A legacy: Leah O’Brien of Cat Island

By the Rev Canon S Sebastian Campbell, CM

Timothy 1:3-5: 3 I give thanks to God, whom I serve with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did. I thank him as I remember you always in my prayers night and day. 4 I remember your tears, and I want to see you very much, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I remember the sincere faith you have, the kind of faith that your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice also had. I am sure that you have it also.

What stands out in this text: My ancestors; Lois, Timothy’s Grammie; Eunice, Timothy’s Mother: It’s A Legacy!

Go back to book of Sirach, ch. 44 it reads. “Let us praise and let us sing praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations.” It speaks much about the role of ancestors.

2 Timothy is also doing the same as Sirach, “Praising the ancestors.” The key in all of it is “praise our ancestors in their generations.” Many times, we want to judge our ancestors with the lenses of 2022. Look at their time, examine what they were given. Through it all, they trusted in God to see them through.


LEAH O’BRIEN, the aunt and foster mother of Canon Campbell.

WHAT were Almeda, Granville, Leah, and Rachel given? They were born to a single mother, Jane Isadora McKenzie in the Bluff, Cat Island.

They were baptised as infants, and thus sealed in the Christian faith at the little church of St Paul in Rokers. They were born in a house that auntie Leah O’Brien and her siblings described as a 2x4 size. It still stands, today, in the bushes, next to the abandoned eyesore once the Bluff-All-Age-School, on the main road going up to the Bluff.

They travelled to Arthur’s Town in 1941 in search of a better life Leah and Rachel twins, on the horse back with all the worldly possessions they had. Mammie and Uncle Gran with Mama walked on either side of the horse. Mama Jane, our Lois, had an abiding faith in God as they journeyed to Arthur’s Town, at the break of day.

Arthur’s Town was their promised land, to which Mama Jane was convinced God was leading them over ten miles of rough terrain called a road. They were searching for a better way of life. Auntie Leah told and retold the story of their exodus again and again. How they were being led by God and how God provided for them in their land of promise.

They were recipients of a better life, yet hard and tedious. By the sweat of their brow, they still had to cut field and weed, and plant. But now they found employment in the fields of big shot Arthur’s Town farmers or hired out to do work at the residence of the priest, commissioner, headteacher, etc. the muck-a-mucks-of Cat Island. But, oh, what a time they had to find a roof-over their heads, and to till the land, but first to find the land then to cultivate. But God led them through it all. Thanks be to God, the journey was made.

Here, Uncle Gran was to find a spouse, Auntie Sil, Mammie found a husband, Sebastian Campbell and my father produced us, their 14 offspring. They were poor but did not know it. One consistent testimony Auntie Leah gave was that they were a happy, happy, family sitting in an unknown land, where God had led them. They were immersed in this new culture, and no one could say they were not one with all their new found friends in Arthur’s Town. Here they ran with the baton of joy, involvement, especially in St Andrew’s Anglican Church, St. Andrew’s Burial Society, the Household of Ruth, the Odd Fellows, the school and, yes, indeed, they farmed and were well immersed in the thriving tomato industry in Arthur’s Town. God had bought them through. Tomato was king and it increased their income, shipping directly to the US from Cat Island.

Like Timothy’s Lois and Eunice, they were humans with much shortcomings. They too missed the mark, but there is no perfect being, save Jesus Christ. The names of Lois and Eunice are not symbols of perfection, but of instruction.

What are some of the lessons from their lives:

  1. Be an example of an exuberant faith. Deuteronomy reminds us to exercise our faith with all our heart. In 2 Timothy we are told that Lois exercised her faith in SINCERITY. Then she passed it on to Eunice. Then on to Timothy.

Let Auntie Leah’s exuberance live on. Do we wish to immortalise her? Auntie Leah was the epitome of life: singing, dancing, travelling, a restless soul, always battle ready. A woman of action. Can you ever describe St Andrew’s, Arthur’s Town as dead? Can you describe Christ the King as dead? Never, not as long as Leah O’Brien was involved. I agree, dead people come to church, and then characterise the church as dead. Leah O’Brien gave life: all the time, on time attendance in ministry as a Sunday School Teacher, both in St Andrew’s and Christ the King, in the Anglican Church Women, in the choir, in the Cursillo movement, in the prayer ministry and in her joyful giving through her tithes and offering. Her faith was challenged, but never shaken. She loved her God, as she loved her church.

