25 Most Prominent Men And Women OF The U.S.V.I    

Juan Luis      Gwen Moolenaar      Ingeborg Nesbitt      Earle Ottley      Eileen Petersen     

Juan Francisco Luis

Senator, Governor
Vieques, Puerto Rico
1940 -

        The first governor to serve ten consecutive years as chief executive of the territory, Juan Francisco Luis was elected lieutenant governor in 1975 with Cyril E. King, the second elected governor of the Virgin Islands. When Governor King died in office on January 2, 1978, Juan Luis was immediately sworn into office that night. Initially a member of the Democratic Party, in 1978 Luis ran for the governorship under the banner of the Independent Citizens Movement Party (ICM). Successful in his efforts, he was sworn into office as the third elected governor on January 3,1979. The new governor was presented for the swearing-in ceremonies by the Honorable Melvin H. Evans, the last presidentially appointed governor and the first popularly elected governor. The oath of office was administered by the Honorable Almeric Christian, chief judge of the U.S. District Court, and the first Virgin Islander named to this position, which he occupied for almost ten years. In his inaugural address, Governor Luis repeated his promise made to the people at the taking of his oath as lt. governor. At that time, he said, "All I want to be is a good lt. governor." In 1979, he said, "All l want to be is a good governor," and he pledged to improve the quality of life in the Virgin Islands.

        Listed as some of his achievements as governor are the elimination of double sessions in public schools, establishment of modern health care systems, initial expansion and financing of the airports on St. Thomas and St. Croix, construction of a new container port on St. Croix, acquisition of land on St. Croix for home ownership and agriculture and several capital construction projects. At the end of his four years, he ran again in 1982 and served until 1986, but as stipulated by law, he could not succeed himself in a third race for governor. At the end of this term, there was a break in his fourteen years of public service. However, in 1990, he re-entered the race for governor, but lost in his bid to Alexander Farrelly. Prior to his tenure as chief executive, he held several other governmental positions, including project manager for the Virgin Islands Urban Renewal and personnel administrative officer in the Department of Health. He was elected senator in the Tenth Legislature, 1972, and served as chairman of the Legislative Housing and Planning Committee, vice chairman of the Recreation Committee, and member of the Committees on Finance, Public Safety, Health and Welfare, Labor, and Veterans Affairs. As a senator, he introduced several bills of benefit to sports, housing, and abused children. Born on July 10, 1940, on Vieques, he and his parents, Juan, Sr., and Victoria Monell Luis, moved to St. Croix one year later and Juan Luis grew up on that island. After completing his elementary and secondary education there, earning the valedictorian's award from Christiansted High School in 1958, he attended the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico in the pre-medical program. He later taught at Christiansted Grammar School and worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. When his employment was interrupted with a call to join the U.S. Army, he was selected "Outstanding Trainee." He was honorably discharged in 1968 with the rank of sergeant. In June 1967, he married Luz Maria Guadaloupe of St. Croix and they are the parents of two children, Juan Francisco, Jr., and Carlota Amalia.

Gwen-Marie Moolenaar

Neurophysiologist, Educator
St. Thomas
1941 -

        In January 1972, a doctorate degree in physiology with a speciality in neurophysiology was conferred on Gwen-Marie Moolenaar by Indiana University at Bloomington, Indiana, making her the first black female to receive such a degree. A daughter of Lucien and Ruth Richards Moolenaar, she received most of her elementary and secondary education at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School in St. Thomas and was graduated with honors in 1958 at age 16. She entered the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, New Jersey, where she earned her bachelor's degree in biology in 1962. In the fall of the same year, she accepted a fellowship at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, and continued graduate studies at this institution. Upon graduating with a master's degree in biology, she accepted a teaching position at Marymont Manhattan College in New York City for two years, where she was the youngest member of the faculty. In the fall of 1966, she returned to St. Thomas and accepted a position at Charlotte Amalie High School in the science department where she taught biology, physics, and chemistry to junior and senior students.

