Cayman’s oldest resident, Elizabeth Hurlston, died Sunday, just hours after celebrating her 105th birthday.
Her son-in-law Michael Bowerman confirmed her passing, describing Hurlston as “a truly unique lady, caring, generous and warm”.
Hurlston was born on 31 Aug. 1914 in Grand Turk, just as World War I was getting under way. She witnessed a century of transformation across the Caribbean, where she spent much of her younger years travelling and teaching. She lived in at least 10 countries, according to her family.
In 1919, circumstances would bring her to the Cayman Islands, where her father Hugh Hutchings was named commissioner. The youngest of eight children, she spent much of her childhood in Grand Cayman.
Before permanently settling in South Sound, however, Hurlston ventured off island, studying in Jamaica and Antigua and then training as a Montessori teacher in the United Kingdom.
Later, she returned to Jamaica to care for her sick mother.
“The Second World War was about to break out and Elizabeth decided to become a nurse. She trained in Bermuda and then Canada, returning to Bermuda to live and work before accepting a post in an Adventist Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. Many of her family were at that time living in Jamaica,” a statement from her family read.
“While there, she was persuaded by the headmaster of Knox College, situated in the hills of Manchester, to join the school as a nurse and teacher. This was one of the happiest periods of her life, she said.”
Fate, however, eventually brought her back to Cayman. Upon the invitation of Frances Bodden, she spent her Christmas holiday in Cayman in 1949.
On the plane ride from Jamaica, she sat next to a Caymanian widower, Otto Hurlston, whom she had known during her childhood. He was on his way home for Christmas from his job as superintendent of the Standard Fruit Company Estate in the Artibonite Valley, Haiti.
Within two weeks, they were engaged. The couple wed in June 1950.
After a period spent in Haiti and then a year in Honduras where Otto continued to run a banana estate, they decided in 1954 it was time to return to Grand Cayman. Otto, Elizabeth and Otto’s daughter Mary moved back into the old family house on South Church Street where Ugland House is now located, and opened a business known as Caymandicraft in the building which subsequently became the Eden Rock Diving Center.
Otto, a skilled craftsman, specialised in designing and carving turtle shell jewellery while Elizabeth ran the shop, selling a range of products including Agfa cameras, 4711 cologne, Seagull outboard engines and Scottish cashmere sweaters.
“Many have said that they would come to the shop not just to buy but to visit with Elizabeth, and she built up a wide circle of friends from overseas as well as locally. She kept the shop open for nearly 40 years, although Otto passed away in 1986,” the family statement read.
In the mid-90s, she sold the property in town and moved, along with Mary and her son-in-law Michael Bowerman, to their new house in South Sound.
She had two grandchildren, Deborah and David who, with their spouses, Will Ryan and Susana, and her four great-grandchildren, Gabriela, Adriana, Abigail and one-year-old David Alexander, all live in South Sound.
Over the years, she taught Sunday school at Elmslie Memorial, served the Girls’ Brigade for 27 years, eventually becoming Captain in George Town and Commandant of the island. She served on the church mission committee and was a member of the ‘In His Steps’ visiting team.
According to her family, she is the only member of the church to have gone on every church mission trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from their inception in 1988 – about 15 trips in all. While visiting the Dominican Republic on her final trip, shortly before she reached 94, she cracked several ribs – an effect of the rough roads on her osteoporosis.
“Right until the end of her life – yes, past the age of 104 – she still insisted she was returning to Haiti, and we needed to help her get things ready to take,” Bowerman said.
Into her mid-90s, she was still helping out a couple of afternoons a week in the church office, visiting shut-ins and serving with the Pink Ladies. In her earlier years, she had been the chair of the Public Library Committee, and founder member of the Red Cross, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and the Garden Club.
When the National Council of Social Service (now the National Council of Voluntary Organisations) was formed in 1980, she became a Pink Lady, visiting and serving hot drinks in the hospital, and into her late 90s, she could be seen doing her rounds there. An animal lover who kept dogs and cats throughout her life, including her latest, a cat called Spice, she helped at the Humane Society.
For many years, she kept a list of sick people and shut-ins to whom she made weekly visits. She was a volunteer at The Pines Retirement Home and a volunteer teacher’s aide at the Cayman Prep and High School.
In 1976, she received the Queens’ Badge and Certificate of Honour for her contribution to the youth of the Cayman Islands, and in 2001 was awarded an MBE by the Queen for community service. She was also one of the four Quincentennial Ambassadors for George Town in 2003 at the time the Cayman Islands celebrated its 500th year since discovery.
A service of celebration of Elizabeth Hurlston’s life will be held at 2pm, on Saturday, 7 Sept., at Elmslie Church. Bright colours are requested, and in lieu of flowers, any donations received will be shared with Jasmine (formerly Cayman HospiceCare) and various Christian ministries in Haiti.