Cayman’s oldest person Wellesley Augustus Howell may have passed away, but the memories he left behind and his music will continue to live on in the hearts of those whose lives he touched.
The shoemaker and saxophonist died Friday, 23 July, at the age of 106. He was born on 7 Jan. 1915 in Chesterfield, St. Mary, in Jamaica.
Howell was a well-known and well-loved member of the Cayman community, as has been illustrated by the many comments and tributes paid to him following news of his passing.
His family, in a brief statement to the Cayman Compass, said, “our daddy loved his Lord, and oh how we loved him.”
Howell, they said, lived a full and enjoyable life.
“We are immensely thankful we were able to make many beautiful memories with him. In his humble and powerfully determined style, after our mother died in 2012, he was adamant that he wanted to stay in the home they shared. We are thankful that we were able to provide the care he needed at his home. Even at 106 years old, he was remarkably active and very sharp mentally; he enjoyed playing his saxophone, loved a spirited game of dominoes, and was still working at his shoe shop one day a week,” the emailed statement said.
The family said, “amazingly, he was still able to do the things he loved right up until his passing, as he was able to work at his shoe shop on Saturday, July 17th, play his sax on Tuesday, July 20th, and was able to walk with some assistance on the morning of Thursday, July 22nd, before passing peacefully on the morning of Friday, July 23rd. We love him endlessly and will miss him terribly.”
Inspiration to all
The Council of Older Persons, in a statement on 23 July, said, Howell’s commitment to living life to the fullest, while always striving to improve the lives of others, has been an inspiration.
“The Council will remember with great fondness how he, in his own quiet and humble way, helped and empowered many with his words of wisdom and encouragement. Mr. Howell showed us how to live a blessed and meaningful life: be friendly; motivate others; love and support our families; and to take time to do what we enjoy,” the Council said in its statement.
Howell’s 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.
The Council noted that Howell was a great contributor to the community “through his craftsmanship and music, his talents were celebrated across the community”.
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”.
The Council said its goal is for older persons to remain valued, respected and empowered throughout their lives.
“By coming together to protect and promote those who are most vulnerable among us, we will be able to reflect the values of collaboration and good will to humankind which Mr. Howell so well embodied,” it added.
Howell’s photo is among those selected for the annual census campaign and has been posted on a billboard.
On 20 July the Economics and Statistics Office laid a wreath in tribute at Howell’s billboard, beside the CUC Roundabout at the Crewe Road, Linford Pierson Highway junction.
Music led him to Cayman
Howell arrived in Cayman in 1958 at the invitation of Caymanian band leader S.E. Nembhard, who sought 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.
Samuel Rose, a member of Swanky Kitchen Band, with which Howell often performed, said when Howell turned 100 years old, the band played for his birthday celebration.
“This started what would become a new tradition of celebrating the next six birthdays with him. We also had the privilege of backing him up at other ceremonies and events. But for us he was more than a musician. He was an inspiration who always strived for perfection,” he said.
Premier Wayne Panton, in a post on the Savannah community Facebook page, also 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 funeral will take place Saturday, 7 Aug. at the First Baptist Church on Crewe Road. The viewing will be from 1:30pm-2:30pm with the service immediately following.