Former Speaker of the House Mary Jannet Lawrence has lived in Bodden Town since the age of 7 when she arrived to attend school. Born in Nicaragua of Caymanian parents Copeland Bodden and wife Otilla Bodden née Bodden, she was taught to be proud of her Caymanian heritage and roots, anchored in the family after which her town is named.
She went on to teach in public and private schools; and also worked as a print writer, editor and publisher. An authority on the history and development of Cayman, Mrs. Lawrence is often called on to research topics from her personal files. She also undertakes speaking engagements, and has been a commentator on local radio.
She and her late husband were house-parents in a home for troubled young people and she is particularly proud of the achievements of those whose lives they touched. Within the education system, she has worked with students who had difficulty functioning in regular classroom settings, and has fostered and counselled numerous children and families.
A Justice of the Peace for almost 30 years, Mrs. Lawrence chaired the Bench in the Lower Courts until 2009. A founding member of the Justice of the Peace Association, she served as its President (1997-1999), restructured the role of Justices in the legal system and established a training programme. A conference speaker, she led two units of the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association Millennium Conference in Scotland in 2000.
Mrs. Lawrence was a founding member of the National Council of Social Services (now NCVO) and president of the Drug Advisory Council, forerunner of the National Drug Council. She has served as an Inspector of Prisons, a member of the Immigration Board, the Education Council, and is a member of the Adoption Board.
As a consultant to the government minister for social services and prisons, she helped restructure residential homes for children and young people. On setting up the CAYS Foundation, she worked in the programme in the early days.
Her work with young people included instituting support initiatives, like the Shadow Programme, which allowed group home residents to attend school, outside activities and on-site family counselling. She also helped establish a farming programme for Northward Prison inmates, with the purchase of Furtherland Farms.
Chair of the Bodden Town Quincentennial Committee since 2002, she organised senior volunteers to plan and undertake a 15-month programme showcasing the history and culture of the Caymanian people. Out of that venture came the Bodden Town Heritage Committee.
Under her leadership, the committee established a community park in Central Bodden Town. The site includes a children’s playground and the Nurse Josie’s Senior Centre. The latter, a historical building, is home to Caymanian artifacts. The premises now include Heritage House – to further showcase and preserve Caymanian history and culture.
The group hosts a variety of major events in Bodden Town, as well as exhibitions and teaching forums for schools.
Members of the Bodden Town Heritage Committee undertake regular community outreach, supporting seniors and families across the island.
Following the 2009 general elections, Mrs. Lawrence was nominated and unanimously accepted to serve as Speaker of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly. Sworn in for a four-year term, it was the only time that that section of the Constitution which allows the Legislative Assembly to draw its Speaker from the community, was exercised. In that role, she was president of the local branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, hosting conferences and representing the Legislative Assembly at conferences.
At that time, Mrs. Lawrence was asked by the governor and Cabinet to plan and execute week-long celebrations for Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee.
In December 2010, she was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) for her service to the Cayman community.
In 2018, she received a University College of the Cayman Islands honorary doctorate Doctor of Laws (LL. Dr) honoris causa – in recognition of her extensive contribution to the islands’ government and public service.
Mrs. Lawrence has six children, 20 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, and keeps in close touch with those who have shared the family home.