Cayman’s oldest person, Wellesley Augustus Howell, has passed away.
The shoemaker and saxophonist died today, Friday, 23 July, at the age of 106. He was born on 7 Jan. 1915 in Chesterfield, St. Mary, in Jamaica.
He was a well-known and well-loved member of the Cayman community.
His iconic Shedden Road shoe shop, which opened 43 years ago, has been a landmark in George Town for decades and was a popular stop for many who sought shoe repairs and some solid life advice from a man who had seen it all.
Premier Wayne Panton, in a post on his Savannah community Facebook page paid tribute to Howell.
“Mr. Howell was a quiet but strong presence in our community. A shoemaker, saxophonist, dominoes player, husband, father and friend, he was loved and respected by all who had the pleasure to meet him or be a part of his long, fruitful life,” he said.
The premier said personally he enjoyed the occasions when he had the opportunity to interact with Howell.
“He was a blessing to us all, and will be sorely missed. My condolences to the Howell family, and all those who are grieving the loss of this great man,” Panton wrote.
The centenarian was featured several times over the years in the Cayman Compass and would often share his secret to living a good and long life.
To prepare for old age, Howell advised in a previous interview, “Do right in life,” and when it comes to dealing with the future, “just laugh”.
He arrived in Cayman in 1958 at the invitation of Caymanian band leader S.E. Nembhard, who wanted Howell’s services as a saxophone player.
After staying on the island for six months, he returned to Jamaica to get married but later came back to Cayman to rejoin Nembhard’s band. He also took up shoemaking.
Howell was widowed in 2012, when his wife, Alma Baronis Howell, passed away at age 80.
He often said his favourite place was home, and his love was music, which he called the most enjoyable thing in his life.
Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart also paid homage to Howell, saying another Caymanian icon has passed on.
He reflected on his own interactions with Howell growing up.
“Mr. Howell was a very talented man. As a young boy I recall visiting his shoe shop on Shedden Road with my parents as they often took shoes there to be repaired rather than just a discarding them. I remember watching him as he used his tools to carefully remove worn soles and replacing them with new ones and making them shoes look as good as new,” McTaggart told the Compass.
Howell, he said, was also a very talented musician whom he saw perform at many parties and events.
“What we have left are the memories of this great man that we will cherish and will live on in our hearts. On behalf of my family, the Progressives and the official Opposition, I extend our deepest condolences to his son Wesley, daughter Lyneth and the extended family and all those who mourn his passing today. May his soul rest in peace,” he added.
Tributes poured in on social media as news of Howell’s passing spread.
Lucille Seymour, a former George Town legislator, posted condolences on her Facebook page, describing him as a “great contributor to the Cayman Islands in music craftsmanship”.
Describing him as an icon, Seymour said, “As a young woman growing up, he taught me humility, how to be proud of myself and what I do. To work hard and be somebody. He reminded me that a girl from Shedden Road can be empowered to give others a chance to also be somebody. This is a man I will always remember and by his own quiet and humble ways [he] helped us to be extraordinary people,” she said.
She extended her condolences to the Howell family.
“We, the people of Cayman Islands, wish to share our sympathies with his family Wesley Howell, Carl Faud and Lyneth Monteith and their families. He was a great contributor through his craft and music and inspired us on how to love and respect one another,” she wrote.
The Compass has reached out to the Howell family and we are awaiting a response.
View Howell’s last interview with the Compass below as he talked about his love for music and dominoes.
Jewel Levy contributed to this article.