Reflections on the life of Dame Yvonne Maginley DCN, CMG, OBE, MBE, OD: A Tourism Perspective

Author: Sir Rodney E. L. Williams, KGN, GCMG, KST.J, MBBS (UWI), Governor-General of Antigua and Barbuda 

Dame Yvonne Maginley DCN, CMG, OBE, MBE, OD was a woman of extraordinary achievement and influence. She made a significant contribution to national development, especially in the areas of Tourism, Culture and Broadcasting.

Contribution to Culture, Education, and Music

Having finished her early education in Antigua and Barbuda, she sought to broaden her scope and skills in order to augment the economic and social landscape of the country of her birth.

She received training in broadcasting at the BBC’s headquarters at Bush House in London and returned to Antigua and Barbuda to be Programme Organizer at the Antigua and Barbuda Broadcasting Service (ABS).

She further pursued a course in Tourism at the University of Surrey that assisted in preparing her for expanded responsibility in the development of Tourism in Antigua and Barbuda and the wider Eastern Caribbean region.

In the early 1950s, Dame Yvonne was elected chairperson of the first Children’s Carnival Committee. She also chaired the Carnival Queen Committee for many years and served as Secretary to the Carnival Steering Committee headed by Mr Ferdie Shoul.

Dame Yvonne Maginley was passionate about reading and encouraged all to engage in the activity. It was, therefore, no surprise that she was one of the champions of the National Library Building Committee. In fact, she headed this group –and over the years with her insight, vision and the full support of her team, the ultimate goal of opening a new, computerised National Public Library was realised. I can recall that Dame Yvonne worked tirelessly on the library project during my successive tenures as both Minister of Tourism and Minister of Education. She ensured that this became an actuality through the organisation of lunch fundraisers on the visiting cruise ships. Memories surface of the generous assistance of the Antigua Masonry Products through their kind donation of blocks and aggregates; the Hadeed Group of Companies with their provision of furnishings; John Laviscount, who provided discounts on the steel frame for the building; and Mr. Don Ward of Price Waterhouse, who willingly assisted us with our fundraising efforts. The role that Dame Yvonne played in modernizing the National Public Library should never be forgotten.

Music was of intrinsic importance in her life. She played the piano and taught singing at the TOR Memorial High School for many years. She was a founding member of the Community Players and served as its Music Director with distinction. Under her leadership, the Community Players travelled extensively, promoting Antigua and Barbuda to regional and international audiences.

Tourism Development and Promotion

Dame Yvonne has had a long and productive involvement in our tourism industry. In 1958, she became the Executive Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Board and served in this capacity for fifteen (15) years. She then assumed the position of Executive Director for the Eastern Caribbean Tourism Association (ECTA) and was responsible for marketing the region internationally, as well as assisting in areas of product development in member countries.

After operating as Executive Director of ECTA for 11 years, she became Antigua and Barbuda’s Director General of Tourism from 1984 – 1997. Within that time she served under three Ministers of Tourism, namely Sir Lester Bryant Bird, the Honourable Bernard Percival and myself.

During the period that I sat as chairman of the Deep Bay Development Board, Dame Yvonne played a key role in organizing the ceremony to mark the opening of the new Royal Antiguan Hotel. She was quick, upright and energetic – moulding ideas into solid shape and forging necessary industry relationships with keen drive and determination and effortless efficacy.

With respect to the marketing and promotion of our destination, many “firsts” were achieved in the 1990s while Dame Yvonne executed her function as Director-General of Tourism under my direction as the substantive Minister: It was the first time that Sir Vivian Richards was invited to join the team of government and private sector representatives at World Travel Market in 1996 in order to boost Antigua and Barbuda’s marketing and promotional efforts in the UK. (Barbados consequently began inviting national cricketers including Sir Garfield Sobers, Joel Garner and Wes Hall in subsequent years). It was also the first time that our destination held an annual industry dinner in London. The venue was the Silver Barracuda, a dinner boat that traverses the River Thames. (This tradition still continues today, 22 years later).  It was also the first time whereby the sole fiscal burden was removed from the shoulders of government, and private financing was sought in order to cover national advertising campaigns and joint initiatives with travel wholesalers and retailers. Antigua and Barbuda was undoubtedly a trailblazer in many ways, and Dame Yvonne played a pivotal role in it all.