She was in that procession, one sunny Sunday afternoon that marched from St Barnabas to the new mission of Christ the King that established Christ the King as a parish. Then in recent times, plagued by the setbacks of an aging body, walked again from St Barnabas to Christ the King to re-enact the first procession that got it all going. She is an original in Christ the King. When I moved in with her in 1971 it was a given, Christ the King or nothing. In our first conversation she said, “Welcome to the band, Christ the King, I expect to see you serving on the altar”. A lively faith and exuberant faith, teaches us the lesson: the power of influence. Anglicans have a legacy in her, this I saw, as well, in my mother. No one was going to talk bad about her church, in her presence. She cried at times when relating some fighting situations in the church. She protected her priest from the fiery darts of callous and insensitive parishioners. She was no rolling stone and remained faithful to her God and church. This legacy I cherish as a priest as I do battle with foes in the church of God. We can influence generations to come through a lively exuberant faith. Every niece and nephew, with all the grands, she influenced for good. She was the glue of this family, calling all day long. Don’t let the devil fool us and lose it. Satan knocks at our door and is ready to sift us like wheat, we have a legacy to run with.

  1. Her Legacy: she was there at my birth, a spitty rainy day. She was there with nurse Turner to welcome me in this world. She boiled the water and kept things going. She was among the first to hear my cry, when she got the word, “It’s a boy!” she was never shy saying “I love you! I love you!” becoming a Canon after thirty-three years as a priest, I received because of people like auntie Leah. She shopped and prepared for three of my big days: ordinations as both deacon and priest. To this Julian can also testify. Although Julian was ordained at St John the Divine in Antigua, oh yes, she was there. She led in prepping Christ the King Hall for my ordination reception, for days. She shopped afar for matching clothes to match my robes for my installation as a Canon. She has a legacy of love.

When dispatched by Mammie from Cat Island, I was told to go to Leah and Rachel. This family has a legacy of closeness. I got a hacker to bring me over the hill, followed the instructions, came to the house, this was the 31st December 1971. Auntie Leah cried out “Junior, you come to spend the new year with us.” I said, “yes, and to go to high school.” I was accepted and stayed in Ridgeland Park, twins close as I attended Blue Hill High School and later St John’s College until my elder brother Oscar took me out. Every niece and nephew can give a testimony of this legacy of love. The Majors, the Campbells, and O’Briens. Oscar, you’re the oldest one, lead us. She sent us toys every Christmas, box on the boat, she always presented herself live in living colours. Spending time with us in C.I. The Anglicans of Cat Island, what a legacy. She gave herself and of herself in annual pilgrimages of fund raising for the 11 Anglican churches on Cat Island.

She has a political legacy. She was in the Progressive Liberal Party at its formation and promised to die a PLP; she probably did, but not before going on an excursion to the United Bahamian party, the National Democratic party and being hailed in high remarks in the Free National Movement. She indeed had a presence in all of them and left a legacy of exuberance and dynamism.

I thank her for playing a motherly role to all of us, her nieces and nephews, as we journeyed from Cat Island and tried to find a new life in New Providence and then further afield. She stood with me in Rawson Square at rallies when I led a campaign for National Heroes, National Honours, etc. she warned me not to get stressed out and lose it. She was our Santa Claus who sent wrapped gifts every Christmas. Many, many persons will confess that she was generous to a fault, so generous that some unscrupulous might have taken advantage of her.

What about our legacy? In short order, a stone will be placed at the head of her grave. It will read 1936-2022. A dash separates the years. The dash is the accumulation of all she was. What are you placing on that dash right now? Is it good or bad, negative or positive. Have we been faithful to the gem of an aunt? Did we cherish her, call her, visit her, provide for her, had time for her, or did we wait patiently for the funeral? It’s a good time to repent.

Our broken promises, broken dreams, ripping her off. Are we able to place love on that dash? To us all: family, church, political allies, Leah O’Brien placed on that dash for all of us the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Auntie was unselfish and all my life I was a recipient of this unselfishness. She was naive in her unselfishness and was ripped off many times as a result. We are recipients of so great a legacy.

Due to Lois and Eunice’s’ legacy and family we got a companion to Paul called Timothy. Because of their legacy we can build a firm Christian foundation even in 2022. Let auntie Leah continue to live on. Remember we have a soul to save, so radical a change we need make, that Jesus describes it as being born again. A radical change we all need. See again Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in St John’s gospel. All of us need it. Her legacy we follow in all her imperfections, walk hand in hand with Jesus, she did it as she walked hand in hand with all of us who were privileged to know her in this garment of flesh. Let us go on handing down this faith given to us, that she lived by: To our children and to the generations yet unborn.

2 Timothy 3:14-15: 14 But as for you, continue in the truths that you were taught and firmly believe. You know who your teachers were, 15 and you remember that ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.


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