Guyanese Sybil Chester ‘always passionate’ about her work for the Caribbean community

Sybil Chester
Sybil Chester at the 32nd Annual Celtic Ball in October 2022. Photo by Dr. Rose October
Photo by Dr. Rose October

After serving Schieffelin & Somerset Co./Moet Hennessy USA for more than 30 years, Guyanese-born Sybil Chester, currently serving the company as a consultant on some community projects, says she has “always been passionate” about her work for the Caribbean community.

“I feel that I have made a difference in the community,” Chester, a former Brooklyn resident, now residing in Hempstead, Long Is., told Caribbean Life exclusively over the weekend. “Many organizations and groups have benefitted and continue to benefit from the work I have done, and that was my goal.

“I know that I have left indelible marks in the community,” added Chester, who, in 1972, joined the wine division of Schieffelin & Somerset Co., and served in the capacity of executive assistant to the president/chief executive officer (CEO).

Eventually, her duties were expanded to include corporate contributions and Caribbean communities’ relations.

In this position, she worked with many organizations, included but not limited to the American Cancer Society; the Anti-defamation League; Meals on Wheels (as a founding contributor); and The Culinary Institute of America.

During the 1980s, in moving around the various communities, Chester said she observed that the support of the Caribbean community was missing.

This led her to approach the president/CEO, where she voiced displeasure and advocated that the Caribbean community was using the Schieffelin & Somerset products, but there was no support of or give back to the Caribbean community.

As a result, she said the president/CEO asked her to provide a list of events/opportunities, along with names, of Caribbean organizations.

This, she did, and a budget was provided; hence, the presence and support of Schieffelin & Somerset of the Caribbean community became a reality.

Noteworthy, both Schieffelin & Somerset and the Caribbean community benefitted from this relationship, as different aspects of the community were impacted, economically and otherwise.

For instance, in education, Chester said City University of New York (CUNY)/Medgar Evers College benefitted. In high schools, she said many students received scholarships.

In addition, the Jackie Robinson Scholarship Fund was supported.

In the arts/theater, Chester said Alvin Ailey Performing Arts, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Apollo Theater, and the annual spring and other events of theater, were supported, along with The Schomburg Center.

Culturally, the West Indian American Day Carnival Association was also a beneficiary.

Additionally, over the years, Chester was involved in the sponsorship of Caribbean Life, through advertisements, especially during the Caribbean carnival season.

Over the years, Chester said Schieffelin & Somerset has grown in many stages by acquiring different premium brands in the wines and spirits’ industry.  Moet Hennessy USA is responsible for the sales and marketing of Hennessy Cognac; Moet & Chandon Champagnes; Dom Perignon Champagne; Krug Champagne; Veuve Cliquot Champagne; Belvedere Vodka; and Red and White wines.

Chester proudly takes credit for introducing Moet Hennessy USA to the Caribbean community.

Further, Chester said she was also responsible for strengthening relationships with trade organizations, key retailers, community and government leaders, sponsorship of community-building events, and the creation of new initiatives within the African-American and Caribbean communities, now referred to BIPOC, on a national scale.

As it stands, her advocacy for Schieffelin & Somerset’s decision to support and invest in the Caribbean community has resulted in the foundation and history that are “embedded and unshaken” for both the company and the Caribbean community, she said.

Because of her tireless efforts, Chester said the company supported several community-based events, “which have contributed immeasurably to Moet Hennessy USA’s image and sales in the community.”

She said her expertise and visibility in the community enabled her to offer superior service and quality to numerous organizations. Thus, she is recognized and respected as an “ambassador” in the Caribbean community.

“The other day, I met a Trinidadian man who said, ‘thank you for the work and finances you have poured in our community, especially for the Caribbean carnival,’” Chester said.

“With Hennessy USA’s involvement in the West Indian (American) Day Carnival in New York, I was proud that every other lantern pole on Eastern Parkway had the Hennessy banner, which was a rich gold with brown lettering, that beautified the Parkway,” she added. “These banners were up from the beginning to the end of the West Indian Day Carnival season.

“The mas camps were also assisted with their costumes,” continued Chester, stating that they were supplied with cash and products during the Carnival season.

She said several mas camps have benefitted from sponsorship, among them Sesame Flyers, Hawks International, Black Foot and Mango Tree Productions.

Calypsonians who came to New York after Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival were also sponsored, Chester said.

