Sept. 18, 2005 It seems no matter what, Simon Caines is a guy who gets noticed. The tall, good looking 32-year-old executive director of the 26th Legislature has many accomplishments for his tender age, but underneath it all, he is just immensely likable.
Caines relaxes in his modest office, talks easily, and he is easy to talk to. "I'm still waiting to write the great novel, or to write poetry. I love language," he says. Then what is he doing in politics?
Let's go back a few years.
Caines is the youngest of Gertrude and Arnold Caines six children — two sisters, and three brothers. So, he must have been spoiled. "They might say so," he laughs, "maybe."
Caines has strong memories of high school as though it was yesterday, which, relatively speaking, it was. "I went to Eudora Kean," he says, "and I am a proud Devil Ray. I did everything in high school I was public relations officer, on the honor society, and on the Spanish honor society, but I can't speak a word of Spanish, the Quiz Bowl, student government vice president, and an honors graduate."
He continued his education at Michigan State University, right out of high school, but, curiously, it wasn't his idea. "I wasn't keen on college," he says, "in fact, I didn't really have plans, but my parents forced the issue, thank God. I didn't know where to go, but Thelca Bedminster, my teacher at Kean knew somebody at MSU, and they accepted my application."
And, again, somebody noticed.
Caines, a 1995 MSU graduate, was recently selected by Muses the MSU magazine of the Arts and Humanities to represent the 1990's global student.
It wasn't easy for Caines when he first hit East Lansing. He found MSU's 40,000 population was about the size of St. Thomas. "It was huge, a different climate, a different culture. I called my mother and told her I'd never seen so many white people in one place."
I joined the Black Caucus at Akers Hall where I lived," Caines says, "and I began to meet all sorts of people students from South Africa, the Philippines, Singapore, India, it was a global community. It was a time of huge change for me and it opened my eyes and my heart.
"At first, I decided to study pre-med, but, for instance, the chemistry classes were enormous," he says, "and they were taught by a monitor on a screen. That turned me off, so I had to think about what I really did like. The only thing I had really enjoyed was English, so that's what I majored in."
Favorite authors? "Really, it's Shakespeare,'' Caines says, "the language of Shakespeare, the movement and the characters. I've always had a special love for Macbeth."
In 1995 the English major graduated and set out to set the world on fire. "The freedom was so exciting," Caines says. However, English majors are notoriously unemployable in the outside world; Caines wound up selling cars in Orlando, Fla.
But not for long. He returned to St. Thomas in 1996, months after Hurricane Marilyn. He worked for a storm contractor for a while, leaving that to join the V. I. Humanities Council, and his professional career began to take shape.
"I was assistant to the director, Magda Smith. Sometimes we'd butt heads, but I learned a lot from her," he says. The council is a private, nonprofit organization, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. "We issued community support grants for the arts and humanities, and we ran the Daniel Heftel Lectures in fact, we had Lynn Chaney, who used to be chairman of the NEH."
After a period at the council, Caines moved to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources where he worked under the Division of Libraries Archives and Museums as Coordinator of Libraries and Archives.
During his tenure, Caines rekindled one of his old passions, the Friends of the Library. "We used to have a group, and I wanted to get it active again," I talked to Ellen McLean and Carol Lotz, and we got Tom Bolt to head it. It was like a second coming. Tom had done that before. And the program is still going well."
"Then, I had a great opportunity. I was named to the bilateral V. I. Archival Commission and I traveled to Denmark to work on the V.I. transfer archives," he says. "It's a project that will take time, and we have to provide a place to house them."
When the proposed Tutu Park Mall library is built groundbreaking, for the third time, is scheduled for early in 2006 the Enid Baa Library is scheduled to become an archival facility.
Caines, however, withheld comment on when he thinks that might happen.
While he was with the libraries, he was noticed once again.
The Humanities Council tapped him to return to take over the executive director's position, as Smith was retiring. "They had had a huge search," Reflecting on his career path, Caines says, "It's amazing. I don't know if it's good fortune, or sheer luck. I like to think it's quiet determination. I don't make a lot of noise."
He thinks for a bit, then breaks a big smile. He's going to let us in on a secret. "Personality," he says, "takes you very far."
The new job was much more than another feather in his cap. Caines was the youngest director of any of the 56 U. S. Humanities Councils at that time, and the only African-American.
However, in 2003 opportunity beckoned again. Caines, an active Democrat, came to the notice of David Jones, president of the 25th Legislature. Jones persuaded him to take the Senate executive director post. It's not an easy job. It can, in fact, be a very hot seat, but Caines has persevered. He is the only director who has held the post through two legislatures, and arguably the youngest director, as well. A new Legislature traditionally cleans house with the top administrative posts.
Caines is intense about his job. "One thing that bugs me is the public perception and displeasure with the Senate," he says, talking with his hands to make the point. "The central staff works very hard. People think our budget should be slashed, but they don't realize we have 14 divisions," he says. "We have reporters, legal counsel, accounting, security, the journal division which produces all the reams of paper we go through, the bills, the amendments, the Legislature Calendar."
Caines is in charge of the Senate's 14 division, its (give or take) $16 million budget, administrative function, and the performance of about 160 employees.
The job being basically summed up, Caines switches to another of his passions. "I love the Rotary," he says. "I can't say enough. It really works. The organization is successful carrying out its mandates. And all the money it raises goes back to the community, not to administrative expenses."
Caines enthusiasm was rewarded last year when Rotary II noticed him, and honored him as 2004 Rotarian of the Year.
And, there's another bonus. At least, that's how Caines sees it. At 8 a.m. Saturday mornings he can be found at the studios of WVWI Radio One, where he, along with Mary Gleason and Ida White, hosts the Rotary Reach program on Radio one WVWI. The focus of the show is on community issues and events involving Rotary clubs.
In Caines' modest digs in the Senate building, his wall boasts a Pisarro print, along with another waterfront print dating back to the 1800's, and several drawings of the waterfront around that same time. "You know," he says, "I was on a cruise ship luncheon last week, and looking back at the harbor I was just struck with how beautiful it is. You forget until you have that perspective.
"I love the island," he says. "I love to travel, but I'm always happy to get home. In spite of everything that goes wrong,
it makes me feel good, walking down the street in the morning where everybody says hello."
He reveals another enthusiasm. "You know before I leave this planet, I'd like to learn Spanish and French. My dad spoke French, but I never bothered to learn," he says. He reaches under his desk and whips out a book, "Spanish in Ten Minutes a Day." "They don't tell you how many days, though," he laughs.
Pictures of his mother and father occupy a prominent perch to the side of his desk. His father is leaning back comfortably playing a guitar, (it becomes evident where Caines gets his smile). "I'd love to learn the guitar. My father would play and sing at Eunice's, but I rarely went to listen, and I never asked him to teach me. I regret that," Caines say, "and I miss him. He died in 1999. "
The more he talks, Caines seems even younger than his 32 years there's a definite boyishness about him that he either cannot or will not, shake. He loves people, most people, he says, and he seems not totally unaware of his charms. His ebullience is seemingly endless.
As for a favorite musician, "Oh gosh," Caines says, "that's really hard." He frowns, "I like Luther Vandross, or Patti LaBelle, she has such a beautiful, clear voice."
Suddenly the room is filled with song. Caines' cell is beckoning. "That's Dido," Caines says. "The song is 'Thank you'."
And thank you, we say. So glad we noticed you.
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