Helping his island


PELICAN POINT, Bahamas — With his 10 children, Rev. Freddie Laing and his kin would make up nearly one-fifth of the population of the Bahamian island of Pelican Point. As is, the affable Laing serves as quasi-mayor of the sleepy island, which is one of the eastern-most points in the Bahamas island chain.

While Deep Water Cay is the host island for this weekend's Redbone event, a part of the Built Ford Tough ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series presented by Takemefishing.org, Pelican Point is a stones throw away and its accessibility to the mainland of Freeport offers up increased convenience.

One of many smaller islands that caters to tourists from the U.S., Japan, Italy, Norway, England and places all over the map, the town itself is quite barren with a few cottages and homes leading right up to the picturesque beach.

But the quaint destination is a paradise for vacationers and anglers alike.

"The tourism industry is so important here," Laing said. "Tourists help people stay employed so we must be nice to the tourists and make them feel like they are welcome everywhere they go.

"I'm trying to educate everyone I come in contact with to treat the tourists like they treat their family. Without tourism, we lose jobs. No waitresses, bartenders, these people have jobs because of tourists."

Considering Pelican Point didn't have electricity until the 1950's, Laing said he feels that his town has made great strides in recent years. But Laing, a pastor since 1989, feels that some things are holding Pelican Point and the Bahamas back.

Crime, for one, is still prevalent in the Bahamas.

"Just last week in Nassau, there were 60 break-ins," Laing said. "And those were just the ones that were reported. We have to do whatever we can to limit the crime."

A lack of work ethic, Laing said, plagues locals whom eventually turn to crime. But perhaps Laing's story can serve as inspiration for struggling Bahamians.

He became principal of a McLean's Town school (an adjacent township to Pelican Point) at the age of 15 (seriously), married at 17 and had his first child at 18.

"I was just as mature when I was 12 than when I was 20," said Laing. "I had to grow up quick."

As for the 10 kids: "Back in those days, we weren't as smart as we were nowadays," he said.

To educate himself and support his family, Laing took correspondence classes in the States and worked a number of odd jobs — bartender, musician, waiter, customer service, chef — to support his family.

When he was in his 40s, Laing held jobs that allowed him to fish during the day. He caught and sold barracuda and snapper and could make as much as $800 a day from selling the meat.

At 71 now, Laing, who looks at least 20 years younger, walks the beach every night.

"This stretch of beach (on Pelican Point) used to be the most beautiful place in the world," Laing said. "But the hurricanes have destroyed it. I'm not sure it will ever get back to the way it was."