        Getting involved with the youth of the islands, she initiated and produced a televised quiz show for students of the four high schools: Charlotte Amalie, All Saints, Sts. Peter and Paul, and Antilles. Sponsored by VITELCO (Virgin Islands Telephone Corporation), the show was called VIQ and participants were quizzed on academic topics along with current events on the local and national levels. In 1967, the St. Thomas chapter of the Business and Professional Womens' Club selected her as their Young Career Woman of the Year, and sponsored her as their representative to the Federation Convention, where she competed with forty-two other young career women representing Business and Professional Women's Clubs throughout the United States. The criteria for selection were education, career, experience, and the formal presentation of a prepared speech. With the topic, "The New Woman of Today," Dr. Moolenaar emerged as a winner and top career woman, which placed the local club in a prestigious position in the federation. She was awarded the Helen Eisenhower Bronze Medal which is given annually to "one whose life, like that of Helen Eisenhower, places honor, duty, and achievement above self." On completion of her Ph.D. at Indiana University, Dr. Moolenaar received a post doctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health, Division of General Medical Sciences, for research in neuroanatomy and pharmacology at Cornell University College of Medicine in New York City. In December 1972, she joined the medical faculty of Howard University in Washington, D.C. She was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1977. During this period, she taught medical, dental, and graduate students. She was appointed director of graduate studies in physiology in 1980, and under her administration, the doctoral program in physiology grew and produced the largest number of black physiologists from a single American university. She also served as the course coordinator for medical neuroscience in addition to other medical courses. In 1976-1977, she was the recipient of a Faculty Fellowship Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for research at Michigan State University. Additionally, she was selected for the Visiting Scientist Award from the National Institutes of Health, 1987-1988, at the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas. Dr. Moolenaar has received several grants for research in science. The National Science Foundation sponsored a two-year program, 1974-1976, in which she served as the principal investigator; the National Institutes of Health funded a Training Grant, 1980-1981, in which she served as the principal investigator; and in 1977-1980 her research was sponsored by the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program of the National Institutes of Health.

        Dr. Moolenaar serves on national advisory boards including panels of the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and on the review panels of the American Heart Association. Her reputation as the first black female neurophysiologist was the basis for her selection by the national television program, Three-Two-One Contact, for national exposure. Her career at Howard was highlighted through this program, which was produced in 1983. After fifteen years at Howard, she returned to the Virgin Islands. In the fall of 1988, she was appointed professor in the Science Division at the University of the Virgin Islands. At this institution, she developed a pre-med/pre-graduate club for students. She also served as a consultant to the local Department of Health. She has assumed an active role in the community, serving as guest speaker at civic functions and is on the Board of Directors for the St. Thomas Historic Trust and League of Women Voters.

Ingeborg Hyacinth Nesbitt

St. Croix
1903 - 1969

        Beginning as a pupil-nurse in May of 1919, Ingeborg Hyacinth Nesbitt was destined to become one of those special nurses charac terized as devoted, steadfast in duty, and unselfish. Forty-three years of her life were dedicated to providing health care for the people of the Virgin Islands, especially on St. Croix. Throughout her career she assumed several positions which carried added responsibilities and longer hours. She was born in Frederiksted on November 25, 1903, to Claribelle Vatelle and Henry Nesbitt. By July, 1924, she was a graduate nurse; in October, 1936, she was made acting director of Nurses' Training. In December of 1944, she was named Superintendent of Nurses. In July, 1948, she was appointed Director of Nurses and Director of Nursing Services, St. Croix, in October, 1957.

        The members of the Third Legislature of the Virgin Islands, in a Resolution passed November 22, 1960, expressed the profound appreciation of the people of the Virgin Islands to Ingeborg Nesbitt, describing her as a dedicated nurse, warm-hearted, tender with the sick, devoted public servant, and exemplary citizen. As concrete evidence of this recognition, the Frederiksted Health Clinic was renamed the Ingeborg H. Nesbitt Health Clinic. Ironically Miss Nesbitt, whose life was dedicated to health care, was forced to undergo a long period of medical treatment and recuperation shortly before retirement. She died on December 25, 1969.

Earle Benito Ottley

Legislator, Journalist, Labor Leader
St. Thomas
1922 -

        Earle Benito Ottley is regarded by Virgin Islanders as a champion of human rights and one of the most powerful legislators of his time. In addition to his thirty-two years of public service as a legislator, his impact on the political, social, and economic development of the territory has been felt through his leadership: as founder of the Unity Party, one of the earliest political parties, as founder and editor of the Home Journal, a daily newspaper and as organizer/director of a large and powerful labor union. He still found time, however, to provide leadership in recreational areas. His political interest was nurtured at an early age from his affiliation with the Progressive Guide, the first political party in the territory. He believed strongly in the objectives of the Guide: improved way of life for the masses and public education on the democratic process. As a budding journalist, he used his skills to disseminate goals and activities of the Guide. A staunch Democrat, his entry into the political arena, however, was as an independent when in 1946 he made a bid for a seat in the Municipal Council, St. Thomas/St. John District. Successful, he continued as a councilman until 1954 when the lawmaking body was designated as the Virgin Islands Legislature and its members as senators. His success as a member of the Senate continued until 1972 when he opted to forgo entry in that election. But he re-entered in 1974 and served until 1980 when he formally retired. Positions he held during his legislative tenure included, among others, Senate president, vice president, majority leader, chairman of several powerful committees (Finance, Rules, Housing, Planning and Consumer Affairs, Home Rule, and Interstate Cooperation) and member of the Recreation committee.

