Kirkland Nixon, Cayman’s first chief fire officer, died on Monday, April 30. Mr. Nixon, who was in his early seventies, died at the Cayman Islands Hospital shortly before 7 a.m. after a short illness.
To mark his passing, the Cayman Islands flag was lowered Monday at all government buildings in honor of Mr. Nixon.
“It is with great sadness and a profound sense of loss that I acknowledge the passing of Mr. Kirkland Nixon, … a most special Caymanian, and to me a personal friend and mentor,” Premier Alden McLaughlin wrote in a tribute.
“Kirkland epitomized the best of Caymanian values: patriotism, hard work and diligence, honesty, integrity and fairness, frankness, common sense and judgement,” the premier added. “These values endeared him to a wide cross-section of people in these Islands and beyond and shone through in the many roles he played in the development of these Islands and our people and the preservation of ‘things Caymanian.’”
Mr. McLaughlin described Mr. Nixon as an exemplary civil servant and fire chief, “community leader and helper, advisor and doer, orchid expert and farmer – truly a man for all seasons.”
As well as working as fire chief for 40 years, Mr. Nixon was also a member of the National Hurricane Committee and served on numerous government boards and private sector organizations, including the Lions Club of Grand Cayman.
On his retirement from the fire service in 2006, Mr. Nixon was honored with a party that highlighted his unrelenting dedication to the people of the Cayman Islands.
Outside of his public service, Mr. Nixon was an avid orchid grower. His friend Frank Roulstone once said his orchids were his “second love.”
Claude Hamilton of Hamlyn Orchids in Kingston, Jamaica, said he will miss this “very quiet, unassuming gentleman.”
He said he met Mr. Nixon when he came to his nursery in 1984. They became close friends who shared a passion for orchids. Mr. Nixon was very interested in the conservation of orchid species, particularly those found in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Nixon gave Mr. Hamilton seeds of the Myrmecophila albopurpurea and Myrmecophila thompsoniana orchids to grow plants from seed, and subsequently returned hundreds of plants to the Cayman Islands.
As an orchid breeder, Mr. Hamilton was able to name new hybrids that he had created. As a result of that, he named the Phalaenopsis orchid in honor of Kirkland Nixon.
“In 2015, I had the pleasure of naming a second orchid in his honor – Dendrobium Kirkland Nixon, a hybrid of Den. Hamlyn Double Helix and Den. Colleen Hopkinson,” he said.
“This hybrid has been quite successful and he was very proud to learn that Den. Kirkland Nixon ‘Chad’ AM/AOS had received an Award of Merit from the American Orchid Society.”
Mr. Nixon loved to talk about his involvement with the community and how fortunate he was to have seen the island evolve. During an interview with the Cayman Compass, he spoke about some of the dramatic changes that had taken place since he joined the fire service in 1966.
“We moved fast to get where we are today – the surfacing of the airport runway, the building of the George Town harbor, the paving of sandy roads in the islands, a hospital, the building of the Legislative Assembly Building and the Courts Building.
“It was a big ruckus when government borrowed the money, but it surely set us on the course we are on today,” he said.
While in the hospital, Mr. Nixon still had great concerns for the country, his wife Melba said. “He wished he was young again because there was so many things he would have liked to fix in this country,” she said.
She described her husband as a book lover, “a no-nonsense man who must have nearly read every book in the world.”
“Kirkie was a responsible person,” she added, referring to him by the nickname by which he was widely known. “He was also a very private person except for his involvement in the community. I will miss his knowledge and guidance for just about any topic I wanted to talk about, and the love for his family.”
He spoke often of the old government house and Pageant Bay fires – the biggest fires he had fought, Mrs. Nixon said, and was very appreciative of Norman Bodden who fought hard in getting the existing fire station.
“The fire department was very near and dear to him and he always thought of his guys as being brilliant guys and that “he had a man for everything.”
His friend Donovan Ebanks, the former deputy governor, said Mr. Nixon was a devoted family man and provider, and Cayman has lost a true statesman and role model; someone who gave tirelessly and immeasurably to his country.
“He was the ultimate public servant,” Mr. Ebanks said. “He was always willing to take on more than what his job called for – whether it was something he was asked to do or simply something that he saw needed to be done.”
Mr. Ebanks said Mr. Nixon was the father of disaster preparedness in Cayman. “The level of resilience Cayman now has must be credited to his vision, his motivation and his support to all who heeded his messages,” he said, adding that he was honored to have served with him in these efforts.
“He was humble, loyal to his conscience, of impeccable integrity and simply a good man,” he said.
Mr. Nixon, who was also a farmer and horticulturist, played a leading role in the establishment of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. In 2013, in recognition of his contributions, the park named its visitors center after him. He was also instrumental in the opening of a new Farmers Market in George Town in 2016.
Mr. Nixon is survived by his wife Melba, daughters Tammy and Lorrie, grandson Joey, sister Carol and brothers Eldon, Reginald and John and their spouses, as well as many nieces and nephews.
Funeral services for Mr. Nixon will be announced at a later date through Bodden Funeral Services, according to the family.