of learning – and by love itself.
Born in Bodden Town, Mr. Jackson partook in a boyhood pastime that is common to many of us: reading. However, unlike most of our readers, for Mr. Jackson and his neighbors, books were far scarcer and thus considered to be far more precious. Mr. Jackson said recently, “I did not know where the books came from, but they went from house to house … we were all poor and if one happened to have a lesson book, it was shared.”
After undertaking training in Jamaica, Mr. Jackson became a teacher at West Bay School. He would eventually become headmaster at Bodden Town School, a position he held for 10 years.
So it was appropriate when, in June, the building that formerly housed the Bodden Town School was formally christened as the Vernon L. Jackson Public Library and Learning Centre.
Mr. Jackson also held several other distinguished positions in Cayman’s civil service, including permanent secretary and chief education officer.
After retiring from government, Mr. Jackson, a deeply religious man, decided to embark upon a second career, as a marriage officer, this time as a joint venture with his wife Francine. Since 1992, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson officiated approximately 7,500 weddings, in their own way contributing to the continuing social stability of Cayman. No one could ever accuse the Jacksons of not “practicing what they preach” – Vernon and Francine were married for 65 years.
The Jacksons’ union was fruitful. Their offspring include several well-known members of the community, including daughter Jennifer Dilbert, who served as Inspector of Financial Services and Cayman’s first information commissioner, daughter Joy Basdeo, principal secretary in the Portfolio of Education and now Cayman’s premier wedding maven, son Andre Jackson, an entrepreneur and lifetime member and past president of the Lions club, as well as grandson Dax Basdeo, chief officer for the Ministry of Financial Services.
We can think of few greater honors to bestow upon someone – particularly an educator – than to put their name on a library. That being said, of far more importance than any assemblage of brick and mortar are the living monuments to a person’s legacy. According to that measure, the memory of Mr. Jackson will remain vivid for generations to come.