Athelstan Charles Ethelwulf Long, Cayman’s first governor, may have been 100 when he died Wednesday evening, but longtime friend, and his attorney, Amanda Roberts said part of him never aged beyond boyhood.
“He was quite silly,” Roberts said of Long’s sense of humour. She recalled a time several years ago when her then-young son accompanied Long on Remembrance Day.
“They would go out shaking the tin for Poppy Day and they would be like kids,” Roberts said. “He had a very boyish sense of humour.”
Roberts said she was with Long when he died at The Pines Retirement Home, where he had been a resident for several years.
“He died very peacefully,” she said. “I was holding his hand.”
Long’s son, Cayman artist Charles Long, said his father had recently contracted a respiratory illness.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson issued a statement Thursday saying government flags in Cayman and in the United Kingdom were flying at half-staff for the day to honour Long. Both Manderson and Governor Martyn Roper offered their condolences in the statement.
Manderson said, “With his passing, the Cayman Islands has lost a friend and advocate of many decades. Mr. Long’s abiding love for these Islands and their people led him to return to the Cayman Islands five years after his tenure ended. Here he has remained ever since taking an active role in the community, in particular in the Veterans Association.
“During these years he also served as an invaluable resource for his successors in the position of Governor.”
Governor Roper said, “I was very sad to hear about the passing of former Governor Athelstan Long. I was fortunate to meet Mr. Long twice, most recently at his 100th birthday party [in January this year]. As the first Governor of the Cayman Islands, Mr. Long’s passing is a historic moment in the Territory’s history. He made a valued contribution to these islands and the UK through his service.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin also offered his condolences in a separate statement.
“Mr. Long was a dear friend to the people of the Cayman Islands and served these Islands well,” McLaughlin said. “He will certainly be missed.”
Long served as governor for less than a month. He came to Cayman in 1968 as the islands’ administrator, the last man to hold that title. He was sworn in as governor on 3 Nov. 1971 and left the island on 12 Nov.
“It is a great honour to me to be the first person appointed to this post, even only for some nine days,” Long said during his swearing-in ceremony.
Kenneth Crook, the second governor, arrived and was sworn in 30 Nov. 1971.
Charles Long said the law in those days was such that his father could not return to Cayman for five years. He spent much of that time in the British Virgin Islands.
“He was going to develop an island called Anegada,” Long said, but funding for those plans collapsed and the Longs came to stay with friends in Cayman. “He wasn’t sure what to do.”
But before long, he took the post of president of United Bank International and held the position for more than 30 years, Long said. The bank’s rules were such that his father was allowed to work for the government as well.
“He became chair of the Public Service Commission for quite a few years,” Long said.
The elder Long also served as chairman of International Management Group and deputy chairman of the Public Service Pensions Board. He was also active with the Cayman Islands Veterans Association.
Long said he thinks his father’s greatest contribution was in getting land surveys done on the island. Plots of land were measured out, defined and registered.
“Before, it was quite confusing,” Long said, as property boundaries were informal. “It helped with the development of the islands. It helped, eventually, in buying and selling land and bringing in roads.”
Born in 1919, in Worplesdon, Surrey County, England, Athelstan Long attended Westminster School of Brasenose College in Oxford, graduating in 1937 with a degree in geography. He wanted to become an actor, his son said. But the war was on and he enlisted in the army and joined the mounted artillery. He was stationed first in India and then in Singapore. It was there that his unit was captured by the Japanese.
Long spent three years as a prisoner of war, forced to work on the Burmese railway made famous by the film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’.
“He was a cook and carried bags of rice and stuff,” Long said. “He got quite thin. They didn’t get a lot of food.”
While he did not talk much about his war experiences, he did share some stories with close friends, even invoking some of his ever present humour, Roberts said.
“He would say it was a bit of an adventure,” she said.
After the war, Long entered the colonial service, with an initial posting in Asia before spending nine years each in Nigeria and Swaziland. He then came to Cayman.
Long said his father and mother, Edith ‘Sadie’ Long, stayed in Cayman because they enjoyed the people and the climate.
“He liked people and he liked helping the people in the Cayman Islands,” he said.
As recently as two years ago, the former governor took part in veterans parades, although he was wheelchair bound. He also gained some attention in 2017 when his military medals were stolen during a break-in at Roberts’ office. One of the burglars was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. The medals were not recovered.
Roberts said Long was widely admired by the people he worked with.
“They all absolutely adored him,” she said. “He had a vast knowledge of wisdom and was able to make many contributions.”
And he never lost his sense of humour.
“He was a very funny man,” she said. “He was quite blunt. He would say what he felt. But he had a good sense of humour. He always made me laugh.”
Besides his son Charles, Long is survived by his son Roland, of England, and two grandsons.
Services are pending.