By Gemma Handy
From helping found the Environmental Awareness Group and the Antigua Yacht Club, to her invaluable work with the national museum, the incredible legacy of Lisa Nicholson will continue to reverberate for many years to come.
Relatives of the matriarch of the Nicholson family – who pioneered the country’s world renowned yachting industry – yesterday paid tribute to the 88-year-old whose love for Antigua knew no bounds.
Lisa was a prominent and much-loved member of the English Harbour community – one whose lofty stature was said to be in sync with her ceaseless ability to offer perspective and guidance.
She died of natural causes on March 20 surrounded by her loved ones, and leaves behind siblings Roxana and Ted and daughters Sarah, Nancy and Celia, along with nine grandchildren and a great granddaughter.
Born in New York and raised in Connecticut before later becoming an Antiguan and Barbudan citizen, Lisa and her late husband Desmond were the driving force behind what is today one of the twin island nation’s most lucrative sectors.
Desmond’s parents departed Ireland in the 1950s aboard their schooner Mollihawk and were en route to Australia in search of a new life after the Second World War when they dropped anchor in the Antigua Naval Dockyard.
So struck were they by the area’s beauty they ended up staying permanently, Nancy told Observer.
“Some visitors from New England were passing through, saw the boat there and asked if they could be taken to another island. That began the charter yacht industry,” she explained.
“One of the guests was my mother with her family. So that’s how my parents met – on a boat in the Caribbean.
“They started offering cruises and had many other yachts come in and start working. The charter yacht industry was born in a pioneering spirit.”
The Nicholsons’ endeavours gave rise to numerous local businesses which sprung up to support the fledgling sector, including yacht chandleries and the Admiral’s Inn.
Lisa also played a leading role in the creation of Antigua Sailing Week and the Classic Regatta.
She was a keen supporter of the work of the national museum in St John’s and the Dockyard Museum in English Harbour – both of which were established by her husband Desmond who died in 2006.
And she was an active member of many community organisations including the Expression Choir, Friends of Holberton Hospital, Sunnyside School, and the St Paul’s Crisis Intervention Group.
Her love for the environment meant she could often be seen picking up litter – a practice which Nancy says earned her the affectionate moniker, the ‘Trash Lady’.
“She will be fondly remembered for her need to have a clean and beautiful Antigua,” Nancy smiled.
Lisa was also described as a “wordsmith” whose beautifully written letters frequently touched their recipients.
“Not only was she tall in stature but she took a higher view on situations that were going on and was able to offer very solution-oriented advice,” Nancy said.
Sarah said her mother would be remembered for her kindness, for being a dedicated and active member of the community, for her sense of humour and her ability to connect with people from all walks of life.
Both daughters recalled that Lisa’s willingness to accept people as they were extended to everyone she came into contact with.
“She had the ability to really see someone for who they are and make them feel seen and heard,” Nancy said.
“I think my fondest memory of her would be her singing; throughout her entire life she would burst into song,” she continued.
The Expression Choir – which had been a comfort to so many others in their final days when members would visit and bring peace through song – visited Lisa herself shortly before she passed away.
“The choir came and sang for my mother in the most heartfelt way,” Nancy added.
Lisa was also a breast cancer survivor, having been diagnosed the year after Desmond died. Sarah said she shunned conventional medicine, preferring holistic treatments instead.
For Sarah, there is one particular memory of her mother that remains one of the most special.
“She would get up at night and look out from her veranda to see the Southern Cross in one direction and then look north and see the Big Dipper,” she shared.
“Mum would look at both and feel everything was in its place. That was her connection with the cycles of nature, and it was a centring point for her to steer her life onwards in the community and in the family,” Sarah added.
Lisa “truly loved her 88 years here on earth and now flies free to join her late husband and son Christopher,” a family statement said.
Last August, Lisa was featured in the National Parks Authority’s ‘Community Anchor’ series, in which the authority spoke of her “unshakeable spirit of volunteerism”, and her consistent readiness to share advice and a helping hand.
Lisa’s funeral will be held at the Baxter Memorial Methodist Church in English Harbour at 2pm on April 20, followed by a celebration of her life at Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre.