September 19, 2020

Bessie Alstyne Ebanks laid to rest

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Front Cover Thanksgiving Programme

On Sat. 19th May at 10.00am, my dearest friend, Bessie Ebanks, was laid to rest at a service of thanksgiving for her wonderful life. It was held at John Gray Memorial Church, West Bay, the church where she regularly worshipped with her adoring husband, ex leader of Government Business, Benson.

Her death was sudden and the more shocking.

The service was simple and devoid of lots of tributes at her wishes. It was none the less very moving and contained all her favourite hymns: “Come Ye That Love The Lord”, “Heavenly Father Thou Has Brought Us”, “Be Thou My Vision”, O For a Heart to Praise My God”, and “In Christ Alone”.

The church was packed and overflowed to the Hall. We sang with gusto with tears aflowing and remembering this lady, one of ALL ladies, who gave so much more than she received. A loving and devoted wife, to her husband, and an exemplary mother to her children.

I wish to thank Bryan Bothwell for allowing me to publish the following:

 

LIFE STORY OF BESSIE ALSTYNE EBANKS

9 January 1936 – 13 May 2012

Bessie Alstyne Ebanks was born on 9th January 1936 to Capt Allie Ebanks and his wife, Irene. Bessie was the only child of that union but, because Capt Allie’s first wife died early in life leaving behind 6 young children, she grew up having 3 older brothers and 3 older sisters, who have all preceded her in death.

Bessie attended private schools in West Bay before moving to the Cayman High School, where she sat her Senior Cambridge Exams. Although she never attended University, Bessie believed strongly that a good education was one of the keys to a successful life. She was an avid reader and she instilled a love of books and reading in her children. Every weekend she took them to the Public Library to choose new books that she often read with them. Throughout her life she was fortunate to be able to indulge her love of travel, visiting many countries throughout the world. Because she was so well read, and had travelled and experienced other cultures, there were few topics on which Bessie was not able to carry on a good conversation.

After completing high school she taught for a short period and continued to work as a substitute teacher at Cayman Prep School up until her own children were students there. Bessie’s most significant job, however, began when she married her husband of 53 years, Benson, on 5th June 1958. They say that behind every good man is a great woman and this certainly captures the essence of the role Bessie played in her husband’s life. She was his confidante, sounding board, speech proof-reader, campaign manager, wardrobe manager, etiquette coach and Chief Operating Officer of the household.

Where Bessie really shone was in her role as a mother. The birth of her children Gina, Janet and Judith added a whole new dimension to her life. Bessie’s pride in and devotion to her children was unparalleled. She was always ready to tell anyone who would listen about the exploits and accomplishments of “her girls”.  Because Benson worked long hours Bessie assumed the primary parenting role for her children; she devoted her life to their care and upbringing.

She supervised homework and studying, never missed a PTA meeting, planned birthday parties, organized holiday activities, doled out discipline, nursed wounds and dispensed heaps of hugs and kisses. As the girls grew older she passed on her wealth of knowledge in the areas of homemaking and the culinary arts.

Not content for her girls to only be excellent homemakers and accomplished cooks, and having been somewhat of a trailblazer among her peers, Bessie also encouraged her daughters to be strong and independent women. She was proud to tell her girls that she was one of the first of her girlfriends to drive, had waited for hours in line to see Elvis in concert in Miami, and had signed the 1957 petition for women’s right to vote. Her own enlightened outlook allowed her to understand and support the girls in their pursuits, and led to many frank and interesting conversations between them.

Bessie was also a bit of a “fashionista” and an inspiration to her girls; and her love of shopping was a source of much amusement for the family.  Benson once remarked to the girls that their mother could “shop in a dry well”.  She was known for her sense of style and grace and many have commented on how the presence she commanded will be so greatly missed.  As the wife of the first Caymanian bank manager and a career politician, Bessie was exposed early on to the world of cocktail parties, and formal dinners.  She became a bit of an expert consultant on etiquette, protocol and dress code for her extended family as they built their own careers.

