Sybil McLaughlin is celebrated throughout the Cayman Islands for her remarkable career and her dedication to the Cayman Islands Government. As the first woman to achieve the designation of National Hero of the Cayman Islands, Mrs. McLaughlin is often regarded as an inspiration to women – both young and old – across the Cayman Islands and Caribbean.
She will tell you, however, that her journey began in more humble circumstances. Born in Mobile, Alabama, Mrs. McLaughlin is the daughter of Captain Charles Bush, also from Mobile, and Lottie Bush of Cayman Brac. Two years after she was born, her father passed away and Lottie moved back to the Cayman Islands with her children in tow.
As a young girl, Mrs. McLaughlin was sent to live with her aunt in Nicaragua where she attended grade school before returning to Grand Cayman to complete her high school education at the only secondary school in the Cayman Islands.
She grew up in an era when men were often away at sea and women were compelled to become strong, independent women for their families and few had careers of any sort. A trail blazer and pioneer, Mrs. McLaughlin felt she was destined for more and often dreamed of sitting behind a big desk in an office.
She attended the Baptist College in Managua, Nicaragua where she graduated with a commercial course, typing qualifications and a fluency in Spanish. Shortly after her return, she was offered a modest position within the Government as a clerk typist, preparing bills for the Legislative Assembly, and on her first day of work she rode her bicycle into George Town, which stands today as Grand Cayman’s capital and a bustling financial district.
Over a 20 year span, her career blossomed and included roles like Clerk of what is now referred to as the Cabinet, Secretary of the Cayman Islands Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and she was Cayman’s first Speaker of the House. She was the first woman among the Commonwealth countries to hold the title of Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. She also oversaw the body that administered Cayman’s foremost written constitution and had stints at the House of Commons in London, the Northern Ireland Parliament in Stromont and Parliaments in both Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago. She officially retired from the Government in 1996 and it was at this time she was designated Cayman’s highest honour as a National Hero.
Setting the pace for the advancement of women in her shadow, Mrs. McLaughlin was also a founding member of the Business Professional Women’s Club and was actively involved in Rotary Sunrise. Her dedication to her family, community and charities throughout the Cayman Islands is incredible and she has made an indelible mark on Cayman’s society as a result.
Today, at 88 years old, Mrs. McLaughlin enjoys spending time with her sons, watching tennis on her television and playing the organ for her church. A memoir of her life story, From Island Girl to National Hero, by Heather R. McLaughlin, can be found at bookstores across Grand Cayman.
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Published: Visit Cayman Islands, 2017
Photo Credit: All photos provided by the family of Mrs. McLaughlin