John Bonwell McLean was remembered Tuesday as the man who helped bring East End into the modern age, and had a hand in developing much of the infrastructure that made the Cayman Islands what it is today.
Several hundred people gathered at an official state funeral at the Cayman Islands Baptist Church in Savannah to pay their respects to McLean, a longtime member of the Legislative Assembly, who died 24 Aug.
“The size of the crowd is a fitting tribute to John McLean’s life,” said the Rev. Randall Von Kanel, looking out from the alter over the packed pews of his church.
A long list of dignitaries, including Truman Bodden, Heather Bodden and Premier Alden McLaughlin took turns detailing McLean’s accomplishments during his 69 years.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service provided a uniformed honour guard and served as pallbearers, carrying McLean’s casket from the church after the service, folding the flag that draped it and presenting the flag to McLean’s family.
McLean, who worked for a few years in banking and finance before pursuing politics, was first elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1976 when he was just 26 years old. He served in that body for the next 24 years.
McLaughlin said East End was a different world in those days.
“East End only got electricity in 1970,” he said, speaking after the service. “There were no phones, no streetlights. The road was largely unpaved. It was, without question, the poorest district.”
“He really ushered East End into a whole new era of infrastructure development,” he added.
“He made, without question, an immense contribution.”
During his address to the funeral attendees, McLaughlin recalled that McLean’s first election was won by a mere 13 votes. He said McLean set about “preserving things in Cayman by improving the lives of Caymanians. He was a true Caymanian, a true East Ender and a statesman. He will be sorely missed”.
Over his years of service, McLean helped to establish the Cayman Islands Water Authority in 1983 and led the efforts to develop Cayman’s 911 emergency system, introduce street lighting across the islands, build numerous public buildings and purchase the Cayman Turtle Farm.
A farmer himself, he pushed to modernise farming practices in Cayman, revitalised the annual agriculture show and helped procure the grounds where the show is now held.
His children said, despite all that, he still found time for his family.
Former MLA Heather Bodden read letters written by McLean’s children for the occasion.
“He always made time for us. He would regularly take us fishing and, on weekends, to the beach,” one of the letters read. “He taught us to be go getters. One of his favourite sayings was, ‘The sky’s the limit.’”
“We salute you,” the letter continued. “You were a great person and a great father figure. Sleep peacefully, Daddy. Sleep peacefully.”
Von Kanel acknowledged the family’s grief, but said they and others should find comfort in the way that McLean ended life.
“He finished well,” Von Kanel said. “Throughout the final days of his life, he displayed a remarkable tenacity of faith and hope and love. His final gift to his family was those three things.”
He recalled shaking McLean’s hand during his final hours and feeling the “strength of a farmer” in his grip. McLean, he said, was known for his positive attitude, which was often expressed in a thumbs up gesture, the same gesture he gave to Von Kanel on that last day.
“That’s the way to die,” the minister said, “full of faith, full of hope and full of love.”