October 28, 2020

Mac leads tributes to Mr T

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Premier McKeeva Bush has led the tributes to Cayman entrepreneur Linton Tibbetts who died in Florida on Thursday night after a short battle with cancer.

The 88-year-old, who was born on the Brac, will be remembered for turning the failing US business Cox Lumber it into a market leader in many American states.

Mr Bush said: “A good man has fallen. He remains a shining example.”

Tributes for lumber king, Linton

Linton Tibbetts, 88, an icon of the Cayman Islands, symbol of its development and unofficial “mayor” of the Sister Islands, passed away on Thursday night in a St Petersburg hospital.

Known “Mr T”, the entrepreneur and descendant of a large New England family, who arrived in Cayman in 1830, was most publicly known for his ownership of Cox Lumber, a failing Florida enterprise in 1949, which thrived and multiplied under his tireless leadership. He opened the Grand Cayman operation, then, as now, on Eastern Avenue, in 1989.

Born on Cayman Brac in 1923, son of a shipbuilder, Mr Tibbetts is survived by his brother and longtime Brac resident Bernard, two US-based daughters, Mary and Donna; nine grandchildren, including Jeff Brandeis, Republican representative for St Petersburg in the Florida legislature; several great-grandchildren and a virtual legion of cousins, nieces and nephews, including Cayman Airways Paul Tibbetts and Cayman Brac Power and Light’s Jonathan Tibbetts.

Cox Lumber on Eastern Avenue

On Tuesday, 11 October, the family will hold a service for Mr Tibbetts in Tampa, Fla, followed on Saturday, 15 October by a mid-morning memorial at George Town’s Family Life Centre on Walker’s Road.

“A good man has fallen,” Premier McKeeva Bush told iNews on Friday. “I will not say we have lost a role model because he remains a shining example, but I will miss his advice.

“He was a good friend and supporter, an entrepreneurial person and a go-getter, and that’s the kind of person I admire. He took his chances, but prudently,” he said.

His partner for 31 years, Herbert Strickland, declined to comment immediately, preferring to wait while Mr Tibbetts family prepared press and memorial materials, saying only that “he definitely was an icon. Everyone knew him.”

In November 2003, Queen Elizabeth awarded Mr Tibbetts an OBE for service to the islands and economy, affording him a chance to visit Buckingham Palace, an experience, he said, that “brought me tears of joy”.

In 2006, he sold Cox Lumber’s St Petersburg operation to construction-supply giant Home Depot, although he characterised it as a kind of partnership.

He built Cayman Brac’s first hotel, the Brac Reef Resort, in the mid-’70s, then, to ensure occupancy, started Red Carpet Airlines with some friends and half-a-dozen aircraft, linking the island with St Petersburg. Some years later, when Cayman Airways was in crisis, he also operated flights to Grand Cayman. More recently, he built the Little Cayman Marine Museum.

According to brother Bernard, Red Carpet stopped operating in the early 80s.

“He was very influential and a person with good foresight, not only in business, but for the islands as well. He just seemed to have a special talent with his intelligent thinking. He was extremely active and the whole family had a long history of public service,” he said.

Linton Tibbetts (photo by St Petersburg Times)

“I’m the youngest member of the family and the last survivor,” Bernard, 77, said.

MLA for Cayman Brac Moses Kirkconnell remembered Mr Tibbetts on Friday, saying “The country is deeply saddened, as I am. He had a relationship with everybody, and their status didn’t matter. We have lost a patriarch for both Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. He was a man of great character and was not afraid to share his tremendous knowledge.”

Married to Tibbett’s cousin (the late Brenda Tibbetts), Kim Lund, called him a “statesman for the Cayman Islands and one of the premier entrepreneurs who gave a lot back to Cayman in both investment and leadership. He was a giving person, always trying to help young people get started. He led the way for them whenever he could.”

Publisher Joan Wilson, Editor-in-Chief Colin Wilson, and all the staff of iNews would like to extend their deepest sympathies to Mr Tibbett’s family at this sad time.

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