Clayton Jeremy Lloyd, the Man and His Dream

Back in the 1950s, when things Anguillian were few and controlled from afar, one man had a dream: he didn’t want to be a fire fighter, he didn’t want to be a policeman, he didn’t even want to be an astronaut—but he did want to rule the skies. That man, Clayton Jeremy Lloyd, was still a teenager when he was struck by the romance—but also by the practical connotations for a small, isolated island in the northeast Caribbean—of air travel.

Two people played key roles in the pursuit of this ambition. The first of them was Jeremiah Gumbs, Clayton’s uncle, who encouraged him to follow his dream and boarded him at his home in New Jersey, where in 1961 he became Anguilla’s first licensed pilot. The second one is Peter McClees, an American friend of Clayton’s who helped him purchase his first plane, a Piper Apache with which he ran a charter service between Anguilla, St Martin and St Thomas until an engine failure in July 1965 signalled the end of that adventure.

A Piper Aztec in full flight. Photo: Wikipedia.

Like most ends, though, this was also the beginning of something new, namely the first commercial airline based in Anguilla, which Jeremiah Gumbs set up together with Clayton Lloyd and a Piper Aztec. But Uncle Jerry and Captain Lloyd had different ideas about where Anguilla Airways should go, and when Peter McClees again offered to finance the young man’s dream he spun off and created Valley Air Services (VAS), Anguilla’s second airline.

VAS grew steadily, adding to the original Piper Aztec a Piper Navajo, a Beech Twin Bonanza, a Cessna, an Islander and a Queen Air. At the same time Clayton’s reputation not only as a safe pilot but also as a committed member of Anguilla’s burgeoning business community was firmly cemented. But fate has its own strange ways of playing up, and suddenly, while VAS and Clayton Lloyd’s joint star was still patently rising, everything turned on its head in a single flight.

It was a standard commute between Juliana airport and Anguilla, an eight minute journey he wasn’t even supposed to operate but which circumstance had him fly on Christmas Eve 1977. During take off the engines caught fire, causing the accident in which he and his six passengers lost their lives. Captain Lloyd was but 35 years of age, and yet his brief but bright existence had left a very distinctive mark on the development of his own country—a mark that to this day is acknowledged and celebrated in the name of Anguilla’s international airport.

This piece was published in Design Anguilla, Issue 11 (p. 26) in June 2015.

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