Everything Bessie learned as a mother to three girls did little to prepare her for the arrival of her grandchildren. Initially lulled into a false sense of security by the birth of her only granddaughter, Erin, Bessie was completely unaware of what awaited her with the arrival of the four grandsons to follow.  Cameron, Justin, Colby and Duncan turned her life upside down – momentarily.  But with her usual grit and determination, Bessie learned to navigate the rules of raising boys and rose to every challenge they would present.  She developed close relationships with each grandchild, getting to know, and catering to, their individual likes and dislikes. They all remember her exposing them to traditional Caymanian childhood experiences like “running seas” and putting seagrapes in a grape leaf cup. She introduced all of them to mangoes, guineps, cocoplums, naseberries, guavas and plums, and the fruit trees in her yard were their favourite playground. She loved to indulge her sense of fun and play with her grandchildren, and took great pleasure in organizing game nights on family vacations.

Family was all important to Bessie.  Every Sunday she gathered her children and their families to share a meal and provided the chance for them to update each other on the happenings of the previous week, and plan for the week to come. On the rare occasion that other commitments prevented this family gathering on Sunday, the grandchildren expressed much dismay, as this had become such an important part of their week.   Hers was also the home that was the epicenter of family life for the extended families.  She maintained close and intimate relationships with all of her sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, and was the glue that held both sides of her family together. Her nieces and nephews remember her as loving unconditionally, sharing her knowledge and common sense, whether it was about cooking or a personal problem. They saw her as a Godly woman who tried never to judge, to never hold a grudge, to be kind, generous, understanding, empathetic and sympathetic. They thought she was a wonderful Aunt, setting examples of the highest quality, and that she was the same, whether in the home or in public – what you saw was what you got.  From the legendary Christmas Day menu that she inevitably added two or three items to after it had been approved by all, to the family campouts in the North Sound, Bessie made sure there were lots of opportunities for the family to get together and share good times.

Bessie also understood the value of friendship.  She maintained close relationships with people who she knew all of her life, and was constantly adding new members to her circle of friends.  Not only did she open her home to her family, but she also loved to entertain her friends and cook traditional Caymanian dishes for them.  Bessie and Benson were members of a dinner club of close friends who met together regularly, and they enjoyed vacations and celebrated special occasions like New Year’s Eve with other couples who were part of their large circle of friends.  Throughout her life, Bessie shared many special friendships, including one she forged with her neighbour of forty years, Francine Jackson.  It has been said that “if Bessie’s foot hurt, Francine couldn’t walk”.  Their weekly trips to the grocery store were an adventure – and apparently legendary.  Unfortunately, they were not able to fulfill their plans for their outing to the spa for Mother’s day as Bessie fell ill on Friday.  By all accounts this one too would have been one to be remembered.

Bessie’s generosity and kindness were not reserved for her family and friends, as she impacted many lives through her work in the community and the Church. Within the wider community, Bessie was involved with the Inner Wheel Club and was apparently the only member thus far to serve two terms as President. When a need was identified for a school in West Bay to serve children with physical and mental challenges, Bessie was one of the first to volunteer her time and energy. This school provided much needed stimulation and rehabilitation for these young people and eventually developed into the Lighthouse School, named for its origins at the Boatswain Bay Presbyterian Church near the Lighthouse. When time permitted, Bessie volunteered for the Meals on Wheels programme. In addition, she reached out to many senior citizens in West Bay and helped with carrying them to doctor’s appointments, getting groceries and picking up prescriptions.

Involvement in the Church was an important part of Bessie’s life. She served for 19 years as an Elder of the John Gray Memorial Church and was also Sunday School Superintendent and Sunday School Teacher for many years. Among the many other ways in which she readily served her Lord, she was President of the Women’s Fellowship for multiple terms, also serving on the Executive. She was instrumental in starting the After School and Senior Citizens Programmes and regularly assisted with the Soup Kitchen at the Church. It was always obvious that she was loved by all ages in the Church; she was generous in her love, kindness, compliments, encouragement and willingness to share from her own experiences and faith.

We are sure that this amazing woman had so much more to give but, unfortunately, her life was cut short when she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on Friday 11th May. She passed away peacefully, as she had lived, on the 13th May 2012. Bessie’s faith in God was strong and unwavering, and her life was her greatest testament to this. She did not fear death, and saw it as an opportunity to spend eternity with her God. She will be sorely missed by her family, friends, and all who knew her. Left to mourn her passing and celebrate her life are her husband Benson, daughters Gina, Janet and Judith, grandchildren Erin, Cameron, Justin, Colby and Duncan, the many family members she held dear, and a wide circle of friends. May her soul rest in peace.

End

L-R Joan Wilson, Mitzi Ebanks , Bessie Ebanks

 

 

I will miss you sorely my dear Bessie and New Year’s Eve will not be the same without you. My deepest condolences to Benson and all her family.

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