In 1993, the Legislative Assembly passed the National Heroes Law, providing for the declaration of persons who have rendered exceptional service as national heroes.
The first national hero, the late Executive Council member Hon. James (Jim) Manoah Bodden, was named in 1994. In 1996, the second hero, Mrs. Sybil Ione McLaughlin, first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, was named.
In 2003 the country celebrated its Quincentennial and the fourth Monday in January became a new public holiday, National Heroes Day. On the holiday's first celebration, a Wall of Honour was dedicated in Quincentennial Square in central George Town. The Wall bears the names of 500 men and women who made significant contributions to the Islands' development.
On National Heroes Day 2011 (24 January), five more Caymanians were declared national heroes, and on National Heroes Day 2012 (23 January) another joined the ranks.
Our first National Hero, the Hon. James (Jim) Manoah Bodden, was given this honour on 28th June 1994. Though Mr. Jim, as he was known to the community, passed away in 1988, he was regarded by his contemporaries as a visionary who helped to politically lead Cayman into an era of progress through modernization.
Mr. Jim was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1972, and served two terms as a member of Executive Council. As minister responsible for tourism and aviation, he was instrumental in establishing Cayman Airways and constructing Owens Roberts International Airport. He was re-elected to the Legislature in 1984 and served as a backbench MLA for the rest of his life.
Much loved by all Caymanians, Mr. Jim received the honour of a state funeral. In a moving ceremony in September 1994 a statue bearing his likeness was dedicated to him at Hero’s Circle, now known as Heroes Square, across from the Legislative Assembly.
Our second national hero is Mrs. Sybil Ione McLaughlin, MBE, JP, who continues to be an active member of society and a living example of the noble qualities towards which Caymanians, especially our young women, can aspire.
Mrs. McLaughlin received the country’s highest honour in 1996, in recognition of her contribution to Cayman’s parliamentary development, as well as to community life.
Among her outstanding achievements was her appointment as the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in February 1991, where her experience and resolve were appreciated until her retirement in 1996.
Mrs. McLaughlin entered government service in 1945, and was appointed clerk of the Legislative Assembly in 1959 – the first woman to hold this post in the Commonwealth. She served as secretary of the Cayman Islands Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association from 1965 to 1980. Mrs. McLaughlin also undertook attachments to the House of Commons in London, and Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland, in 1966, and to the Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago parliaments in 1971.
The following five Caymanians were declared national heroes in 2011.
Named as a “Former Legislator and Father of the House”, Mr. Thomas William Farrington, CBE, JP (1900 to 1978) was a great contributor to the Cayman Islands community. Born in June 1900 to William Farrington and Elizabeth M. Parsons, he became one of Cayman’s most outstanding citizens. He was a man of wisdom, persuasiveness and sincerity, especially in matters involving his beloved district of West Bay.
“Mr. Willie” as he was commonly known, exemplified what Caymanians represent. He became a civil servant in 1921, and until today he remains the longest-serving representative in the Legislative Assembly, having held his seat for 55 years. Mr. Willie was also the first elected member to be responsible for finance.
During the 1940s, he supported the establishment of what is today the John Gray High School. In 1959, he was among the first to be elected to the Executive Council after the first constitution was signed and in 1965, he became the first Caymanian to be honoured by Queen Elizabeth II as a Commander of the British Empire.
As a pioneer in the Cayman Islands Government, Mr. Willie led the House in legislation matters and was a founding member of the Christian Democratic Party. He was named ‘Father of the House’ both for his lengthy continuous service and for the wisdom and insight he displayed in matters of public interest. He was also a founding member of Cayman International Airways and played a major role in the development of Cayman’s first airport and in discussions regarding Cayman’s participation in the West Indies Federation.
His name was heard and known in every corner of the Islands because in the truest sense, he was a proud Caymanian, one who played a major role in crafting the Islands into the success it is today. For his accomplishments as a husband, father, Justice of the Peace, Law Agent, church elder and civic leader, he will always be honoured.
