The late statesman Benson Obadiah Ebanks was laid to rest on Friday afternoon, following a funeral in his hometown of West Bay attended by family, friends and supporters.
Following a formal ceremony in the Houses of Parliament on Thursday, Ebanks’ funeral was held Friday at John Gray Memorial United Church in West Bay, and he was buried in West Bay Cemetery.
At his funeral, Prime Minister Wayne Panton paid tribute to Ebanks, who died March 29 at the age of 87. The Prime Minister spoke of his nearly 30 years in public service as the elected representative of West Bay, during which he led a number of government departments, including education, health, social services and the environment.
Ebanks served as a member of the Legislative Assembly from 1965 to 1976 and again from 1980 to 1992.
Panton recounted that some of Ebanks’ former colleagues in the House had described him as “thoughtful and logical”, “a gentle giant” and “a gracious and dignified man” – all apt descriptions, he said. .
He said Ebanks was a “steadfast champion of education” and that his efforts and mentorship had led to the success of many young Caymanians over the years.
“He was a visionary nation builder and dedicated himself to our beloved Cayman Islands,” Panton said.
Speaking at the funeral, Leonard Ebanks, who sits on the board of directors of Cayman National Bank, of which Ebanks served as chairman for 36 years from its inception in 1974 until 2010, said the bank had renamed its internal scholarship in honor of Benson Ebanks.
Praising his many contributions to Cayman National, Leonard Ebanks said: “He will always be part of our family”, adding that the local community had lost “one of its pillars and a true Cayman statesman”.
Former House Speaker Mary Lawrence presented Ebanks’ life story to the congregation, first describing his early life as a schoolboy and noting that he entered Cayman High School at age 15, at a time when many boys left school at 16 and went to sea. . She said he was the first boy to take the senior Cambridge exam and had passed in seven subjects.
But instead of pursuing a law degree at university as he intended, a friendship with a manager of a new Barclays bank in Caymans sparked new professional interest and he joined the bank in June 1953, at the age of 18.
“It was the start of a disciplined banking career that would span 12 years and take him to the top of the industry in Cayman at that time,” Lawrence said.
In 1958 he married his high school girlfriend, Bessie – his wife of 53 years – and the couple had three daughters, Gina, Janet and Judith.
By encouraging his children to attend college and “pursue lifelong learning opportunities,” Lawrence said, “he instilled in them the values of honesty, integrity, and hard work, which were the characteristics of his own life”.
After a dozen years in banking, in 1964 Ebanks found himself at a crossroads, Lawrence said. “He had the promise of a great career, a great family and a respected position in the community. But he was also painfully aware of the growing pains his beloved country was going through. … In a move that surprised everyone, he decided to give up his career in banking and offer himself to serve his district and his country.
The following year, 1965, he was elected to represent West Bay, becoming the youngest member of the Legislative Assembly.
During his three decades in power, “his contribution was not limited to the fields of education, health and social protection, areas where he saw the greatest needs of the population”, said Lawrence said. “He would lend his expertise to cover all areas of the country’s development, emerging as a recognized leader in the political arena.”
Among the laws passed under his leadership were the Caymanian Protection Act and the Local Business (Control) Act – put in place to protect Caymanians at a time when economic progress in the islands was driving an influx of labor. foreign work and influence.
As Minister of Education, he was instrumental in establishing the University College of the Cayman Islands and the Sunrise Adult Training Centre, and helped set up government scholarship programs that would allow students locals to attend schools and colleges abroad. His work in the Department of Social Services led to the creation of what is now the National Voluntary Organizations for Children.
Ebanks was the first president of the new Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce and held that position from 1965 to 1967.
He was also a founding member of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman. Its members, in a tribute to Ebanks, said fellow Rotarians would remember him “for his ability to put aside his political differences when he walked into a club meeting and sat side by side with his opponents of Los Angeles and got along with the affairs of Rotary for the greater good of the community.
“He is fondly remembered as being respectful to all, always acknowledging the abilities of others, being a dedicated Rotarian with perfect attendance, and being a ‘gentleman at heart’.”
Describing some of the policies, legislation and decisions made in the 1960s and 1970s that led to the modernization of the Cayman Islands, Lawrence said: “Mr. Benson’s fingerprint was on it.
She added, “Indeed, he and his fellow legislators stood shoulder to shoulder, presented a united front and leveraged each other’s expertise to achieve the best for the country at all times. At a time when young Caribbean nations were struggling to survive, the Cayman Islands government, led by nation builders, of which it was a part, exhibited an aura of stability and good governance that earned it the respect of the world. .
He lost his candidacy for election in 1976, but was re-elected, as a member of the opposition, in 1980, and again in 1984 when his Team Dignity party, in coalition with independents, formed a government, and he became chief minister – equivalent to the role of prime minister today.
In recognition of his contribution to the growth and development of the Cayman Islands, in 1987 he was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
Lawrence and Premier Panton spoke about Ebanks’ commitment to the environment and his support for a development plan for Cayman.
“As well as caring deeply about the Caymanian people, he also cared about the environment,” Panton said, noting that when developing the West Wind Building in George Town, Ebanks and his team strategically built it around a guinep several generations old.
He added: “50 years ago he championed what we now call sustainable development. He has carefully managed the growth of our Cayman Islands – careful management that balances the community with its needs and the environment while advancing our economy to create a better quality of life for the people of these islands. He was always ready to provide the right kind of leadership at the right time, when it was needed most.
Lawrence pointed out that views expressed by Ebanks as early as 1975 warned of excessive development in Cayman and its impact on the environment.
She quoted him as saying, “I am always in favor of controlled and planned development. I think this is the right policy and should be continued. … I don’t think we should grow faster than the community can absorb it.
She added, “’Make haste slowly’ was the watchword of the development of the country as it was initially presented to the people. These are words that have sparked much protest over the years, but have now taken on new meaning on our islands, as young people recognize the fragility of what we have built. Mr. Benson would be proud.
After the 1992 election, Ebanks retired from politics and refocused on his family life, and spent more time at the family hardware store, which Lawrence says became “a bit of a community club”. where he provided political advice, guidance and opinions to all and sundry.
After a fall in 2011, Ebanks’ mobility was significantly affected and the death of his beloved wife Bessie in May 2012 compounded his health issues, Lawrence said.
He died peacefully at his home in West Bay on Tuesday March 29.