|Cayman Net News, Grand Cayman, Cayman
IslandsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
February 21, 2010 --Many well-wishers and local dignitaries came for the official reopening of the Brac Reef Beach Resort on Saturday 13 February, on Cayman Brac. The resort was virtually destroyed during Hurricane Paloma, just over a year ago.
The fact that it has been rebuilt from scratch-not just 'as good as,' but even better than it was before, is a testament to the character of the Tibbetts family who continue to run both the resort, and the adjacent dive business, Reef Divers II.
Cayman Brackers have learnt to live through hard times and make something good from them; and that characteristic is exemplified in by Bracker Linton Tibbetts who began the resort several decades ago.
Earlier that day, as I sat down with Mr Tibbetts, he told me the story of the hotel:
"Twenty-seven years ago there was a severe recession on this island, and I told a couple of friends about it and the three of us became partners -- we wanted to do something to help the island. So we met and we decided to build a hotel that would find most employment for the people, both during the building and afterwards," he said.
Later, that first hotel was sold to a New York company and became the Divi Tiara Beach Resort, but there was still the issue of not being enough hotel accommodation on the island to justify regular flights from Cayman Airways. So Mr Tibbetts built a hotel on the present site -- the same one that was destroyed during Hurricane Paloma, and was reopening that same day.
When I asked him how he felt when he heard the news that the resort had been destroyed, he responded:
"Well, I have been through things like this. You've heard them talk about the 1932 Hurricane that destroyed both Islands? We became tougher- we expected things to happen but we would not let them deter us".
Mr Tibbetts was only a young boy when the 1932 hurricane hit Cayman Brac, a severe disaster in which many Brackers lost their lives. In those days the island was very isolated from the outside world and help was a long time coming. It would seem that Mr Tibbetts has never forgotten those dark and difficult days, or the lesson that it taught him, to keep pressing forward and turning difficulties into successes.
Mr Tibbetts explained that when he was still only about 16 or 17, he left home and worked for a while in Jamaica.
"From there I went to the Panama Canal and worked a while, came back and a friend of mine had a boat loaded with coconuts and going to Tampa. When I landed in Tampa I had only 16 bucks in my pocket. I got a job in the Merchant Marine and stayed there almost two years, then I went to New Orleans and joined the armed forces and served on a troop ship until the war was over.
"I came back to St Petersburg where I had some family living; I was ready to go back to New Orleans to do something -- I wasn't sure what. But this family of ours had quite a prosperous roofing business, so I started working with them.
"I was dealing with this lumber yard called Cox Supply Company. On the first day of November 1949, (The owner) said, 'I'm going to sell this lumber yard...' So the next day I called him and said, 'Were you serious about selling the yard?" and he said, 'Yes. Come on down and we'll make a deal.'"
Mr Tibbetts took over the company with only $1500 and from there it quickly prospered, becoming a multi-million dollar business, with over a thousand employees.
The thing that makes Mr Tibbetts different from many other successful businessmen is his kindness and compassion for those around him, a characteristic mentioned by many of the people who came to speak at the opening ceremony.
MLA Moses Kirkconnell said: "...it's because of the commitment that the Tibbetts family has given to the islands that this is a reality today, and make absolutely no mistake about it- the driving force behind the Tibbetts family is Linton Tibbetts.
Hon. Juliana O'Connor-Connolly, JP was also full of praise for all that Mr Tibbetts and his family had done for the Sister Islands:
"What I've admired about him, and I've had the wonderful opportunity to work with Mr. Linton in various capacities as his attorney and as his friend ...is he just had a love for these islands that even when it did not make economic sense ...somehow there was that overriding factor ...because he wanted to give back something to the land of his birth," she said.
Just before the official ribbon-cutting, Kyle Hooker, Mr Tibbetts' grandson who was asked to oversee the rebuilding of the resort, along with Mary Brandes, the resort's Managing Owner, presented several special plaques to people who had gone 'above and beyond' the call of duty in helping to put the resort back together.
Ms Brandes praised her dedicated and professional staff that make the resort so special. When I was talking to her earlier in the day, she said:
"I do think that once you've been here -- and interacted with the staff, then that's what gives life to the place. They are amazing...the kitchen staff or the wait staff are wonderful, not only remembering people's names but even their preferences and working to accommodate even the smallest request.
"I have been as excited about getting that kitchen open as any other part of it, because I have seen them work under the most horrific conditions this past year, putting out amazing food from a makeshift kitchen. It was hot and horrible and they were falling over each other, and now they have this beautiful kitchen to work from and it is almost like watching a ballet in motion."
Ms Brandes took me on a tour of the hotel. Everywhere, the elegant new building and that particularly Cayman-Brac style welcome.
Leading off from the lobby is a comfortable room, where families can go and relax. Then there is also Polly's Landing Boutique and Gift Shop, a little shop selling a surprisingly wide variety of charming gifts and mementos.
Next to it, The Tropical Touch Day Spa offers an extensive range of massages, body treatments and facials.
While we were walking through the corridor toward the two dining rooms, Ms Brandes stopped to point out one of several photographs showing the extent of the damage after hurricane Paloma -- quite literally a pile of rubble where the hotel now stood.
Ms Brandes took me to the Palms Restaurant Buffet Dining Room and the Grand Palm Restaurant for fine dining, before showing me the friendly Tipsy Turtle pub outside- the ideal place to relax and talk about your day's scuba diving or snorkeling.
I noticed the swinging chairs and hammocks hanging from the beach's sea grape trees, and noticed too the amount of space between each one -- something unusual for 'hotel' beaches.
"That's the best part of the property -- to just get out there and feel you have the whole place to yourself," Ms Brandes told me.
It is, perhaps, one of the characteristics of this charming resort that it should take on so many characteristics of its founding family -- efficient, friendly and welcoming.
- Christopher Tobutt
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