The Gibney Family

Eleanor Gibney’s maternal grandmother, Mildred Flagg of Boston, filmed home movies of her daughter and grandchildren on St. John on several visits to the island between 1947 and 1960. Robert and Nancy Gibney came to the West Indies from New York City in 1946. They were on their honeymoon, and planned to spend a few months in the islands. Nancy had quit her job as a features editor at Vogue magazine, and Robert planned to write a novel; he was 31 and Nancy was 25.

Photo Gibney Family

After a week or two in Haiti, then a top destination for American tourists, the Gibneys came farther eastward, looking for a simpler and less populated island. They found St. John, and Robert felt instantly at home. The couple rented a tiny cottage on Cruz Bay beach, then an almost imperceptible village of 80 people. A few weeks later they met Julius and Cleome Wadsworth, the owners of Denis Bay and St. John’s first part-time winter residents. When the Wadsworths returned to the states, they offered Denis Bay rent-free to the Gibneys until the following winter. Over the summer Nancy also fell in love with St. John, so when the Wadsworths came back there was no question of the Gibneys leaving the island. They moved to the only nearby available housing: a shed on Henley Cay, the 11-acre island off Caneel Bay. Henley Cay belonged to St. Thomas resident Rog Humphries who had no immediate plans for the cay. Robert and Nancy lived on Henley Cay for three years.

Early in 1950, Robert’s father died, leaving enough money that the Gibneys began looking seriously at buying land on St. John. They made an offer on what was then known as Hawksnest Beach to the absentee owner, Herbert Stevens of Boston. Much to their surprise, the offer was accepted. The Gibney house was built of the stones found on the site, with a crew of St Johnian masons. Cement and all other materials were landed by sailboats on the beach.

Ed Gibney, the first child, was born at the same time the family moved off Henley Cay and into the barely finished house. Nancy Gibney often recalled walking the five-mile round trip to Cruz Bay for Ed’s first check-up. The doctor came once a week from St.Thomas.

All three of the Gibney children were home-schooled by Robert, who preferred to work without a set schedule as general “fixer” of all manner of machinery, generators, etc. He worked for Caneel Bay during the Rockefeller expansion of the resort in the 1950’s. He eventually took a regular job in the 1960’s as librarian in Cruz Bay for several years.

Nancy wrote short fiction that was regularly published by the “women’s” magazines such as McCall’s and Redbook.

Robert Gibney died in 1973, Nancy in 1980. They are both buried in the Cruz Bay cemetery, a few hundred feet from where they first lived on the island.


Eleanor Gibney

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