Remembered for “An outstanding commitment to youth”, Mrs. Sybil Joyce Hylton, MBE (1913 to 2006), the daughter of Edward and Jane Russell and wife of Wilfred Augustus “Conrad” Hylton, was Cayman’s first probation and welfare officer and a lifelong advocate for disadvantaged young people.
Mrs. Hylton became the Islands’ sole probation officer in 1963, going on to serve as the first head of the country’s Probation and Welfare Department until 1982. That was a role for which she was particularly well-suited and she revolutionised her department’s work. Her background and training included years of volunteering with the Jamaican authorities, with whom she maintained a close relationship throughout her tenure.
By the time of her appointment, she was already lobbying government to rectify a number of inequities that confronted the Islands’ youth. Her zest for championing issues such as the need for a separate court for juveniles continued into her retirement, as did her lengthy service on the Adoption Board.
And Mrs. Hylton’s exemplary commitment to young people extended to her private life; among other projects, she helped to develop the scouting movement in the Cayman Islands. Presenting her with a special award in 1972, the Nor’wester Magazine recognised her numerous contributions to young people.
She received the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour in 1968 and was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) ten years later.
“A very special son of Cayman”, Mr. Ormond L. Panton, OBE (1920 to 1992) was one of the most prominent political figures in Cayman’s history. Mr. Ormond founded Cayman’s first political party and was the first politician to win an election as party leader.
As a member of the National Democratic Party, he was heavily involved in politics and was the youngest delegate to attend the West Indies Federation discussions.
His professional skills combined with a relish for helping others assured his success in many local trials. Mr. Ormond was regarded as an outspoken attorney, one who also achieved many firsts for his country.
In 1955 he succeeded in confirming his right to a fair trial – a right now enshrined in Article 14 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. He was also lead negotiator between the UK and its Overseas Territories in discussions on independence. The first Caymanian attorney to appear before the Privy Council in London, he also introduced a motion to allow Cayman authorities to issue US visa waivers, thereby facilitating merchant marine employment for Caymanians.
A member of the Cayman Bar Association, Mr. Ormond also served as a director of Cayman Airways Ltd. between 1980 and 1984. He was also one of the first Chartered Rotarians of Grand Cayman. Honoured by Queen Elizabeth II in 1984, he became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to society.
His many outstanding qualities ensure that he will forever be honoured for his legal, political and personal contributions to the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Ormond married Naomi Bodden in 1942 and they had seven children.
“His life stands as a sterling example” is the tribute paid to Mr. Desmond Vere Watler, CBE (1914 to 1994) -- an exemplary citizen and exceptional civil servant. Starting out as a 23-year-old clerk, his almost four-decade career saw him rise through the ranks to become, in 1969, Cayman’s first Treasurer, a title that was constitutionally changed to Financial Secretary.
Mr. Desmond became the first Chief Secretary of the Cayman Islands in 1972. He served in the Legislative Assembly for 32 years and was the First Official Member and Chairman of the Executive Council. He served in every area of parliamentary administration in the legislature and regarded the provision of proper communications and the writing of tax haven legislation as being key factors in the progress of the Cayman Islands.
Equally active in the wider community, Mr. Desmond became a Chartered Rotarian of Grand Cayman in 1965 and was a lifetime church elder of the Gun Bay United Church, conducting services throughout all districts. He was honoured twice by Queen Elizabeth II, first in 1966 as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and again in 1975 when he became a Commander of that Order.
Highly regarded for his soft-spoken demeanor, he became even better-known as a role model regarding standards of civil service integrity. His life remains a sterling example to today’s young people, demonstrating that with hard work, dedication and commitment to excellence, it is possible to reach the top of the career ladder.
Mr. Desmond was the son of William Conwell Watler and Ursalina Valentina McLaughlin. He married Wilma Ryder in 1948 and had one child.
“Dedication and selfless service” is how Ms Mary Evelyn Wood, Cert. Hon. (1900 to 1978) is remembered.
A true pioneer, Mary Evelyn Wood dedicated her life to bringing change to these Islands, for the benefit of the Caymanian people. She was born to Charles and Julietta Wood and was the youngest daughter in a family of six.