        Closely related to his legislative involvement was his participation in constitutional reforms. In 1953, when the First Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention was mandated, an Organic Act Commission was established with the responsibility of examining the 1936 Organic Act. Senator Ottley was selected chairman of this commission. He waged a long and strenuous fight to achieve his goal "as full a measure of self-rule as possible." The resulting 1954 Organic Act did achieve a greater degree of self-government, including among other gains, an Elective Governor Act. Shortly after his retirement in 1980, he was appointed to serve in a somewhat similar situation. Chosen by Governor Juan Luis, he was named executive director of the Virgin Islands Status Commission. The tasks of this commission were to define the scope of federal and territorial relations between the Virgin Islands and the United States; to research and determine the status of other territorial relationships which exist, and to set forth the options available to the people of the Virgin Islands for relations with the United States. As a journalist he wrote forcefully on a wide range of topics and issues to which he was committed. His career in journalism started as a student at Charlotte Amalie High School working on the school's paper, The Reflector. He also worked as a part-time employee on the now defunct St. Thomas Mail Notes. After his graduation in 1939, he joined the Daily News on St. Thomas and became an assistant editor. His most serious journalistic involvement, however, was with the Photo News. Ottley recounts that while enrolled at Columbia University he was invited by his brother Basil to join him in the publishing of this daily paper. Years later he established his own paper, The Home Journal, and served as its editor. However, when his political involvement occupied most of his time, he sold his paper. He subsequently regained it in 1973 and renamed it the Virgin Islands Post. Once more he sold it in 1976 and the paper later faded from the scene. In 1985, he was named executive director of the newly formed Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority, which is dedicated to the construction of middle-income housing. He retired from this position in June, 1989. The son of Eulalia Queeman and Henry Ottley, Earle Benito Ottley was born on March 21, 1922. He is married to the former Alma Bonelli and their children are Diane, Judith, Patrice, Larry, Linda, and Juliet.

Eileen Ramona Petersen

Judge, Attorney
St. Croix

        Eileen Ramona Petersen holds the distinct privilege of being the first woman to serve as judge in the United States Virgin Islands and she is also one of the few women jurists in the Caribbean region. Judge Petersen was first appointed judge of the Municipal Court, now the Virgin Islands Territorial Court, by Governor Melvin H. Evans in 1971. Subsequent governors, Cyril E. King and Juan Luis, reappointed her to the bench. The daughter of Hugo R. and Anna Leevy Petersen, she was born on St. Croix, where she attended the public school system. Upon graduation, she entered Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University, in Hampton, Virginia. While there, she was awarded the coveted Ford Foundation all-expense-paid five-year scholarship, which enabled her to earn a bachelor's degree in speech therapy and English. Without interrupting her studies, she continued on to earn a master's degree in education. Fully prepared to share her newly acquired knowledge with the people of the Virgin Islands, she returned to St. Croix where she taught English at Christiansted High School and at the Catholic University of Puerto Rico Extension Program in St. Croix.

        While teaching, she realized that her childhood desire to study law remained an unfulfilled interest. Therefore, she accepted a part-time legal secretary position with the law firm of Johnson and Ten Eyck. Through this experience she gained insight into the offerings of the legal profession and decided it was a field that she had to pursue. She resigned from her teaching position and accepted a position in the law firm on a full time basis. Soon after, she entered Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. Believing that a practicum was the true way to test the theoretical information that she was obtaining while attending law school, she worked as a legal intern at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, where she was assigned to the divisions of bank operation, bank litigation, and bank liquidation. In 1966, she received her law degree from Howard University and upon graduation, successfully sat for the Washington, D.C., bar examination and was admitted to practice law in Washington, D.C., in 1967. She once again returned home to the Virgin Islands where she became assistant attorney general under Attorney General Francisco Corneiro. During her tenure at the Department of Law, she served as acting attorney general of the Virgin Islands. After twenty years of service on the bench of the Territorial Court of the United States Virgin Islands, Judge Petersen resigned in 1992. She was honored in a gala luncheon on St. Croix and was lauded by officials of the three branches of government, relatives, and friends for her outstanding performance as judge.

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