Cayman Brac’s ‘Mr T’ dies at 88

| 08/10/2011

(CNS): Linton Nathaniel Tibbetts, OBE, who survived the 1932 Hurricane as a child and went on to make a vast fortune in the US, died late Thursday, 6 October, at age 88, in St Anthony's Hospital in St Petersburg. In Grand Cayman he is best known as the founder of the Cox Lumber store, a small part of large chain of lumber stores he built up in Florida. On Cayman Brac and Little Cayman he never stopped investing some of the wealth he made in his US business ventures, building three hotels and creating an airline just so that tourists could visit the Sister Islands. He also spearheadedthe first museum in the Cayman Islands, located in Stake Bay on Cayman Brac, and he was the driving force behind both the Little Cayman Museum and the Little Cayman Maritime Museum.

Linton Tibbetts sold Cox Lumber Co. to Home Depot in 2006, and while the exact figure was not disclosed, the company, which reported sales of almost $400 million in 2005, was at the time the largest independent lumber and building supply company in the southeast United States, employing 1,600 people. In 2009, at the age 86, he and his family decided to start over by opening a new enterprise, Tibbetts Lumber Co., which already has four locations. He died just seven days after the grand reopening of the company’s store in St. Petersburg.

Tibbetts was born on Cayman Brac on 16 July 1923. As a child, he would milk cows before school and work in the family soda factory after school, and on Saturdays he would go to the Bluff to get provisions and check on the fish traps. “It was a hard life but it didn’t hurt. At least, it didn’t hurt me!” he later said.

When he was nine years old,the terrible 1932 Hurricane devastated the island and among the dead were his 19-years-old sister, Jessica, his 64-year-old grandmother and his youngest brother, 10-month-old Cory, whose body was not found for several months. Like most Brackers of his generation, it was his strongest memory of childhood and the one he said he shed most tears over.

Tibbetts received all the formal education he would ever have in a one-room school-house in Cotton Tree Bay, where his favourite lessons were in mathematics, history and geography, since his single ambition as a child was to be a sea captain like the rest of the men in his family. Graduating from school, Tibbetts went to Jamaica to interview for a job as an oil refinery operator, but he and the other Brackers who went with him did not have the required qualifications. Instead, he found manual labour at the Belmont Dock for a year.

Back on the Brac, he helped build the motor ship Kirkson, owned by the Kirkconnell family, before heading off again, this time to the Panama Canal, where hundreds of Caymanians went to find work during the Second World War. He found employment constructing buildings to house the pumps that would be used to pump water from the Atlantic to the Pacific if the Canal was bombed, and also helped build the bases for electric winches to secure balloons, positioned to prevent enemy bombers from flying over the Canal.

After a few years, he returned to the Brac before heading out once more, this time to Tampa with, famously, just $16 in his pocket. A year in the Merchant Marines was followed by a stint in the Armed Forces on a US Army troop ship, transporting troops from New Orleans to all over the Mediterranean. After the war, Tibbetts went to St Petersburg, where he began building homes and developing property.

Then, on 28 October 1949 he found himself doing business with a small lumber yard called Cox Lumber Supply Company. When the owner told him he was going to close the yard down, Tibbetts offered to buy the company and they agreed to a price of $1,500 for half the business – for which he had to borrow $1,000.

In the mid-1970s, Tibbetts helped form Community Banks of Florida, which eventually grew to 24 banking offices in three Florida counties. In 1981, he and his colleagues sold the Bank Holding Company of Community Banks of Florida to Southeast Banking Corp of Miami. In 1985, he helped charter Marine Bank in St Petersburg, a successfully operated bank which was sold in 1998 to SouthTrust Corp. He also served on the SunTrust bank as a Director Emeritus.

Though he found huge financial success in the US, he never forgot his roots. In order to stimulate the economy of Cayman Brac, he built the first Brac Reef Hotel in the mid 1970’s. When he found that there was not a dependable airline for the island, he and a group of Cayman Brackers started RedCarpet Airlines, which flew into the Brac three times a week for almost ten years.

The first Brac Reef was sold to the DIVI Corporation, with the understanding that he would build another hotel. This was because Cayman Airways had committed to bring in a jet service to the Brac if there were 100 rooms on the island. The Brac Reef Beach Resort, which was almost completely rebuilt after Hurricane Paloma in 2008, is still owned by the Tibbetts family, as well as the Little Cayman Beach Resort, which was built in 1991.

Linton Tibbetts remained concerned about the Brac, and in June this year he wrote an open letter to the government, which was published on CNS as a Viewpoint, laying out his ideas to stimulate the island's economy.

In November 2003 he received the Order of the British Empire from her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace for his many contributions to the economy of the Cayman Islands.

Tibbetts is survived by his wife of 63 years, Pauline Tibbetts; his two daughters, Mary Brandes and Donna Hooker; his brother, Burnard Tibbetts, of Cayman Brac; as well as his nine grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday, 11 October at 10 am at Northside Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. A private burial will take place at Memorial Park in St. Petersburg beside Linton Tibbetts' two sons David and Daniel.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Tibbetts Family Foundation c/o National Christian Foundation P.O. Box 22774 Tampa, FL 33622.

