As a 55-year employee of Caneel Bay Resort, Cornelius Matthias has been with the resort longer than any other Caneel Bay employee, and has likely served in the tourism industry longer than any other Virgin Islander.
Matthias will be honored for his dedication to the tourism industry at the Saturday, November 4, Tommy Star Awards and Gala, where he will be given the Tommy Star Award of Excellence.
The Tommy Star Award of Excellence is given to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the tourism industry, according to Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association President Beverly Nicholson-Doty.
“Each year, the Tommy Awards committee comes up with a list of nominees of individuals who have dedicated their lives to the tourism industry,” said Nicholson-Doty. “There is a list of criteria, including spending more than half your life in the tourism industry, and doing much to foster tourism and education.”
Part of Caneel History
Matthias’ dedication to Caneel Bay Resort put him on the list of finalists for the award.
“After reviewing the credentials of the three finalists, the committee voted for Mr. Cornelius, because he has dedicated more than 50 years to the tourism industry at Caneel Bay,’ said Nicholson-Doty. “As the resident historian, he maintains an interaction with the tourism industry on a consistent basis. He has been an integral part of sharing the history of Caneel Bay and St. John with visitors for more than half a century.”
Matthias worked as a ferry captain for Caneel, and now acts as the resort’s ambassador, riding the Caneel ferry and welcoming guests to the resort.
“He’s still riding on the boats on a part-time basis, as kind of a goodwill ambassador,” said Caneel Bay Managing Director Rik Blyth. “His official title is first mate. He talks to the guests, helping them with their luggage, welcoming them to Caneel.”
Matthias’ dedication to the tourism industry was a factor in his being chosen for the award.
Matthias Embodies Qualities of Excellence
“We feel that he embodies all of the qualities of excellence that we certainly think the role models of the Tommy Star Award of Excellence represent,” said Nicholson-Doty, who said she did not know of any Virgin Islander who has worked in the tourism industry as long as Matthias has. “We are excited about it. I interviewed him about a year and a half ago, and it was a wonderful experience for me.”
Matthias adds to the old-Carib-bean atmosphere of Caneel Bay.
“He is a piece of living history,” said Blyth. “He can talk about when this island had dirt roads, and about riding his donkey back and forth to Coral Bay.”
Matthias literally helped to build Caneel Bay when he began working for the resort in 1950.
“He helped build the place,” said Blyth. “He just fits in with the whole philosophy of Caneel. He’s a throwback to the old Caribbean.”
Blyth could not be more proud of this remarkably dedicated employee.
“It’s really quite an honor to be singled out for the Tommy Star Award of Excellence,” said Blyth. “We are really proud of him. He’s an interesting guy.”
Blyth hopes to fly Matthias, who is in Atlanta for medical reasons, back to St. John for the awards ceremony.
Traveled by Donkey To Find Work
“If he is well enough to travel, we will buy him a ticket back,” he said. “We hope to have him back next weekend.”
Matthias shared his experiences at Caneel earlier this year at a February Friends of the V.I. National Park seminar, “50 Years of Caneel Bay.”
Matthias said he came to Caneel from Coral Bay in 1950 on a donkey, looking for work. The first man he met at the resort’s property asked him, “What wind blew you down here?” he said.
Matthias then met a Dutch man, who was in charge of construction at the time, who said that he needed men right away.
Matthias, who came to the resort in his church clothes, decided that he didn’t want to risk losing out on getting the job by leaving his name and showing up the next day, so he started working right away.
Snorkeling at Lovango, Congo
“I figured that the money I made that day could buy me new church clothes,” he said. “I came in at noon that day, and started work at one.”
Matthias, who is currently semi-retired, shared his experience as a boat captain for the resort.
“I took people twice a day out between Lovango and Congo, where it’s not too deep, and there’s not too much current, to snorkel,” he said. “The guests often told me that was the highlight of their vacation.”
Matthias said he opted out when it came to snorkeling with the guests, instead waiting on the boat until they were finished.
The Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association’s Tommy Star Awards and Gala is on Saturday, November 4, at Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Resort .
Tickets for the event are available at $100 apiece. For more information, contact the Hotel and Tourism Association at 774-6835.