Osgood Christian has proven that there is no limit to what can be done if you are self-motivated. He learned this during a time in Cayman’s history when jobs and schooling were scarce.
Now, at 85, Christian is a certified mechanic, engineer, carpenter, electrician, merchant marine officer, seaman, building estimator, husband, father, farmer and elder of the Cayman Islands Seventh-day Adventist Church.
He built many houses on Cayman and at 85, he has many achievements to show for his working life.
In the 1940s, Christian at 17 was like most Caymanian men – seeking work.
Growing up in George Town, he said there was nothing but bush. People raised cows along Shedden Road where RBC Royal Bank is now located. At that time, the fledgeling township held only the post office, the library and the Town Hall, along with a few homes and churches.
Far from town, East End was a hard place to make a living, with few jobs available. People survived by making thatch rope, fishing or planting.
He said his first job as a young man in the late 1940s was working for government, earning 4 pennies a day.
“You had to do whatever they tell you to do to get that.”
He said the men were getting 2 shillings and 6 pence a day. Sugar, he said, was penny a pound.
“You could buy sugar, flour, cornmeal, margarine and have a couple cents left over to put in your pocket.”
But Christian was determined to beat the odds. “I am not a lazy person. I went out seeking more jobs.”
Christian fished with his cousin and chopped bush.
“All a man got to have is some intelligence about him. If he puts his mind to it, he can do it,” Christian said. “A degree is good, it’s very good, but you must have ambition to move forward. A degree without ambition does not mean nothing,” he said.
At age 19, Christian joined the National Bulk Carriers shipping company. Local shipping agent Gwen Bush asked Christian if he was planning to join the ship with his skin covered with maiden plum – a highly irritating and corrosive plant, which caused severe skin reactions from his time chopping bush. He replied, “yep”.
Christian’s first ship was the Ore Chief, sailing from Montego Bay, Jamaica, to Venezuela. After spending 13 years at sea he was issued a Merchant Marine Officer’s Licence of Competence, as third engineer on steam vessels, from the New York commissioner of Maritime Affairs in 1963.
He also completed several correspondence courses in technical fields, including a diploma in diesel mechanics, which was awarded to him from the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1989.
Seven years later, in 1996, he received a diploma in building estimation from the North American Correspondence Schools.
“There was hardship in Cayman those days, and most young men went to sea,” he said. “Young people today say they have hardship. It’s because they do not try to get nothing out of life. They run up and down, smoke weed, and drink. It will destroy any human being,” Christian said.
“Today young people got more opportunities, but opportunity don’t mean anything if you do not have the ability to accept opportunity.”
He said opportunity only knocks once.
When Christian returned home from sea, he worked on homes in Cayman Kai.
“I never went to no school to learn to build. I see it and I did it,” he said. He only went to primary school.
“Getting an education certainly didn’t guarantee you a job at the end of it.”
As a homeowner, he carries out his own repairs, replacements and home improvements. He also takes care of painting, plumbing, carpentry and electrical work.
Knowing what tools are necessary for specific jobs makes the work much easier. Christian has his own workshop with all the tools he needs to carry out almost any job.
Bunches of plantains and bananas also hang in his workshop, from his trips to the farm.
He said his life is special because he believes it is his civic duty to “do good to all men, and to live a clean and healthy life.”
He said respect is lacking in this world nowadays. “If the generation coming up don’t have respect for government and the older people, it is finished,” he said.
Married for 64 years, Christian lives in East End with wife Linda, and he says he would not change her for anyone. The two are the parents of two sons, Balfour and Valburn, and one daughter, Cherry.