A memorial service will be held on Cayman Brac at the Aston Rutty Center  5:30 p.m. Friday 14 October.
A memorial service will be  held on Grand Cayman at First Baptist Church 10.00 a.m. Saturday 15 October.
A memorial service will be held on Little Cayman at 2.00 p.m. Sunday 16 October.

Category: Local News

Comments (21)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I met Mr. Tibbets in Grand Cayman airport. I had known his son Dan for several years before he passed. Our brief encounter at Owen Roberts left me with the feeling that we had known each other for a lifetime. His gracious manners and strong family ties was a blessing to see. I am glad that I was fortunate enough to have met both him and his son. Their legacies will live on in all the people they helped over the years.

  2. Anonymous says:

    We will so miss Linton.  He brought our family back to their heritage…We will forever be in debt to him.  We loved him and will miss him so much.  Our sympathy to all of his family and especially to his wife, Polly.  She is a wonderful lady and we wish her good health.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As an expat, I am only just reading about Mr. Tibbetts.  What an inspiration to young Caymanians.  May God grant peace and strength to his family during this time!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I cannot forget the advice and financial assistance he gave me as a young man.

  5. Anonymous says:

    No doubt Mr. Linton's rags to vast wealth lifestory is impressive. Likewise is his contribution to the business, tourism and cultural landscape of the Cayman Islands. Yes, he is the kind of man institutions and local buildings should be named for. However, his legacy would truly be ensured and honoured by the donation of some of his wealth to an education fund or foundation in his name – not only in the St. Pete area but available to young Caymanians.

    That is a respectful challenge to his heirs. 

    • Anonymous says:

      I hope that some of those that Linton gave so much to will see fit to organize getting a monument place somewhere in the Cayman Islands, and one that will look more like him than poor Mr Jims. Linton gave more than any other individual to Grand Cayman after the Ivan Hurricane and of course he had one of the best ensuring that it was only for those in need and not greed and we all know our good ole Mr Dave a man who warrants a reward. May God continue to bless Mr Lintons wife and family and the business which he was so proud of.We will best remember him for his paradise plum candys ,and for the way in which he made all the girls feel special .

    • Anonymous says:

      I am sure Mr. Linton thought of that before he died. He was always a forward thinking gentlemen. Furthermore, I really don't think his wife, children or grandchildren will allow his legacy of giving back to his beloved country and it's people especially those of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman to die with him.

      RIP. Mr Linton, we will remember you for a long time to come.

       

       

  6. Anonymous says:
    My condolences go out to Mr. Linton’s family, on the passing of a great Caymanian historian. He was a forwarding thinking individual who felt our history and culture was worth preserving and took action. He was a founding father of museums on all three of our Cayman Islands. Through his vision and passion for our history and culture, school children, residents and visitors to our islands are able to capture an authentic view of who we were and who we are today. I only wish there were a few more with his interest and passion. May he rest in peace.
  7. Anonymous says:

    I believe that his heart was always in the right place and he treated everyone kindly. Thank you for being the person you are Mr. T.

     

    RIP

  8. Anonymous says:

    He was a very Great man, who did more than his share for our islands. This is the type of man, who makes me honored to be a caymanian. he has showed us through hard work and determination we can accomplish anything we wish.

    Mr. T, as a caymanian but moreas a braker, i thank you for all your hard work and investment in Cayman Brac.

     

    In my personal opinion, this is the type of man institutions and local buildings should be named after!!

     

  9. Anonymous says:

    My condolences to the family of the late great Linton Nathaniel Tibbetts, businessman extraordinaire, on his passing. May God comfort you all in your time of bereavement.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Truly one who was always proud to be referred to as a Cayman Bracker, never forgetting his humble roots; a role model for love of family, God, and country; one who dedicated himself to hard work and perseverence.  

     

  11. Anonymous says:

    I feel so honored to have met Mr. Tibbetts on a few occasions. A lovely gentleman. May he rest in peace.

  12. peter milburn says:

    My personal condolances to the family.He was certainly one of Caymans true pioneers.

  13. BracFan says:

    RIP Mr. Tibbets…thank you for your service to others Sir.

  14. Anonymous says:

    God be with you.

    Your life has shown that honesty, integrity, dedication, hard work and love for your fellow man is the way to live one's life.

    Youth please take note and do likewise, everyone will be better off in the end.

    Condolences to the entire Family.

    • JH says:

      A true Caymanians patriot who sought always to better his homeland. RIP Mr. Linton

  15. I.M.A. Caymanian Bracker says:

    Mr. Linton was an excellent businessman and played a great part in the success of Cayman! Name the Cayman Brac Airport after Him.  The Linton TIbbetts International Airport.

     

     

  16. Concerned Caymanian says:

    R.I.P Mr. Linton.  You were a true gentleman and one of the kindest men I ever met.

  17. Anonymous says:

    RIP Mr. Linton.  He has touched many people in his life and is an inspiration to many.

  18. Anonymous says:

    An extraordinary man and a HUGE Caymanian success story. He said the worst things in his life were the deaths resulting from the 1932 hurricane and the best his receiving the OBE from the Queen. Thelatter UK/Queen award is often pissed on by the new Caymanians represented in CNS pages (and a certain independent politician who claims he was offered one  and turned it down-yeah right). What have ANY of them done to equal this great Caymanian's contribution to his country while still remaining loyal to the UK?

    OK, bring on the thumbs down, losers.