Vernon Jackson, Cayman icon, 1928-2016

Vernon L. Jackson, marriage officer, educator and longtime civil servant, passed away on Sunday. He was 87.

Mr. Jackson died at 2:45 p.m. at his home in West Bay, surrounded by his wife of 65 years, Francine, his children, Joy Basdeo, Jennifer Dilbert and Andre Jackson, and other family members, according to his eldest daughter Joy.

Vernon Jackson passed away Sunday afternoon, surrounded by his family in his West Bay home. He was 87. - PHOTO: Rebecca Davidson
Vernon Jackson passed away Sunday afternoon, surrounded by his family in his West Bay home. He was 87. – PHOTO: Rebecca Davidson

“He told us he wanted to go on a Sunday in the day and we were all there … we have been so blessed with his life and his death,” said Mrs. Basdeo.

She said they are comforted by the outpouring of love and support from their family and friends around the world.

“Our husband and father Vernon Jackson was loved and respected by all who knew him. His whole life was an example to us and we were blessed to be his family,” the family said in a statement.

Mrs. Basdeo said her father’s life was one of service, and as he said in June 2016 at the renaming of the Bodden Town Library in his honor, “The greatest privilege in life is to have been of service to your fellow man and to have earned their respect.”

Born on Dec. 18, 1928, into a family of travelers, seamen and émigrés, Mr. Jackson embraced education as he grew up, going to college at a time when most boys left school at 14. In 1945, he went to the Mico Training College in Jamaica to study to become a teacher. He returned to Cayman in 1948 and was posted to the West Bay Primary School as assistant head teacher under Beulah Smith.

In 1951, while teaching in West Bay, he met and married another Bodden Towner, Francine. In 1953, the couple moved their family back to Bodden Town, where Mr. Jackson served as headmaster until 1964, when he succeeded Clifton Hunter as director of education.

Mr. Jackson had a versatile career in the civil service, holding positions in social services, education, communications, infrastructure and human resources. In addition to serving as director of education, he also served as administration secretary for Education and Social Services (a post that would later be called principal secretary, then permanent secretary, and now chief officer). He oversaw the transition of secondary education from the Presbyterian Church to government, the introduction of comprehensive education and other innovations in education.

His other positions within the civil service included: principal secretary (personnel); principal secretary (communication and works); and supervisor of elections.

He also oversaw the change in currency in Cayman from British pounds, shillings and pence to the Jamaican dollar in 1969.

According to his family, Mr. Jackson, his wife and children moved back to West Bay in 1968 so Francine could care for her ailing adoptive mother. In West Bay, he became involved in community and church activities and served as a lay preacher throughout the island. He recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman.

Mr. Jackson was also a charter member and past president of the original Rotary Club; one of the founding members and president of the Gun Club; and served on the Parole Board for 17 years.

He was awarded the OBE for services to his community in 1984.

Marriage officer

After retiring from the civil service, he became a marriage officer and co-founded Cayman Weddings. He went on to perform more than 4,500 wedding ceremonies over 30 years. The last wedding ceremony he performed was for his grandson Jessie Basdeo in January of this year.

Library renamed in his honor

Last year, the Bodden Town Library where he spent 10 years as headmaster was renamed in his honor.

At that ceremony, daughter Ms. Basdeo gave attendees a glimpse into her father’s life and history.

She described him as an enigma – a man before his time and also a man of his time – “a gentle man and a gentleman.”

Those qualities, more than anything else, she said, made him beloved throughout the Cayman Islands and will ensure he is remembered long after his other accomplishments have been forgotten.

At the same ceremony, Education Minister Tara Rivers said Mr. Jackson’s legacy will forever be etched on the institution of learning and enlightenment, adding, “As a government, we are grateful to Mr. Vernon for the foundation he has helped to lay in the areas of social services, education communication, infrastructure and human resources.”

Osbourne Bodden, Bodden Town MLA and Community Affairs minister, said he grew up admiring the humble and quiet manner of Mr. Jackson, who was also firm in his beliefs and standards. Mr. Bodden said Mr. Jackson was a true nation-builder who had worked with the church, the government and the local community.

He said Mr. Jackson raised a wonderful family coupled with a long marriage and set a standard for all to aspire to.

“I’m happy we were able to honor him in Bodden Town before he passed,” Mr. Bodden added. “May his soul rest in peace, and we will forever be grateful for his efforts in a life well lived.”

Mr. Jackson is survived by his wife, daughters, son, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The funeral service for Mr. Jackson will take place on Saturday, Oct. 29, at John Gray Memorial Church on West Church Street, West Bay. Interment follows at the West Bay Cemetery, according to the family.

 

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