Dame Yvonne assisted me in executing my vision for a ‘Year of Tourism’ in 1998, devised to create a greater awareness of Antigua and Barbuda as a tourism destination in the international arena and also to promote the importance of tourism to the economic development of our country. This was done again at little cost to the government, as several stakeholders (including the Chinese Government,) came forward to support our effort. China, in its characteristic responsive manner, contributed impressively by donating large quantities of promotional items which were, at the time, quite sparse in the overseas offices. It was also during this time that the tourism slogan (originating out of the UK office) was changed from ‘Antigua and Barbuda: The Heart of the Caribbean’ to ‘Antigua and Barbuda: The Beach is Only the Beginning’ (which has now been modified to ‘Antigua and Barbuda: The Beach is Just the Beginning’.). We recognised that the sand, sea and sun label had become rather stereotypical, and strategised to change our appeal in the marketplace as one important step in the pursuit of economic and marketing diversification. With Dame Yvonne at the helm in the Office of the Director-General of Tourism, we worked closely with hoteliers to increase the number of charter flights out of the UK and Europe. It was during these years that, for the first time, UK arrivals to Antigua and Barbuda surpassed that of Europe, Canada, and the United States of America. 

Dame Yvonne worked with me on a number of initiatives, including a vendors’ licensing system, a mobile beach security system in the Dickenson Bay area, and a licensing regime for jet ski operators in response to a number of accidents which had taken place.

During my time as Minister of Tourism, with Dr. Errol Cort as my Advisor, Dame Yvonne played a very important role in increasing the number of cruise ships docking in Antigua and Barbuda, which resulted in parallel growth of the number of cruise passengers. Along with the late David Fernandez, we launched the Miami to Antigua direct flight by American Airlines. Additionally, she formed a part of the team that negotiated to bring the Sandals hotel chain to Antigua and Barbuda.

She was concerned about mentoring our nation’s youth and ensured that she passed on her knowledge and skills to the young persons who worked with her. My wife Lady Williams was one who benefited from this philosophy of the outstanding daughter of the soil. She was encouraged by Dame Yvonne to further her studies in Tourism Management and, as a result, was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a Master of Science degree in Tourism Management at the University of Surrey in the UK (where Dame Yvonne had previously studied). She stipulated that Lady Williams should seek to serve in a regional capacity. This ultimately led to Lady Williams’ appointment as Tourism Representative for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) based in Frankfurt, Germany (1992-1995) and later she was deployed to London as Director of Tourism (1996-1999). It was also under Dame Yvonne that Lufthansa and Air France commenced air services to Antigua and Barbuda and our tourism offices in Germany and France were opened. Dame Yvonne assigned Lady Williams to these offices to strengthen our presence in those markets. An office in Milan, Italy was likewise opened, as in this pre-technology era, a physical presence in the marketplace was strongly recommended.

There were many other proud Antiguans and Barbudans who were given the phenomenal opportunity of working either directly with Dame Yvonne, or as a part of her extended tourism team: Madeline Blackman, Gloria Newby, Victor Carmichael, Mark Bowers, Myrna Kelsick, Roberta Winter, Florence Cash, Joyce Fyfe, Enid Goodwin, Gwen Harris, Karen Knowles, Carlton Lake, Alan Gray, Emile Sweeney, Sharilyn James, Patricia Tully , Claire Hurst, “Dickie” Hurst, Evelyn Burns, Jean Lake, Mary Nathaniel (ECTA) , Annette Michael, Douglas Howie and others. The Office of the Director-General over which Dame Yvonne presided was located within the Department of Tourism at the corner of Long and Thames Streets, and she collaborated closely with the Manager of the Department, Edie Hill-Thibou, the Assistant Manager, Irma Tomlinson and the Supervisor , Julia Braithwaite.

When Dame Yvonne retired from active service, she still continued to play the piano at her church; she directed the Community Players and maintained a keen interest in our country’s life, especially the tourism sector. I can recall that on the occasions when my wife and I visited her after I assumed the Office of Governor-General in 2014, the conversation centred on her family. Her love for her family was evident by the number of pictures on the walls and the fond manner in which she spoke of them. The current state of affairs in the country and her recollection of some of the past initiatives undertaken in the tourism sector while I served as Minister and she as Director-General were also a part of our conversations when we met. Her eyes would light up as she spoke fervently of some of her achievements, but as the years swept by, some of the names which she could easily recall before eluded her memory. Her stature, which was almost always completely vertical, was still very stately – but had now become chiselled and leaner with the passage of time. My last memory of seeing Dame Yvonne was during the Community Players Christmas Programme at the Holy Family Cathedral in December 2018. She sat quietly listening to the music, formidable and yet fragile, like a delicate candle with its glowing flame still flickering in the cool winds of time. 

I am honoured to pen this tribute because Dame Yvonne Maginley was my friend, a consummate professional, a God-fearing and upright citizen, a steadfast nation-builder, and a creator of beautiful music which will echo in the ears of our patriotic men, women and children for generations to come.

“Once you’ve known Antigua’s spell,
You’ll never quite forget her,
She’s waiting still to give her all if you will only let her.
If you’ve been the slave of hours,
You’ll find it timeless here.
Whatever does that matter,
If you feel that God is near.”

(Extracted from “Where Land and Sea make beauty”: Music by Yvonne Maginley, Words by B.O. Breton)