It was September 1971 when my husband Christopher Lewis and I first saw Grand Cayman. We had been married for two years and it was the first time either of us had been abroad.
We landed at Owen Roberts airport, then a small wooden structure, on a Lacsa plane from Miami, where the previous day we had flown in from Heathrow, London. I remember clearly the sunny day smelled so sweet.
Chris had been commissioned by the British Overseas Development Agency to set up a Technical Department and teach at the newly created comprehensive school on Walkers Road, George Town. He had a contract for two years.
We were welcomed at the airfield by the affable Buddy MacField, then head of the island’s government secondary school, and taken to Pageant Beach Hotel. This cosy one-story establishment, with our room overlooking a swimming pool on one side and the sea the other, was to be home for a few weeks until a government-sourced house was made available.
I was mesmerized from my first encounter with the tiny Caribbean island. The warm, gentle folk were a sharp contrast to the harsh Londoners I had lived among for the previous few years. The soft, silky, white, palm-fringed sandy beaches and the crystal clear aquamarine seas beckoned. I spent my days snorkeling, entranced by the vibrancy of the coral reefs, while Chris worked hard alongside Charlie Dixon, from East End, to achieve their goal.
Fourteen other teachers from the U.K. were appointed that year, but Chris was the only one to renew his contract. After four years, his department was up and running smoothly and proudly offered courses in technical drawing, metalwork, woodwork and motor mechanics up to O-Level standard.
During our time in Cayman we saw great changes. In 1971, George Town was a building site! The Legislative Assembly Building and Law Courts were yet to appear. There was no TV or radio and we never locked our front door or took the keys out of the car.
I worked, first, at the Caymanian Weekly in a small office in the town center, and then with Desmond Seales for the Nor’wester publishing company.
I am honored now to think how I witnessed the blossoming of Cayman as a world-class tourist destination and financial center.
We enjoyed sailing off Seven Mile Beach after Chris built his own boat, a Fireball. We often had the BBQ lunch at the Galleon Beach Hotel on a Sunday, where the Barefoot Man played guitar and sang his own songs. I learned to waterski and took up scuba diving and dived with Bob Schroeder, an eminent scientific researcher for Mariculture (the turtle farm) at the time. Incidentally, I reported on the first turtle eggs in the world to be laid by a turtle in captivity!
Chris was presented with a tie pin in the form of a mosquito for services to mosquito control, after he voluntarily drove a fogger vehicle around the island every week in the wet season. The school’s PTA presented him with a pair of gold cuff links in the form of two turtles for services to the island’s education.
We even got invited to one of the Queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace, but unfortunately we could not go as we already had a holiday planned in Florida.
Yes, we had a most fulfilling life in the Cayman Islands. We met people of all sorts, from Cuban refugees to Canadian bankers. We lived well and regularly ate lobster, conch chowder and fresh fish. We revelled in our good fortune and life-changing experiences.
It was therefore a sad day when we left Grand Cayman (July 1975) with our 2-year-old son, another Christopher, and headed back to the U.K.
We remember with great affection Sammy and Joy Jackson, our neighbors in Smith Road; Hartwell Wood, a Caymanian teacher at the High School; Susan Roy, a Scottish lady but a permanent resident in Cayman, who I worked with; Olive Miller, the formidable government information officer; Alan and Emma Ebanks, our landlords in West Bay; and many others too numerous to mention here.
Following our brief return to the U.K., Chris was sent to Malawi. He taught for two years in Lilongwe, the capital city; then was the workshop manager on a tea estate in the south of the country for three years.
Our two other sons were born during this time, but in 1981 we returned to England to work in North Staffordshire, and that is where we still live. I retrained as a language teacher, gaining a BA in Spanish with French, and then spent many years teaching English as a foreign language.
We semi-retired in 2000 and bought a house in southern Spain (where we now spend half the year). I have since become an author.
My first novel “Where There‘s a Will, There’s a Woman” was published last year and can be purchased on www.amazon.com. (. (Some of the action takes place in Grand Cayman!) You can see me at www.author-marymaelewis.co.uk.
I plan to visit Grand Cayman at the beginning of December for 10 days (Chris cannot travel due to health issues) and would love to hear from anyone who remembers me.
I am on Facebook and also can be contacted at marymaelewis(at)mail.com.
Mary Mae Lewis