July 7, 2005 – The Virgin Islands is mourning the death of Maria "Chi Chi" Heywood, who died Wednesday night after a long battle with cancer.
Heywood is best known as a television and radio personality, a strong supporter of youth activities, a union organizer, a teacher and as a stalwart in the Democratic Party.
Heywood, 55, was diagnosed with cancer last year and underwent treatments for the disease. While in remission and between treatments, Heywood continued her work on behalf of women, children and in the political arena.
Despite her illness, she joined the Virgin Islands delegation in July 2004 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston and continued her work as National Committee Chairwoman of the Democratic Party, attending meetings and speaking out on political issues. She was an active member of the Democratic Women's Caucus and the founding member of the New Horizon Women's Democratic Club. The Democratic Party, St. Croix district, honored her in 2003 for her leadership.
Heywood was also a culture bearer who passed the arts and traditions of the Virgin Islands to its youth. Through her work with Ali Paul's Moko Jumbies, with her life partner, Ali Paul, always by her side, Heywood helped teach St. Croix youth the art of stilt walking. Many of her students achieved fame and recognition when they displayed the art at mainland colleges, pageants and presentations. Heywood and Paul accompanied several troupes of moko jumbies to mainland parades, including the Rose Bowl in California.
Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen expressed her condolences Thursday to the friends and family of Heywood. "She was very simply one who spent her life in service to others, a woman of the community," Christensen said.
"Up until the last time I saw her, she put a smiling face up front, and spoke with great enthusiasm about our party, what we needed to do and her hopes for it," she said. "In addition to being a beautiful person, 'Chi Chi' sometimes single-handedly kept this party going, especially on St. Croix."
Christensen continued by saying, "Chi Chi could always be counted on in whatever she was involved in, and she worked diligently in her quiet, effective way to help those who crossed her path. We know that she faced a long and arduous battle with cancer, but she did it with strength and grace, and she was admired by all."
"She will be greatly missed, and we owe it to her to move this party in the open, fair, straightforward and inclusive way she always tried to have us be," Christensen concluded.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards said in press release that Heywood's life was "one of unselfish dedication to family, friends and community." Richards summed up her work with the Democratic Party by saying, "No campaign was a Democratic Party campaign unless 'Chi Chi' was a part of it. Her name was synonymous with the word Democrat. She will long be remembered for her contributions to St. Croix and, by extension, to the entire Virgin Islands."
Senate President Lorraine L. Berry also sent a press release extending her condolences on Heywood's passing. Berry recalled that in March, Heywood participated in a roundtable discussion arranged by Berry regarding women's issues focusing on the role of women in government, the community and the importance of 'women supporting women' in the Virgin Islands. "It was a pleasure and a privilege to work closely with her," Berry said. "Chi Chi loved St. Croix and fought tirelessly to improve the quality of life for the women and children of the Virgin Islands."
Cecil Benjamin, state chair of the U.S.V.I Democratic Party, issued a statement expressing his "heartfelt sympathy and condolences" Heywood's family and friends.
"Chi Chi, as she was affectionately known, was a vital, committed and productive person. She has served our community with dedication, devotion and distinction," Benjamin said. "No one who was privileged to have been associated with this lady in her communal, professional or social life failed to be impressed by her tenacity and convinced of her bold efforts in confronting the many challenges she faced."
Glen Smith, St. Thomas-St. John Democratic Party district chair said on Thursday, "Chi Chi was a party stalwart of the Democratic Party for many decades. She will be sorely missed." Smith said he met Heywood through their work in the teacher's union. "She was a fighter for women's rights and the rights of workers in this territory," Smith said. "One could not ask for a more loyal individual who remained committed to the task, no matter how difficult it was to achieve."
"The territory has lost a courageous fighter for labor, women and human rights," said James O'Bryan, former Democratic State Chair. "We have lost one who pioneered in media broadcasting. The party has lost a devoted and committed soldier for its causes. I have lost a dear and cherished friend. We mourn as one today. There are no divisions or factions within our great party today. Our collective grief is reflected in the prevailing mood. May God bless and comfort all who mourn her passing."
The Democratic Minority Caucus issued a joint press release extolling the contributions of Heywood to the St. Croix community and the Democratic Party. In the release, which contained comments from each minority senator, Sen. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion captured the emotions of the caucus saying, "Heywood left a rich legacy of social and political contributions to the Virgin Islands."
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