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USVI Community Pulse

Longtime VI Aviator Honored With Prestigious Awards



Paul Vikander, recently and at age 16.

After over three decades of flying across the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean, pilot Paul Vikander has been recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for his exceptional skill and service.

“I never expected it,” said Vikander when discussing his receipt of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award. “I just felt really good.”

Vikander began his aviation career in the Civil Air Patrol in Kansas. His journey to the Virgin Islands began when he met his future wife, Margaret, in Puerto Rico while stationed there with the United States Coast Guard. The couple married in November 1961 and settled in St. Thomas. Earlier that year, Vikander earned his Air Crewman Wings, marking him as part of an elite cross-military community of highly trained specialists.

By the end of the 1960s, Vikander was flying in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, taking skydivers, aerial photographers, and sightseeing passengers into the skies. He also flew for WSTA-AM 1340’s live news reporting and assisted the V.I. Police Department with aerial searches.

In 1970, Paul and Margaret Vikander founded Virgin Air, which provided daily flights between St. Thomas and St. Barthélemy, Margaret’s father’s homeland. Virgin Air played a crucial role in connecting St. Thomians with their relatives in St. Barts, transporting passengers, mail, newspapers, and groceries. “At one period of time I was bringing shopping lists down and my wife would go shopping, get all the food and stuff together, and pack it up in boxes,” Vikander recounted, noting the affordable cargo rates of 10 cents per pound at the time. “We were just doing it as a courtesy to tie the people together,” he added, highlighting the three-day sea voyage between the islands.

St. Barthélemy’s Gustaf III Airport is known as the third most dangerous airport in the world, requiring pilots to land over a hill, down a slope, on a short runway, contending with tricky winds. Vikander, who easily obtained the special certification to land there, quickly became an expert on the route and was asked by the French government to become a check airman, training other pilots. In 2015, he was awarded the Honorary Citizen Medal of St. Barthélemy for his service. For Vikander, the daily flights were a labor of love for his wife and her family, strengthening the connection between the two islands.

Virgin Air, later renamed Air St. Thomas in 1993 after legal disputes with Virgin Atlantic, expanded its services to include scheduled and charter flights to St. Croix, Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, and the wider Caribbean.

Over nearly 35 years, the Vikanders ran Air St. Thomas, with Paul holding roles such as Director of Operations, Chief Pilot, Company Check Airman, and Director of Maintenance. During this time, he logged most of his 28,000 flying hours.

The FAA’s recognition of Vikander’s distinguished career with both the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award underscores his exemplary contributions to aviation. The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award honors pilots with 50 years of safe flying, while the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award recognizes aviation maintenance expertise spanning 50 years.

In August, Vikander will join the nearly 8,500 recipients of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and over 3,500 on the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic “Roll of Honor.” Among these ranks, his name stands out as one of approximately 10 individuals worldwide to receive both honors.

Reflecting on his achievements, Vikander, who still seizes every opportunity to fly, expressed gratitude for his contributions to the territory he has called home for 63 years. “I’m happy because I’ve achieved,” he said.

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USVI Community Pulse

How Fiction Shapes Politics in Tight-Knit Island Communities



In small communities, politics often intertwines with personal relationships and familiar faces, making the landscape ripe for fiction to flourish over fact. The potency of fiction in such settings stems from several key factors: the close-knit nature of relationships, the impact of narratives on identity, and the rapid spread of information through informal networks.

In these communities, everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows someone who knows someone else. This interconnectedness means that personal relationships heavily influence political opinions and decisions. A compelling story, even if not entirely true, can resonate deeply because it often involves people within the community. The emotional weight of a narrative involving a neighbor or local figure can overshadow cold, hard facts. Fiction, by appealing to emotions, can quickly gain traction and influence opinions more effectively than dry statistics or factual reports.

Collective identity and belonging are paramount in small communities. Stories and narratives that align with the community’s sense of self can be incredibly persuasive. Fictional accounts that reinforce shared values, fears, or hopes can become powerful tools for shaping public opinion. These stories often become part of the community’s lore, repeated and embellished over time, further entrenching their influence. When a narrative resonates with the community’s identity, it becomes more believable and impactful, even if it diverges from the truth.

Information in small communities spreads quickly through informal networks. Gossip, word of mouth, and social gatherings are primary channels of communication. In these settings, sensational stories, even if fictional, are more likely to be shared and remembered than mundane facts. The more dramatic or emotionally charged a story, the faster it travels. This rapid dissemination can amplify the influence of fiction, making it a powerful force in shaping public perception and political discourse.

People naturally seek out information that confirms their preexisting beliefs, a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. In small communities, where people often share similar backgrounds and viewpoints, this bias can be particularly strong. Fictional stories that align with the community’s collective beliefs and experiences are readily accepted and propagated. Facts that contradict these narratives are often dismissed or ignored, allowing fiction to maintain its hold on the community’s political landscape.

