National Hero living contented life at 90

Sybil Ione McLaughlin, Cayman’s only living National Hero, turns 90 years old today, Friday, Aug. 24.

To celebrate this remarkable woman who made her mark on Cayman society, her family and friends will host a tea party in her honor.

Saying she feels quite contented about how life has turned out, she took a little time on Tuesday with the Cayman Compass to share memories, future plans and give thanks for the people and many good things that happened in her life throughout the years.

The story of her life was told in the 2015 book “Island Girl to National Hero,” written by author Heather R. McLaughlin.

Enjoying humble beginnings, the woman known widely simply as Ms. Sybil was somewhat of a tomboy. She loved to climb trees, so much so that the children in the neighborhood nicknamed her “Monkey,” she said.

Though she was only 4 at the time, she remembers the peace and security of her childhood being shattered by the 1932 storm, which stands in Cayman record books as the worst ever in terms of loss of life.

Shortly before her 18th birthday, Ms. Sybil cycled into George Town and reported for work at the first Government Administration Building.

She went on to become the first clerk and the first Speaker of the House at the Legislative Assembly. She was declared a National Hero by the government of the Cayman Islands in 1996, the second individual (after the late Jim Bodden in 1994), the first living person and the first woman to be so honored.

Telling it like it is and being true to herself has always been Ms. Sybil’s way.

“It’s nice being a senior … you learn some good things over the years, and it’s nice knowing you have done some good things too … that’s the way it’s supposed to happen,” she said.

“I go to church and pray to God to give me peace and contentment … I’m just grateful for the things that God has blessed me with over the years,” she added.

Daughter-in-law Heather McLaughlin – no relation to author Heather R. McLaughlin – said, “Ms. Sybil is very happy, healthy and has a wonderful disposition.”

Ms. Sybil says she is not making any birthday plans before her birth date, though she is looking forward to seeing friends.

“I’ll think about it when that day comes … I’m sure not thinking about it today,” she said with a laugh.

Sleeping is no problem for her. When she finishes her work for the day, she picks up the Bible, reads a few chapters and she’s off to sleep, she said.

“We all get up early in the morning. After you have good night’s rest, then we can do whatever … it prepares me for the day after a good night’s rest,” she said.

Ms. Sybil was born in 1928 in Mobile, Alabama, where there were a large community of Caymanians, to parents Captain Charles Christopher Bush and his wife Lottie Verona Bush.

After her father died, her mother returned to Cayman with Sybil and her brother and sister. They moved into their father’s family home in South Sound. When her mother moved back to the U.S. to work, Sybil and her siblings stayed in Cayman, where they were mostly raised by their aunts Annie and Rebertha, apart from a four-year period when Sybil lived with another aunt, Ella, in Nicaragua.

When she came back to Cayman, shortly before her 8th birthday, Sybil attended the George Town Primary School and later attended the Baptist College in Managua, Nicaragua, where she graduated, fluent in Spanish, and completed a commercial course.

In 1945, she returned from her studies overseas and found employment in the Commissioner’s Office as a clerk-typist.

In 1949, she married police officer Delworth McLaughlin of East End. The couple had two sons, Gordon and Chris.

In 1959, when Cayman received its first written constitution, Ms. Sybil was appointed as the first clerk of the constitution committee. She was also the clerk of the Executive Council, now termed Cabinet. She received an MBE in 1967 for organizing the first Commonwealth Parliamentary Association regional conference to be held in the Cayman Islands. She retired as clerk of the Legislative Assembly in 1984.

She became the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1991 and served in that capacity until she retired in 1996.

During her retirement, she has remained active, supporting clubs and charities with which she has been involved for many years, including the Business and Professional Women’s Club, Sunrise Rotary and the Cayman Islands Tennis Club.

“Ms. Sybil delights in seeing friends and close associates,” said her daughter-in-law Heather.

“It’s nice seeing people I haven’t seen in a very long time,” Ms. Sybil said.

When asked if she still loves to dance, Ms. Sybil said, “Obviously, I can still move around.”

To prove her point, she got up from her chair and danced with her caregiver Erica Kidd who had quickly pulled up a tune on her cellphone.

“I can make a joke out of anything and I love to talk about my parrot,” Ms. Sybil said, as the parrot gave a loud squawk in agreement. “She’s very loud,” Ms. Sybil said with a laugh.

Ms. Sybil still does a lot of reading, and does so without the assistance of spectacles. Her favorite book currently is “From Island Girl to National Hero” because it brings back fond memories.

Ms. Sybil is content spending her days sitting around and taking care of herself, and not at all interested in having fights with anyone at all. “I listen to the news, turn on the television, read a book or participate in anything I can get from life around me.”

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