The life of the late Stella Louise Welcome is one that has been intertwined with Cayman’s story of ingenuity, adversity and prosperity. Welcome, who died at the age of 105 on Thursday, 7 Jan., lived through Cayman’s transformation from a little-known, mosquito-infested island to a world-class financial centre.
Welcome, believed to have been Cayman’s oldest woman, was born to a family of modest means in East End on 20 Oct. 1915, when Cayman’s population was a mere 5,500 people, the country had no running water or electricity, and was still under the stewardship of Jamaica – which was a British colony at the time.
“It was a time when people didn’t have much, and they shared what little they had,” said Donald McLean, one of Welcome’s 13 grandchildren.
An ambitious and hardworking person, Welcome was been described as an independent woman who lived and worked at a time when women still could not vote.
“She began working at a fairly early age, and at one point she worked with a family in George Town,” said McLean. “Back then, the journey from East End to George Town was no mean feat, and so she would often end up staying there a month at a time. But she was a very strong woman who would continue working well into her 90s.”
During her lifetime, Stella lived to see Cayman’s first domestic political leaders, first called Justices and Vestrymen, then renamed Members of the Legislative Assembly and now Members of Parliament. She witnessed women being given the right to vote, the construction of the then George Town Public Hospital, the first airfield, the first hotel, the opening of the Old Savannah School House. She has seen all 14 governors. She lived through the deadly 1932 storm and 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.
She witnessed two world wars, two global pandemics, (the 1918 Spanish flu and COVID-19), the rise and fall of the Berlin wall, and 18 US presidents. She was born when King George V ruled over the United Kingdom and lived through the reign of his son and successor King George VI, and watched as Queen Elizabeth II took the throne.
“She has had a full life and witnessed many things and watched the world change many times,” said McLean. “She loved her country, and she was saddened by how impersonal we became as a people.
“But she lived a happy life and her greatest joy was to attend church and sing in the choir; and now we are coming together to celebrate that life.”
The matriarch of her family, Welcome seems to have inherited her longevity from her mother Jannette Wood, who lived to be 103 years old.
Welcome is survived by her two daughters, 14 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and 23 great-great-grandchildren.