Having two heart attacks changed Elizabeth Wingate’s outlook on life.
She wakes up each morning excited about the possibilities the day holds. Usually, there’s gardening involved.
“I feel like I haven’t lived if I haven’t gardened,” the 79-year-old said. “I have suffered from mild depression on occasion and there’s nothing like hacking away at a hedge or mowing the lawn to make you feel better.”
The back-to-back heart attacks last July were a real scare. Her parents had both lived until 90 and Ms Wingate assumed she’d reach at least that age — especially because she thought she was healthy
“I had some chest pains,” she said. “I went to the hospital and they said I’d had a heart attack. I was in the hospital for a time and then they let me out. I had another one. The doctors in Bermuda sent me to Lahey for ‘probably a stent’. When I got there, they said, ‘No stent. We’re doing a quadruple bypass tomorrow’.
“Having that happen, I suddenly realised I was going to die one day.”
Ms Wingate was born in Hampshire, England to Kathleen and Brewster Roche.
She trained as an occupational therapist and worked with the mentally ill.
“I found it interesting,” she said. “I wanted to make the lives of people afflicted with psychological problems a bit better.”
In 1965, she moved to Bermuda to work at St Brendan’s Hospital. She had no idea where the island was when she made the decision to uproot.
“When you’re young, you want to see the world and change things so off I went,” she laughed. “I thought it was somewhere near Gibraltar.”
After ten years on the island she married David Wingate, although they later divorced. The widowed government conservation officer had two daughters, Janet and Karen; together they had a third, Rosalind.
For years, Ms Wingate made costumes for the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society’s Christmas pantomimes. In 1977, she was hired to run the Bermuda National Youth Theatre, a children’s programme with a summer drama camp.
A decade later, she became the occupational therapist at Westmeath Residential and Nursing Care Home in Pembroke.
“They offered a little more money,” she said. “I started working at Westmeath when I was 48. At that point you’re just starting think, ‘Gosh, I’m going to get old’. You don’t think you’re going to die yet — at least I didn’t. But when you get to be almost 80 you realise you won’t last for ever.”
Her experience working with older people led her to put safety rails in her home a few years ago.
“I use them now,” she said.
She retired from Westmeath in 2011.
When she’s not in her garden tending to her vegetables, orchids and roses, she loves sewing, painting and all sorts of crafts.
“I love making things,” she said. “I always feel sorry for people who don’t. This morning I made a St Brigid’s Cross.”
The decorative four- pointed cross was traditionally woven in Ireland out of rushes.
“It’s supposed to promote good health,” Ms Wingate said.
“I kept thinking about going to one of the marshes to look for reeds. I heard there was some in the marsh on the South Shore in Devonshire. But then I saw some daylilies had died in my garden. Their stalks looked just like reeds, so I thought I’d try to use them. It turned out to be easier to make then I thought.”