“One of the highlights of my work was the annual Mother’s Day Show held at Madison Square Garden for many years,” she said. “These shows, sponsored by Hennessy, were filled to capacity. They later moved to Brooklyn College and were always well-attended by the politicians and dignitaries.”

Chester said that, for many years, the huge Jamaican Independence Ball was held at the New York Hilton Hotel, in midtown Manhattan, and was sponsored by Hennessy, with as many 1,500 in attendance and where Jamaican dignitaries, including prime ministers, interacted with patrons.

“As a matter of fact, I was the only non-Jamaican honored for Jamaica’ 45th Independence Anniversary,” she said.

Chester said Hennessy also sponsored other Caribbean independence anniversary galas, including Guyana’s, Trinidad and Tobago’s, and Grenada’s.

She said some celebrities she met in the line of work were: The late US Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell; singer and actor Harry Belafonte and wife; actor and Ralph Lauren’s model Tyson Beckford; actresses Sheryl Lee Ralph and Cicely Tyson; poet Maya Angelou; Tracey Ellis-Ross; athletes Mohamed Ali, Usain Bolt “Magic” Johnson, Roger Kingdom, and Michael Jordan (and wife); Russel Simmons; former US Presidents George H. W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton; and civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Chester said among the renowned singers she interacted with were: John Legend, Luther Vandross, Mary J. Blige, Angie Stone, Queen Latifa, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Kanye West, Beyonce, Jay Z and Pharrell Williams.

She also said she was involved in the sponsorship of President Barack Obama’s inaugural celebration, “where we made and supplied a special Hennessy – Hennessy 44, in honor of him being the 44th US President.”

Among others, Chester said she was involved in the sponsorship of the world-renowned Jamaican musician Monty Alexander’s concert in New York, and that the big 75th birthday bash in Manhattan for the Mighty Sparrow, whose real name is Slinger Francisco, was hosted by Hennessy, “when we launched and showcased the Johnny Walker Blue.”

During her distinguished career, Chester said she met Prince Albert of Monaco in New York and spent four days in Jamaica with Princess Katherine of Yugoslavia.

“We stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Montego Bay, and the event was Sheryl Lee Ralph’s Annual Film Festival,” she said.

Always a fashionista, Chester said her sense of and interest in fashion began as a child in Guyana.

“I was always interested in fashion, and, as I grew, my sisters would give me their money to purchase their outfits to attend weddings,” she said. “As far back as I can remember, I would say that my aunt, who was a seamstress and had a school where she taught young ladies how to sew, had an enormous impression on me.

“I would think of putting together colors and patterns in order to get a particular look,” she added. “Those thoughts expanded to what fabric, style and accessories should be incorporated to maintain that look. Like my aunt, one of my sisters was a very good seamstress, who serviced many customers in our neighborhood. I would have to say my sense of fashion came from my aunt and sister way back in my beautiful country of Guyana.

“So, when I migrated, and I began working with Schieffelin & Somerset Co./Hennessy USA, I have always enjoyed making a fashion statement, when I attended our hosted events, inclusive of fashion shows, and other events attended on behalf of the company,” continued Chester, stating that magazines such as Vibe, Ebony, Jet and Uptown, along with the Style section in the New York Times, have featured her in their fashion columns.

In light of her great work, “performed with care and consideration”, Chester said she has received many awards, including the Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) of Greater New York, Black Achievers In Industry Award; Congressional Black Caucus “Big Apple Award”; The Network Journal Twenty-five Influential Black Women In Business Award; The National Association of Negro Business & Professional Women’ Clubs, Inc. Hall of Fame Award; and Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Prestige Award.

Among others were: Caribbean Media Community Service Award; Black Culinary Alliance Diversity Award; 100 Black Women Corporate Award; Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Corporate Award; Everybody’s Magazine Women of Distinction Award; Guyana Youth Development Association Community Service Award; Support Network Community Corporate Award; and Hon. Una Clarke, Women Celebrating Women Award.

Chester has been covered by both print and visual media houses, and has represented Schieffelin & Somerset Co./Moet Hennessy USA nationally.

Just as important, she serves as a member on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States; member of the Caribbean American Center of NY (CACNY); and is a founding board member of the Brooklyn-based Carlos Lezama Archives and Caribbean Cultural Center (CLACCI).

Chester is a graduate of New York University’s marketing degree program.