Miss Evie, as she was known, was the first woman ever elected to the Cayman Islands Legislature and was also the first to serve on a jury. Those groundbreaking achievements and more were products of her lasting commitment towards addressing the needs of the local community.
With a level of dedication towards others that was evident even at a young age, she was only in her early 20s when she started a small school in her father’s home, serving as its sole teacher. Several years later, after receiving training as a practical nurse, she changed vocations, entering what was then known as “private nursing.” That entailed visiting the homes of new and expectant mothers, in addition to sick persons around Grand Cayman. Her most notable service undoubtedly occurred during the typhoid epidemic of the late 1930s when she provided tireless care.
By 1957 an interest in women’s rights led her to join hundreds of other women in signing the petition for female suffrage of that year, now commemorated in Heroes Square, George Town. After women won the right to vote in 1959, she joined Ormond Panton’s National Democratic Party as treasurer and chair of the Bodden Town Committee. In 1962 she became that district’s Legislative Assembly representative.
Aside from her participation in social and political life, Miss Evie was also active in the church. Her unstinting service to the community was recognized in 1965, when she received the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour.
A man with vision and drive, William Warren Conolly, OBE, JP was a major player in Cayman’s political, economic and social landscape, and on National Heroes Day 2012 he was named a National Hero.
He was born in East End on 5 December 1920. The son of Austin and Adrienne Conolly he grew up a devoted scholar qualifying for entrance to college overseas. However a lack of funds thwarted his dream of obtaining a higher education. Instead, following in his father’s footsteps, he entered government service in 1944 as an elected member from East End, starting an illustrious public service career spanning three decades.
World War II put a temporary stop to this new vocation as Mr. Conolly sailed with the American Merchant Marine for three years. Upon his return in 1948, he re-established the family general merchandise store. However, the call to public service remained strong and in 1952, he re-entered politics as one of the elected members for the Legislative Assembly of Justices and Vestrymen.
In 1958 he founded the Cayman Vanguard Party, which dissolved not long after. A year later, under the new 1959 Constitution, he was appointed by Jamaican Governor Sir Kenneth Blackburne as one of the nominated members of the Legislative Assembly. In 1962, Mr. Conolly tried his hand at party politics again, becoming a founding member and deputy-president of the National Democratic Party. A decade later, Mr. Conolly became one of the first members of the Executive Council.
He was a founding member of the Cayman Islands Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and in 1965 he became the first Caymanian politician to have the distinct privilege of attending a course on Parliamentary Procedure and Practice at the House of Commons in London. He developed a keen understanding of the Standing Orders and the Constitution and was regarded as an expert on the Cayman Islands Constitution.
During his time in government Mr. Conolly set in motion some of the country’s key legislation, including the Companies, Bank & Trust Companies, Land Adjudication and Registered Land laws.
He was instrumental in creating the Department of Tourism and the crucial Mosquito Control and Natural Resources Department. He also spearheaded the official introduction of Cayman Islands currency in May 1972 and oversaw the completion of the Legislative Assembly building, the Port Authority finger pier and warehouse, the old Government Administration Building and the Courts Building.
After retirement from Government service in 1976, Mr. Conolly re-established his legal practice as a sole practitioner until 1983 when he was joined by his step-son David Ritch. They founded Ritch & Conolly from which he retired in 1997.
He also played an active role in the community: He shared in the founding of the Cayman Islands Law Society in 1967, serving on its council for two terms; he was a founding member and served on the Board of the Caribbean Utilities Company for over 34 years, retiring as Director Emeritus in 2000; and he was a founding member of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.
Even as he was always looking ahead, Mr. Conolly was a strong advocate for controlled development – his political motto was Hasten slowly. His entire political career, like those of his peers, was voluntary with little or no remuneration. His selfless contribution to the development of his home country was acknowledged in 1974 when he received the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Other acknowledgements include a 1995 Silver Thatch Award for his contribution to tourism development in the Islands.
Mr. Connolly, who passed away on 22 October 2008 at the age of 87, was married to Islay Conolly, MBE, for 50 years. They had three children: David Ritch, OBE, Burns Conolly and Jacqueline Conolly-Smellie.
Last Updated: 2012-02-05