The irony was not lost on Mark McCready. The day he found his father’s grave, a quest 52 years in the making that brought him 4,500 miles from home, was a Cayman holiday called Discovery Day.
McCready, who was just 17 months old when his father Walter McCready passed away in 1966, had waited a half-century to pay his respects. On Monday, he got his wish at Dixie Cemetery in George Town.
“It was a real pilgrimage. Very emotional,” said Mr. McCready, who hails from Northern Ireland, the same place his father lived before joining the Royal Navy. “It was a real relief for my family as well to be able to find the grave. But the thing that struck me was how everybody has been so helpful.”
The elder McCready was a petty officer aboard the HMS Tartar when he became ill with pancreatitis at age 28 in 1966, and he passed away after a brief bout with the illness. The younger McCready, now 52, had made a lifelong mission to learn more about his father and to someday find his grave.
A friend had come to the Cayman Islands on business last year and tried to find the gravestone, but to no avail, so Mr. McCready took an opportunity to find it himself. He corresponded with Bishop Nicholas Sykes by email and found his father’s headstone on the website www.findagrave.com before his arrival.
But it still was not easy. Mr. McCready went to Dixie Cemetery shortly after arriving on island Sunday but could not find the grave. Then with the help of some local citizens, his goal was finally reached.
After consulting with Dudley Parsons, who lives next to Dixie Cemetery, Mr. McCready was put in touch with Jack Macmillan and his wife Janet. Mr. Macmillan, a former minister, was able to look at a photograph of a graveside ceremony and tell both the year and the time of day it was taken.
And so Mr. McCready, who had previously done a grid search of the cemetery, went back with the Macmillans in tow. They stopped at the entrance to the cemetery and used some trees in the background of the photo to orient themselves before walking right to the grave site.
“The guys looked for the grave last year and couldn’t find it,” said Mr. McCready. “Even when we arrived on the island, that quick stop-off, I hoped we’d just be able to immediately locate it. Then all this doubt started to creep into my head. But once we found Janet and John, it was about two minutes.”
Two minutes, but 52 years in the making. Mr. McCready does not have a lot of family left who knew his dad, but his 83-year-old aunt – Margaret Carruthers of Liverpool – is still alive. Mr. McCready said she would be thrilled, as would his cousin, who has childhood memories of the elder McCready.
Mr. McCready said that at least one other person, Roy Cromie, would be moved by the discovery. Mr. Cromie was friends with the elder McCready during their shared childhood in Ballywalter, a coastal village in County Down, Northern Ireland, and he went to great lengths to seek out the younger Mr. McCready.
“At home, about four years ago, it was completely out of the blue and I was away working,” Mr. McCready recalled of how he met Mr. Cromie. “My wife got a knock on the door and this guy said, ‘Is Mark here?’ in a Canadian accent. He said, ‘I’m Roy Cromie and I was a friend of his dad’s.’ We’ve kept in touch and I told him I was coming here. He was overwhelmed by the fact I was going to be here, and he’s given me some things to put on the grave for him. There’s a lot of closure for a lot of people.”
Now that he has paid his respects, Mr. McCready plans on affixing some mementos to the grave, including a pair of rocks from Ballywalter Beach with the names Walter and Roy inscribed on them. He also wants to bring his kids out to see his father’s final resting place at some point in the near future.
Until then, Mr. McCready is filled with gratitude for the people of Cayman who took care of his father’s grave for the last half-century and for the people who went out of their way to help him.
“The grave has been looked after meticulously,” said Mr. McCready. “It’s been painted and they’ve kept the inscription clean. I couldn’t ask for more that way. And it’s a beautiful spot, right in front of the beach. It’s a real relief to me to find it. I knew it existed. I just didn’t know where.
“All the people I’ve met over the last few days, they’re very, very religious people. They have great faith and they’ve told me they’ll look after the grave for me. And I know that will happen.”
Now, nearly 4,600 miles from Belfast, Mr. McCready is enjoying the rest of his time on Cayman. He has asked the hospital to check its records back to 1966 so he can learn more about his father’s passing, and he will pay his respects again before he ultimately embarks on the 17-hour journey home on Friday.
“My dad made us look. He didn’t make it easy,” he said. “But he’s not alone anymore. He’s a long way from home, but he couldn’t be in a better place. It was meant to be. It would’ve been horrific for me to go home Friday without finding him. … But there’s no way I was going home without finding it.”