As Annie Gardner’s contributions to the territory were being recounted, all she could do was wipe away the tears that flowed from her eyes. 

Ms. Gardner’s family members joined the swimming instructor and longtime volunteer as she received the First Caribbean Unsung Hero Award at Maria’s by the Sea last Thursday.

After her biography was read, Ms. Gardner spoke to the gathering of more than 20 people.

“I feel totally surprised. … and am overwhelmed and thrilled. I feel like I’ve won Miss Universe, and even better,” she said.

Ms. Gardner explained that she grew up in a family where her parents always emphasised the need to share. “I’ve always been conscious of helping others,” she said.

‘Boundless compassion’

During the ceremony, Maxim Pazos, country manager of FirstCaribbean International Bank, outlined a few of the honouree’s contributions to the Virgin Islands community.

Ms. Gardner, he said, has a “boundless compassion for children, the disadvantaged members of the community, and simply anyone else in need.”

After moving to the VI in 1974, the volunteer quickly got involved in the community, according to Mr. Pazos.

“Around the time that Ann arrived in the BVI, individuals who were mentally or physically disadvantaged were oftentimes kept at home with limited social interaction, stimulation or support,” the bank manager said, adding that Ms. Gardner worked to raise awareness and supplies for such disadvantaged residents.

She also helped raise funds for Fort Charlotte, which served as a centre for challenged residents before the establishment of BVI Services.

“Now, 30 years on, Ann continues to visit and support those same people at a government-run centre for adults,” Mr. Pazos added.

Today, Ms. Gardner is perhaps most recognised in the community for her contributions to the Kids and the Sea programme, according to the bank manager.

Many Saturday mornings, she can be found surrounded by children at the Nanny Cay pool.

“She has taught children and adults to overcome their fear and trepidation of the water through her deeper understanding of their unease,” Mr. Pazos said.

Ms. Gardner was also praised for her efforts in helping to provide food for several needy families in the VI.

“Her innate sense of helping those in need kicks in when tragedy strikes, whether at home or abroad,” the bank manager said. “Her smile, cheer and genuine concern are met with great pleasure, and always elicit a desire to help.”