In this year’s National Heroes Day celebrations, the focus was split between Cayman’s constitutional progress and the contribution women have made, and continue to make, in local politics.
With its usual pomp and ceremony that saw Union flags strung side by side with Cayman flags on the streets and various uniformed groups parade to and fro with music provided by the police band, the annual event brought out hundreds of spectators.
“The 1950s and early 1960s were a time of great change for the Cayman Islands, as well as for the other British Caribbean colonies,” said Premier Alden McLaughlin as he delivered the keynote address to onlookers who attended in their Sunday best.
McLaughlin reflected on the struggles of Cayman, and how, through an initial 1959 order in council, Cayman took its “first steps towards political advancement”. He also spoke of recent constitutional amendments that now prevent the UK from legislating for Cayman without, at minimum, consulting with Cayman first.
This year, more than 50 vestrymen and justices of the peace were recognised for their efforts in leading Cayman over the last several decades. The only surviving 1959 vestryman, Arley James A.J. Miller of Bodden Town, was wheeled onto the stage where all in attendance gave him a standing ovation. Miller was presented with a framed copy of his biography, a commemorative banknote and certificate of recognition.
Cayman has nine national heroes. In late 2019, Heroes Square was transformed, with flora that once complemented the statues being replaced with marble slabs that now serve as the housing of busts of five of the national heroes.
The sounds of trumpets could be heard ringing out as the premier helped unveil the busts of Sybil Ione McLaughlin, Desmond Vere Watler, Sybil Joyce Hylton, Dr. Roy Edison McTaggart and Thomas William Farrington. The additional four busts will not be revealed until next year’s Heroes Day celebrations.
The ‘Phenomenal Four’ who paved the way
In 1958, the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Bill granted women in Cayman a most basic of human rights – the right to vote. The landmark legislation gave women a voice and in the 1959 general elections not only did women vote, they stood as candidates.
The first four women to run for office were Burdell Jackson of West Bay, Ethel Cook-Bodden of George Town, Francine Jackson of Bodden Town, and Laurel Watler of Bodden Town.
Together, they have been dubbed the ‘Phenomenal Four’. Although none of the women was elected in that initial poll, they are credited with blazing the trail for national hero Mary Evelyn Wood to become the first women to be elected to office during the following general election.
Six decades after receiving the right to suffrage, women continue to play an integral role in Cayman’s politics. Currently, there are three women serving as elected officials – Minster Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Minister Tara Rivers and Councillor Barbara Conolly.
During the ceremony, a new $1 note was given to audience members. On each note, the words ‘Celebrate Cayman, 60 Years, Our First Constitution’ is written. The notes are expected to go into circulation in the coming days.