Pride and care for her surroundings

  • A daily place of joy: Myrtle Durham in her garden (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
  • A daily place of joy: Myrtle Durham in her garden (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
  • Myrtle Durham in her younger years (Photograph supplied)
  • A daily place of joy: Myrtle Durham in her garden (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

In her eighties, Myrtle Durham took on a cause: a bus stop in her neighbourhood in Smith’s.

Trash was a problem as was the foliage, which was frequently overgrown.

“I was cutting the bushes otherwise if you sit down on the bench that is there, the bushes get in your way,” she said of the stop at the top of McGall’s Hill. “I have to do it quite often because no one does; for five years no one has cleaned up down there. I even took a trash bin down there but someone took it.

“There are a bunch of teenagers who sit down there at night. They throw their pizza boxes on the ground. I went down and cleaned it up. I can’t get anyone else to do it.”

In 2013, after The Royal Gazette ran a picture of her cutting back the overgrowth on nearby St Mark’s Road, she thought she might get some help but “nothing happened”.

Two years later she called Cole Simons, the MP for Smith’s South, to meet her at the site so he could see what was going on.

“He didn’t show up,” the now 90-year-old said. “I am fed up. The trash is still there. This lady in the neighbourhood said she would pay her gardener to take away the cuttings but when he came yesterday he said he was so busy he couldn’t get to it.”

It’s part of the gradual change she has seen since she moved to the island from Jamaica in the 1950s.

“This time around is the worst I have seen it,” Ms Durham said. “I believe politics is ruining this island.”

She was born in the mountains of Clarendon, a parish on the southern side of the Caribbean island. Her father, Eugene Shorter, was a farmer; her mother Caroline stayed at home with Ms Durham and her four siblings until she died, age 35.

“We had no running water,” she said, recalling how an older brother would balance the bucket of water he was carrying on his head. “We had to get water from the rivers or streams.”

In her early teens the family moved to Kingston, the island’s capital city.

“My sister, Lila Akinstall, came to Bermuda first,” she said. “Then in 1955 she sent for me when she had her family, to help her. I was about 26 at that time and working as a clerk in Kingston. I stayed for a couple of weeks and I didn’t like it. I missed my friends.”

Flying home after her third trip here she met her future husband, Raymond “Jackie” Durham. The marriage didn’t last.

“He was going to Jamaica to play cricket,” Ms Durham said. “We formed a friendship and went from there and got married.”

She worked as a waitress for many years. Bermuda was then segregated; Ms Durham kept her head down and did what she had to do.

Her first job was at the Eagle’s Nest where the head waitress taught her everything she knew. She then moved on to Coral Island Club, Deepdene Manor Hotel, Pink Beach and Grotto Bay Beach Resort.

“Waitressing could be stressful,” she said. “No matter what was going on in your life you always had to have a smile on your face when you dealt with guests.

“I think Pink Beach was my favourite place to work and Grotto Bay was my second favourite. I worked at Grotto Bay for 20 years.”

She made her way up the ranks to captain, and then assistant maître d’. During her last five years at the Hamilton Parish hotel she worked on the concierge desk, helping guests get the most out of their stay.

“I loved working with the visitors,” she said. “I’m a people person. When I get on the bus I always call out hello to everyone as I sit down.”

At 65 she decided to retire but on doing so found out that it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. She was used to being busy, and grew depressed.

“Ewart Brown was my doctor before he ever went into politics,” she said of the former Bermuda premier. “He told me I should get a hobby. He suggested I do some gardening. I thank him every day for that.”

Gardening reminded her of her childhood in Clarendon. She found she loved maintaining the plot she set aside in her backyard, where mangoes, ackee and peaches are among the crops harvested.

“The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is go out and check on my garden,” she said. “Often I do that before I even brush my teeth. Not a day goes by that I don’t go out there.”

She used to love to read, but can’t any more due to a degenerative eye condition in one of her eyes.

“Everything is bright, but I just can’t read,” the mother-of-five said.

Her milestone birthday last year came as a surprise to some people, who didn’t realise she was that old.

“My family put my picture on Facebook,” she said. “I had a lot of well wishes from people all over the world.”

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them