When His Excellency the Governor, Mr. Martyn Roper called to inform retired Deputy Clerk of Parliament, Ms Sharon Smith that she was chosen to be a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty the Queen, she could not believe her ears.
“I was astonished as I did not expect to hear such news,” she says.
After she got over the initial shock, her excitement grew at the once-in-a-life-time honour. It was made even sweeter by the recognition also coming for long-standing public service to the Cayman Islands community, including her beloved East End, where she was delivered by a midwife in 1954 at her uncle’s home, and has resided in the district ever since.
She now has the privilege of adding MBE after her name and before her Justice of the Peace (JP) title. Yet, her innate humility and pragmatic nature still shine out.
This stalwart of the civil service retired in December 2020 after almost half a century – 47 years, 7 months to be exact - spent working for the Legislative Assembly, which she saw transition to a Parliament.
Her dedication to her work in the Legislative Assembly was legend throughout her career, notably her commitment to helping guide and inform newly-elected MLAs and later MPs.
During this time, Ms Sharon, as she is better known, was often the go-to person over the years for information regarding historical and procedural matters as well as rules. This applied equally to legislators, Speakers of the House when newly appointed, and colleagues. She is a fount of knowledge and anecdotes about every aspect of the legislature from the seventies in the previous century to the present as well as the colourful personalities who walked its corridors as peoples’ representatives and Government Members.
The veteran civil servant, who turned 68 on 14 January 2022, completed high school in 1972 (one had to be seven years old to start primary school in those days). She then went on to the International College of the Cayman Islands (ICCI) to successfully complete a secretarial course.
After that, it was straight to the Legislative Assembly. She was tested by the then Clerk and later National Hero, Hon. Sybil McLaughlin and appointed to start on 1 June 1973 as a Clerical Assistant.
So, as a 19-year-old, she began her career on a starting salary of $174, as one among only five employees in the House. The rest is history, as Ms Sharon climbed the ranks till she was named Deputy Clerk, a position in which she also served as the Acting Clerk on a number of occasions.
Over the course of her career, Ms Sharon fondly recalls many who made an impact on her life such as Mr. Willie Farrington; CI’s first National Hero, Hon. James Manoah Bodden; Capt. Keith Tibbetts; Mr. Ormond Panton; Mr. Claude Hill; Mr. Berkeley Bush; former Chief Secretaries Mr. Dennis Foster and Mr. Desmond Watler, to name a few. She also recalls the House growing from only 12 Members to now 19 MPs.
Recalling the times she represented the Cayman Islands in international conferences over the years including at Nairobi, Kenya, and regionally in St. Kitts and Turks & Caicos Islands, she says: “More or less, it was a learning experience all the way through.”
Over the years, she grew into a solid authority on rules, procedures and house business matters, learning much from her superiors and in turn, teaching newcomers to the House, whatever their position might be.
Her work in the community includes assisting with teaching in the Girls Brigade, serving as the Secretary of the East End Pirates Week Committee as well as Secretary and Accounts Officer for the East End Community Development Committee, each for a number of years.
In addition to her deep community roots in the entire district and more specifically Gun Bay, Ms Sharon is also a devoted family person.
Her husband Mr. Joseph H Smith Snr. - who is originally from Honduras, got status in 1989 and has lived in Cayman for over three-quarters of his life - was a carpenter and mason in the building trade, and later retired to be a cattle and produce farmer.
Their son Mr. Joseph Smith Jr. and his wife Ms Joyann have three children, who are the pride and joy of their grandmother. Their daughter Ms Melissa N. Smith, also a civil servant, works for Education Services.
Ms Sharon’s parents were also from East End. Her father, the late Mr. Vernie Dixon, used to work with the Caymanian enterprise Wholesome Bakery while her mother the late Ms Natalie Rankine nee Bodden raised the children.
Ms Sharon recalls life was not easy in those days, including when many mothers still delivered babies in their own homes, with the assistance of midwives. Her grandmother Ms Mercereta Bodden was a midwife in East End, being able to provide a number of proven, tested and tried bush medicines to her “patients”, including for pain, she remembers.
All in all, Ms Sharon has embraced her new life as a retired person, and is giving thanks for her life, her family and friends and above all her beloved nation and community, with which she still engages on a daily basis.
Her one message to young Caymanians: to never be shy of hard work, dedication to duty, love and active service to the community and fellow Caymanians, young and old alike. “The Cayman Islands is a beautiful place to live and grow. Let us give thanks always and work hard to preserve the good qualities that make us unique,” she emphasises.