~ After three decade in cruise industry ~
By Alita Singh
Frank Bruney has seen tiny cruise ships with a few hundred passengers visit St. Maarten and has witnessed the pulling into the port of behemoths such as Allure of the Seas and Carnival Dream with thousands of passengers aboard. He has braved the sometimes choppy waters of Great Bay in a small seagoing vessel to access ships via ladders and has driven around Dr. A.C. Cruise and Cargo Facilities on a golf cart to attend to his job as ship’s agent for S.E.L. Maduro and Sons (W.W.I.) lnc.
Now, Frank is ready to cruise into retirement this month after 30 years on the job with the company.
Frank started in the cruise industry in its teenage years and the recently-turned 64 year-old saw St, Maarten develop to a mature destination with top ranking in the world. This growth is something of which he is proud, but seeing the cruise industry grow and spending half of his life on and off cruise ships almost every day of the year was not how an always smiling and ready-to-tease-you Frank envisioned spending his life.
He was just days out of high school when he was approached by Don Cooper, who would become a friend and mentor, about a job. “Don stopped me on the road and offered me a job. I had just graduated from St. Joseph School and right after I was at work,” said Frank as he reminisced, sitting at his favourite spot on W.J.A. Nisbeth Road – Numberly’s, his wife’s snack bar.
Carib Air Eastern, an inter-island airline, was where he headed and where he served as an agent from 1969 until the airline took to the skies for the last time. As Frank does almost everywhere, he made lifelong friends at Carib Air such as George Fleming and Sinclair Mathew.
After Carib Air, Frank worked with Big Pac, a carrier company. He then set his sights on the hotel industry and landed a job with La Belle Creole resort in its accounting department. From there, it was to the cruise side of the island’s tourism industry with this long-time job with S.E.L. Maduro and Sons.
When he started out with S.E.L. Maduro and Sons, there were only two ship’s agents. Now that number has grown to meet the demands of the vastly increased ship calls daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.
“We have grown in leaps and bounds,” said Frank. “I have seen a lot in my 30 years. Ships were smaller and coming into port once or three times a month. The tenders brought passengers from Point Blanche to town. There was no port like today. Getting on and off board the ships was easy. Today, there is so much extra security, the atmosphere and job has changed. Before it was easy to meet the captain and develop friendships. That’s not so now.”
Frank’s relaxed manner, jolly spirit and dedication to his job have earned him many friends. A vast majority of those consider him among St. Maarten’s chief tourism ambassadors. He is also known for going above and beyond the call of duty. From the days of his first car, which he lovingly remembered as a white Mazda 323 that he bought from St. Martin Motors, to his vehicle today, Frank has never hesitated to give a cruise passenger or a crew member a lift or help them to find their way on the island.
Asked what was the secret to staying in a job for three decades and rarely calling in sick, Frank said, “For me, it is about total dedication. I love what I do and I know in this industry people like care and attention.”
Easygoing Frank, the son of the late Denise Elizabeth Bryan-Bruney and Clement Stanley Bruney, never saw himself living anywhere but on the island of his birth. “I was born on Back Street. The house is still there. It’s pink now and across from the car wash. It’s a historical building, you know,” he said laughing and adding that it was historical not only because he was born there, but was listed as one of the country’s monuments.
Looking to the future, Frank said he planned to have “a long vacation … right here in St. Maarten. I want to really enjoy my island. But first, I am going on a cruise.”
That brought him to his most memorable cruise to date: a trip aboard MS Starward, a ship with only 800 passengers. The cruise makes stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Antigua; St. Thomas; and St. Maarten. The trip was memorable thanks to a personal relationship with the captain and the small passenger base, according to Frank.
After his cruise to celebrate retirement, Frank may find some time from his long staycation to hop over to Montserrat and Cuba, two of the only main islands in the Caribbean archipelago he has not yet visited.
Although excited about retirement, he is still keen on seeing the country’s tourism sector be sustainable and remain the cusp of innovation. Frank said the destination must be mindful about the reopening of Cuba and should not forget it was the closing of the fist of communism around Cuba that was a main element propelling St. Maarten’s tourism industry. “We built from it.”
Frank, who is one of 10 siblings, thanked his family, especially his wife of 35 years Numberly, Joan Douglass and his children, for standing by and supporting him even when he missed Christmas dinners and family milestone moments when duty called. That duty ranged from an unexpected cruise call to a medical emergency or some passenger- or crew-related matter.
One of his nightmare events was the 2:00am call in December 1998 from Monarch of the Seas after it hit the reef just outside of Great Bay in the small hours of the morning. The ship was not scheduled to call on St. Maarten. It came into port on that day for a medical emergency stop. “It was stressful and lots of work. We of S.E.L. Maduro did our part and did our part well. We did not receive complaints after; rather we were commended by some for the job we did. It was teamwork,” Frank said.
He is grateful for the guidance given to him by his former Managing Director Leo Chance and Supervisor Sherman Varsovia as he developed his career. He also expressed gratitude to the management of S.E.L. Maduro and Sons, led by Managing Director Raquel Copeland-Wathey, his fellow staffers and the vendors witih whom he had contact over the years.
“I have no regrets. I loved all the years I served with Maduro and Sons. It was enjoyable and sometimes stressful years. Look out for my book,” he chuckled. “It’s gonna be a good read!”