I recently read the tribute to Sydney Hendricks, Lowell Wheatley, and Foxy Callwood, written by Captain Red Bailey. This article in the St. Thomas Source was moving and kind. Sydney, who recently passed away, was a good friend of mine, and we met in the early seventies on Jost Van Dyke. I met Lowell during that time frame while I was living on my sailboat, and he became a dear friend until his tragic death. Foxy continues to be a friend to this day, after knowing him for more than thirty years.
After reading the tribute I could not help but think of another old friend who departed this life eight years ago, the truly unsung hero of Jost Van Dyke, the quiet giant, Albert Chinnery. People rarely talk about Albert, and most might not remember him, but he is responsible for the birth of the hospitality industry in Jost Van Dyke. Remembering him with love and happiness still brings a nostalgic tear to my eye. Without Albert, the future of the island would not be nearly as prosperous as it might be today.
Albert was the Jost Van Dyke Customs officer, but he wore many hats during his life on the island. In those early days, he was the Immigrations officer, postmaster, tax collector, and the distributor of funds to the poor, among other duties. Albert made hand crafted wooden fish traps and sold and shared his catch with his family and neighbors. He was the good-natured and honest man who told visitors to stay and explore the island when Jost Van Dyke was not yet on a tourist’s radar. The boaters started to listen, and now we have paved roads, electricity, public water, guest houses, bars, restaurants, and other services far beyond what anyone would have predicted in 1963, when Albert started working as the Customs officer.
Albert Chinnery performed his duties with the utmost earnesty. Before Tortola was the the charter boat capital of the world, most charters began their trips in the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas. They would clear customs in Jost Van Dyke as their entry to the BVI’s. Tourists started visiting Jost Van Dyke as a direct result of the friendly face they met in Great Harbor, Albert Chinnery. Without Albert’s good-nature in ushering guests onto the island, far fewer tourists would have seen the pristine sands of White Bay or hear Foxy’s world famous voice.
Due to Albert’s warmth, professionalism, and love for his home, people felt welcomed on Jost Van Dyke. I received a cordial reception from Albert in the early seventies when I anchored in Great Harbor and chatted with Albert as I cleared customs for the first time. His quiet charm and genteel manner, typical of a servant of the Queen, was my first point of contact with the island that I have called home for more than 30 years. I fell in love with Jost Van Dyke as a result of meeting Albert, who became my good friend for the rest of his life. I had sailed to many beautiful places in the Caribbean, but it was Albert who made me feel at home on Jost Van Dyke.
Albert retired in 1993, but he could regularly be spotted welcoming visitors from all over the world with his unassuming and honest smile, and always carrying his radio. He died in 2002 at the young age of 64, and I had the honor of eulogizing my dear friend at his funeral, the largest ever held on Jost Van Dyke. During my eulogy I proposed the idea of naming the Government Administration Building after Albert, and feel very strongly that this is long overdue. Jost Van Dyke owes Albert homage and respect, and we need to revisit this prospect. I ask the Government of the British Virgin Islands to consider this suggestion to name the current building and any future Government Administration Building on Jost Van Dyke the "Albert H. Chinnery Government Administration Building." It is important for all of us to remember our roots, and the father of all government administration on Jost Van Dyke is Albert Chinnery. Therefore, it would be fitting to prominently and permanently display our appreciation and thanks. Also, Albert is the Godfather of tourism in Jost Van Dyke, because were it not for his modest, friendly, genuine love of his home, tourists may have just cleared customs and been on their way. Instead, our beloved Albert invited them to stay. Albert left a beautiful and rich legacy which every resident, frequenter, or visitor to the British Virgin Islands should remember by his name and face.
Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands