Former owner of Seaview Hotel dies at 85

Wilson Connell ‘Connie’ Edwards Sr., the former owner of Cayman’s old Seaview Hotel on South Church Street, George Town, has died.

The 85-year-old former pilot, Texas oil baron and Cayman resort owner passed away on May 3 in his hometown, according to Edwards’ wife Brenda.

Edwards was born April 25, 1934 in Big Spring, Texas.

Upon conclusion of schooling in Big Spring and San Angelo, he began his military service in the Army National Guard, where he served from 1951-1960. He earned a private pilot’s license in 1951, and commercial and airline ratings soon after, and flew throughout Central America, the Caribbean and the United States during his service.

He formed Edwards Petroleum Company with his late brother, W.P. ‘Budo’ Edwards Jr. in 1954. In 1959, the Edwards brothers assumed ownership and operation of the family farming, ranching and oil and gas leasing operations.

He worked as a stunt pilot for the 1969 movie ‘Battle of Britain’, during which he flew Me109s, Spitfires, Hurricanes, Heinkel HE IIIs, Junkers Ju 52s and B-25 planes. During the production in Bedford, England, a Spitfire he was piloting had to be belly landed as it had become engulfed in flames and suffered total loss of power. He was able to land the plane with no injuries, an act that earned him a Royal Commendation and honorary Royal Air Force wings. He also flew his own TBM Avenger in the films ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘Bermuda Triangle’, among others.

Connie Edwards, centre, on the set of ‘The Battle of Britain’.

He accumulated numerous awards and commendations through his flying career, including honorary wings from the Royal Air Force, Spanish Air Force, Canadian Air Force, Portuguese Air Force and United States Coast Guard.

Cayman days

Edwards was a regular visitor to Grand Cayman before buying the Seaview Hotel.

Brenda Edwards said her husband first arrived in the Cayman Islands in 1953. He purchased the Seaview, located between Sunset House and Eden Rock, sometime in the 1960s.

“Connie was a true character and the likes of him will not pass this way again,” said Cayman friend Chris Johnson.

A great raconteur of stories of his plane collection in Austin, Texas, and a very generous man, Edwards would frequently buy his patrons a drink in the hotel bar, recalls Johnson.

Bonnie Briggs recalls him being lots of fun in the 1980s, especially when they were taking trips to the North Sound in his seaplane, which he would anchor off Seaview. “He was always in a good mood, always enjoyed life and helped people like me to enjoy,” she said.

Johnson said perhaps the most memorable story he recalls was when Edward wished to bring his seaplane to Cayman. He sought permission from the airport to land, but was referred to the Port Authority, which then referred him back to the airport.

Fast becoming tired of this, Edwards flew past the attorney general’s house at English Point before landing outside Seaview.

Shortly after he alighted, the phone rang at the hotel enquiring of his whereabouts. It was none other than the attorney general who seemed somewhat displeased at being woken up from his nap by the noise, Johnson said.

Johnson said Edwards also visited once or twice the air show on West Bay Beach and took young children up in the air as a treat.

For decades, the Seaview attracted tourists – divers, in particular – as well as locals who loved to congregate at the bar or buffet for good drink, good food, and good times.

Built in 1947, the hotel holds dear and blurry memories for many people on this island.

However, the Seaview, which was already in need of some upgrading and repair, suffered severely during the ravages of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The hotel was deemed to be damaged beyond restoration, and the future of the site was in doubt and remained shuttered for some time.

It was later purchased by James Lagan of Caribbean Property Corporation. The site was transformed into a three-story, 23-unit luxury condominium complex now called The Seaview Residences.

Edwards is survived by his wife, Brenda; children, Patricia Zane and Nicholas Deak; two daughters by marriage, Stephanie Park and Tonya Crenwelge; along with eight grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Happy Days Humane Society of Big Spring, 5710 W. Interstate 20, Big Spring, Texas, 79720, or the American Cancer Society.

Funeral services were held Monday. Interment services will be held Tuesday, May 7, at Edwards Ranch Cemetery.

Online condolences can be made at www.npwelch.com.

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