Fiction often simplifies complex issues, making them more accessible and emotionally engaging. In contrast, factual information can be complicated and nuanced, requiring more cognitive effort to understand. In a busy community where people have limited time and resources to delve into detailed analyses, a straightforward, emotionally charged story is more likely to capture attention and influence opinions. The simplicity of fiction allows it to be easily remembered and repeated, reinforcing its impact over time.

In small communities, the power of fiction in politics cannot be underestimated. The close-knit nature of relationships, the importance of identity, the rapid spread of information through informal networks, confirmation bias, and the emotional appeal of simplicity all contribute to the potency of fictional narratives. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for navigating and engaging with the political landscape in small communities, where the line between fact and fiction often blurs, and stories shape the reality of political life.

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USVI Community Pulse

Kelly Pugh Named Local Realtor of the Year, Recognized for Community Engagement and Leadership



ST. CROIX — Kelly Pugh, a dedicated realtor with REMAX USVI for the past five years, has been honored with the prestigious title of local Realtor of the Year. This recognition, awarded at the recent Virgin Islands Realtors general meeting, highlights Pugh’s significant contributions to her community and her active involvement with the Board of Realtors.

Pugh’s commitment to community service is also reflected in her membership with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., known for its emphasis on public service. She has been a board member since 2021, serving as vice president in 2023 and president-elect the following year. As she prepares to assume the role of president next year, Pugh plans to focus on leadership, training, and increasing realtor and community engagement on St. Croix.

In collaboration with Christopher Jones, Pugh co-founded the Ay & Ay Realtor Team, under the guidance of broker Ava Gail Bourdon. The team’s name pays homage to St. Croix’s indigenous Tainos, who referred to the island as “Ay-Ay,” and incorporates the Rastafarian phrase “I and I.”

Pugh notes the dual aspects of her profession, from the joy of handing keys to first-time homebuyers to the challenges of limited housing inventory on the islands. The current high-interest rates further complicate matters, reducing buyers’ purchasing power. “It’s difficult when potential buyers qualify for a $250,000 home, but there aren’t any available in that price range,” she explained, adding that cash buyers often outbid those seeking financing.

Looking to the future, Pugh intends to expand her operations to St. Thomas and St. John, aiming to recruit new team members to tap into a broader market. Her recognition as Realtor of the Year will take her to Boston in November to attend the National Association of Realtors meeting, where international realtors will gather to celebrate the 2024 awardees.

Pugh remains accessible to new clients and colleagues via text, email, or phone at 340-725-5066. More information can be found on her website, [email protected].

For those considering a career in real estate, Pugh advises seeking mentorship from experienced professionals and underscores the need for patience. “The real estate community is full of helpful professionals willing to share their knowledge,” she said. “But it’s important to be patient, as returns on investment in this field are not immediate.”

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USVI Community Pulse

Bill Reforming V.I. Real Estate Commission Advances with Strong Support



In a significant move to enhance regulations in the Virgin Islands’ real estate sector, Senator Novelle Francis Jr. has introduced Bill 35-0117, aimed at reforming the territory’s Real Estate Commission. This follows closely on the heels of his earlier successful introduction of Bill 35-0193, which sought to regulate the local real estate industry further.

Bill 35-0117 proposes amendments to Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 15, Sections 421a and 422. These amendments address the qualifications, term limits, and duties of the Real Estate Commission members. Key among the proposed changes is the addition of a licensed property manager to the Commission, a move Senator Francis highlighted while seeking support from the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

If passed, the bill will mandate geographic representation on the Commission, with three members residing on St. Croix, three on St. Thomas, and one on St. John. Additionally, it sets term limits, restricting members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. The bill also allows for members to receive per diem expenses and empowers the Commission to appoint a secretary and a treasurer.

The proposed legislation quickly garnered support during its initial committee review on Thursday. Laurent Alfred, the current chair of the Real Estate Commission, and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) both endorsed the bill. Horace Graham, DLCA assistant commissioner, praised the bill as a “progressive step forward for this industry and our community.”

A noteworthy provision in the bill requires that no more than four of the seven Commission members hold a Virgin Islands real estate broker, sales associate, or property management license. According to Mr. Graham, this ensures that decisions are informed by substantial industry expertise while allowing the Commission to effectively represent various stakeholder interests, including real estate personnel, property owners, and prospective buyers.

Mr. Graham emphasized the bill’s aim for “equitable geographic representation,” which he believes will address unique real estate issues across the Virgin Islands. He also noted that term limits would promote fresh ideas and prevent stagnation, fostering an environment of transparency, accountability, and responsiveness.

The Real Estate Commission fully supports the proposed changes, with Mr. Alfred testifying that term limits would ensure a healthy turnover in Commission membership.

Committee members echoed the support from invited testifiers. Senator Milton Potter described the bill’s provisions as “prudent upgrades” for the real estate industry. Senator Marise James, experienced in real estate law, saw no drawbacks and encouraged Senator Francis to address real estate fraud in future legislation. Senator Diane Capehart agreed, stating that the legislation offers transparency and parity.

The bill will now proceed to an upcoming legislative session, where it will be voted on by all fifteen senators.

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