Mary Lawrence, former Speaker of the House, historian, educator, writer, mother of six and a native of Bodden Town, has received an honorary doctorate from the University College of the Cayman Islands for her contributions to the Cayman society.
The doctorate is often conferred as a way of honoring an individual’s contributions to a specific field or to society in general, according to the university.
Mrs. Lawrence was presented with the award during UCCI’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 3, by university president Roy Bodden.
Professor Livingston Smith, the university’s chair of social sciences and director of research and publications, highlighted Mrs. Lawrence’s many accomplishments and works.
Mr. Smith said much could be said about this remarkable woman who had placed her heart, mind and soul into the multiple activities, historical and cultural events and development and success of the Cayman Islands.
Born in Nicaragua of Caymanian parents, Mrs. Lawrence came to Cayman – and to Bodden Town – at the age of 7. Her first career choice was teaching, and between 1956 and 1968, she taught in public and private schools at both primary and secondary levels.
Mr. Livingston pointed out that Mrs. Lawrence for many years worked as an educator and as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor, and is an authority on the history, culture and development of the country.
Her love of children and young people led her and her late husband James to serve as resident house-parents in a home for girls while still finding time to take care of her six children, Iris, Jan, Ann, Lucy, Joanna and John.
She worked for many years in the education system, fostering and counseling numerous young people and families across the island.
Commissioned as a Justice of the Peace 27 years ago, she chaired the Bench in the Lower Courts on an annual roster until May 2009, and was instrumental in the founding of the Justice of the Peace Association. She served as its president from 1997 to 1999, and helped to restructure the role of the Justices of the Peace in the legal system and in ensuring their training. She also served as a member of the Alternative Sentencing Committee, whose recommendations would later be placed in legislation.
More recently, she served as one of two justices of the peace who assisted in a review of the deaths of five people at sea. Their recommendations for reform in the search and rescue operations in the islands, laid before Parliament, are now under consideration.
From 2002 to 2003, she served as a consultant to the government minister responsible for Children and Family Services and prisons. In this role, she advised on, and carried out, the restructuring of residential homes for children and young people, setting up the CAYS Foundation to manage them, and working in the program herself to train staff and get it off the ground.
She instituted the “Shadow Programme” which allowed young people sent to the homes by the courts to attend school and participate in community activities and sports. She was also instrumental in establishing a farming program for prison inmates and in the purchase of Furtherland Farms – a 289 acre property on which it was sited.
Mrs. Lawrence was the founder and organizer of the Senior Citizens/Heritage Centre, Community Park and Playground in her district of Bodden Town. The site, a historical building, is also now home to a treasure trove of Caymanian artefacts, and the premises have been expanded to include a second building to house, preserve and showcase the heritage and history of Bodden Town district.
She has served on several boards over the years and was a founding member of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations. She was also president of the Advisory Drug Council, forerunner of the National Drug Council. She is currently a member of the Adoption Board, patron of the Diabetes Trust and chairwoman of the Bodden Town Heritage Committee. She has also been called on to chair national committees such as the Jubilee Committee which organized the week-long celebrations across the three islands for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
In January 2003, she was included on the National Wall of Honour that was erected in
Heroes Square, one of 500 people named as “Nation Builders.” In January 2009, in the National Heroes Day celebrations, she was given the “Spirit of Excellence Award” in recognition of her contribution to the development of children and young people, the fostering of community spirit and the preservation and showcasing of the Cayman Islands history and culture.
In May 2009, following the general election, Mrs. Lawrence was nominated to serve as Speaker of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly. She was unanimously elected by the legislature and sworn in on May 27 – the first private citizen to hold that role. As Speaker, she was also the president of the Cayman Islands branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
In December 2010, she was honored by Queen Elizabeth for her service to the Cayman community with the award of the Member of the British Empire (MBE).
“Indeed, here is a life well lived, a demonstration of the saying ‘the harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph,’” said Mr. Smith.