Governor Long laid to rest

Governor Athelstan Charles Long

Amid the spectacle of a guard of honour, top government dignitaries and a crowd of about 200 people, Athelstan Charles Ethelwulf Long, Cayman’s first governor, was given a final tribute on Wednesday at the Cayman Islands Baptist Church in Savannah.

Long, who died 1 Aug. at age 100, became Cayman’s last administrator in 1968 and, for a brief few days in 1971, the islands’ first governor. He was remembered fondly by those speaking officially, as well as those attending the funeral service.

“Mr. Long’s passing marks a historic moment,” said Governor Martyn Roper, adding that it gave Cayman a chance to look at the progress it has enjoyed since Long’s first arrival on the island. “It allows us all to pay tribute to a life dedicated to outstanding public service.”

Although he left Cayman in 1971, Long, who spent his career in the foreign service, returned five years later and retired here. He was not inactive. He served on numerous boards in government and the private sector, including 22 years as chairman of the public service commission. He gave up his last post on a board at age 88.

During his address, Roper read a brief statement from Britain’s Overseas Territories Minister Lord Tariq Ahmad, who praised Long and offered condolences to his family. Roper also shared accolades.

“Former Governor Long set the standard and was a role model for all those that followed,” the current governor said.

Roper, who arrived in Cayman last year, said he only met Long twice – one of those being Long’s 100th birthday celebration in January. Others at the funeral knew him much better.

Former MLA Heather Bodden said Long and his wife Sadie were her neighbours.

“I used to go to their house all the time,” she said.

When she first got elected in 1995, she said, the couple “would send me postcards with little quotes just to let me know they were behind me”.

Francene Roach said she knew Long for 20 years from her time working in government while he was head of the Public Service Commission.

She said he was not only knowledgeable and fair, but he cared about people.

“He never passed by without saying hello,” she said. “He had the civil servants at heart. He always made sure Caymanians got the best.”

“I remember, every Christmas, he would bring the staff chocolates,” she added. “He was very generous.”

Denniston Tibbetts, a member of the Seafarers Association, said although Long spent much of his time with top leaders on the island, he was down to earth.

“When you went somewhere with him, he would sit on the floor and talk to people,” Tibbetts said. “I would say he was Caymanian at heart, although he never lost his British accent.”

Tibbetts, a retired contractor, said he built Long’s house.

“He never talked down to you,” he said. “He never tried to make anyone feel inferior.”

Throughout the service, there was a regular changing of the guard, with two members stationed at either end of Long’s casket. During the address of Pastor Randy Von Kanel, one of the guards passed out, resulting in a small cluster of people assisting him in front of the church’s altar.

Von Kanel, who cut his talk short because of the incident, noted that Long was part of what is now referred to as the ‘Greatest Generation’, and said he was impressed by the former governor’s “resolve to do what was right and best for all people”.

During his address at the funeral, Premier Alden McLaughlin recalled that he was just 7 years old when Long first arrived as the islands’ administrator. Roads beyond Bodden Town were unpaved, he said. There was no electricity service in East End or North Side and residential phones had only been introduced to the island two years earlier.

Officers from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service carry Governor Long’s coffin on their shoulders to his grave at Eden Cemetery.

“Mosquitoes were so thick, they were still smothering calves,” he said.

Longtime friend Amanda Roberts recalled that same period when she read letters from the Legislative Assembly and the Civil Service written to Long upon his departure in 1971.

She drew laughter from the crowd, when she read, “Plans are also under way for a harbour and a new terminal building.”

Roberts tracked Long’s foreign service career from India to Burma, Nigeria and Swaziland. Other than India, each time he left a post it was due to that country establishing its independence from Great Britain. During his time in Swaziland, she said, he founded the first racially integrated school in Southern Africa, which caused a stir.

There was conflict under his Cayman tenure as well, she said. One of the most important parts of Long’s legacy was the establishment of clear property titles, established by surveying the islands. It was not a popular idea among some at the time and there were street protests, she said. Long called upon the Royal Navy for assistance, but the sailors never landed. Just having them anchored off the coast, she said, was enough to calm the situation.

The letters she read praised Long for increasing government salaries, his diplomacy and his humour.

“We shall miss you both,” said the letter from the Civil Service, “but especially your fine sense of humour and jest”. Roberts said Long never lost that sense of humour. His irreverence to protocol in polite society, she said, sometimes got him into trouble.

“His smile could make your day,” she said. “He made the 100. Now he has earned his rest.”

“Goodbye Athel,” she said, “a life well lived.”

Following the funeral service, a guard of honour on foot led the hearse carrying Long’s coffin to nearby Eden Cemetery, opposite Pedro St. James, where Cayman’s first governor was laid to rest.

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