The Cayman Compass journalist known for riding her bicycle between the newsroom and Cayman’s courthouse where she was a respected fixture, Carol Winker, died on Monday morning.

Her dedication to Cayman’s community and to upholding a free press left a lasting mark on the islands. Her deep knowledge of Cayman’s courts and history made her an invaluable asset to promoting public knowledge and ensuring accurate news reporting.

Although renowned for her reporting of Cayman’s courts during her 34 years at the Compass, Winker covered every type of story – from hurricanes, to nature, to politics and beyond.

Compass reporter Kayla Young interviewed Winker last year about her coverage of Hurricane Ivan, where she remembered how the community came together and the role journalism played in informing the public.

“I realised that news isn’t entertainment and news isn’t information you can use to support your prejudices or preconceived notions,” Winker said. “News is valuable information that you need.”

She played a major role in getting that information out. And she worked alongside others – both colleagues and competitors – to make sure the community received the most accurate information.

“Ms Winker was a wonderfully complex human,” said Tara Bush, Winker’s long-time friend and host of Radio Cayman’s ‘For the Health of It’. “She taught me to write for a newspaper. She worked for the Compass and I worked for a competing newspaper. Our lessons were at the Thompson Bakery in George Town.

“I often left our sessions crying. But my determination kept me going. One day I asked her why she was being what I thought was harsh. She said, ‘They will eat you alive in a newspaper. So I need to work on your confidence and get you ready for bigger things.’ She was right.

“Her ethos was, ‘Be first but be right.’ She was impeccable with her words and she expected nothing less from those around her.”

While she was a mainstay in Cayman’s media scene, journalism didn’t define her as a person.

She also worked as an election monitor and a school teacher.

She proudly lived off the grid – without electricity – at her home in North Side, where she would give visitors a tour, reminiscent of a visit to a museum, pointing out bits of pottery she had uncovered in her yard and original touches to the wooden house she lived in.

Her sincerity and empathetic nature made her close, life-long friends.

“Words don’t come easy now,” said long-time friend Frank Roulstone. “She was there for my children and me when we suffered our loss and I am honoured to have been a part of her life and able to give her care and comfort when she needed it most.”

The sight of ‘Miss Carol’ arriving daily, always punctually, outside the courthouse was well known to the court staff, and to many of the defendants.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Ms. Carol Winker for whom I have the highest regard,” Chief Justice Anthony Smellie said in a statement provided to the Compass.

The chief justice first met Winker in the early 1980s when he would appear in the courts on behalf of the Crown.

“She was always very careful to ensure the accuracy and fairness of her reports and to that end would from time to time ask for clarification of legal points,” he recalled.

“That kind of ‘consultancy’ relationship continued between us after I became a judge and I ensured that whenever she felt the need to have clarification on issues that I or another colleague should be available. So high was the regard with which Ms Winker was held that she was never denied audience. We were all assured of her objectivity, fairness and dedication to getting the story ‘right’.”    

Her reports on cases were so reliable they came to be cited in court under the affectionate moniker the ‘Winker Law Reports’, Smellie said.

“She was the consummate professional,” he said. “Cayman has lost a journalist of the highest order.”

Judicial Administration will be announcing a tribute to mark her contributions to the reporting of court proceedings, Smellie said.

She worked as a teacher before taking up her second career as a journalist. For many years, she would return to the Compass office from court, lamenting that another student whom she had taught years earlier had appeared before the judge.

A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Winker graduated from Messmer High School in 1958, and then earned her bachelor’s degree from Mount Mary College in 1962. Later, she accepted an internship at Marquette University where she gained credits toward her master’s degree, which she earned from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

She then travelled to Belize and British Honduras for two years as a papal volunteer. Afterward, she returned to the US and worked for the postal service before teaching at Lincoln High School in Milwaukee. She moved to the Cayman Islands in the mid-70s to continue her career in education as a peripatetic reading teacher.

Her battle with cancer began around two years ago. She underwent a number of treatments in that fight, never losing her sense of humour and indomitable spirit. Not surprisingly, she would speak of returning to the job she loved once she recovered.

Winker was 79 years old.