Lifestyle

Leroy looks back on a full life

  • Keen sportsman: former Key West Rangers and Pembroke Hamilton Club player and jack of all trades, Leroy “Lofty” Burns (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
  • Looking back: Leroy “Lofty” Burns playing football as a young man (Photograph supplied)

For 34 years Leroy “Lofty” Burns was a driver for St Brendan’s Hospital, ferrying children who were patients.

He remembers it as one of the best jobs he ever had.

“I loved working with the children,” he said. “A lot of them called me ‘Daddy’ or ‘Uncle’.”

The job at what is today the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute fell into his lap.

In November, 1962, while a limo driver for Bermuda Aviation Services, Mr Burns and his colleagues went on strike due to looming layoffs.

“This guy stopped me and asked if I wanted to work for the Day Training School at St Brendan’s,” the 86-year-old said. “I went down there to apply that day and started the next day. I never went back to the airport.”

He retired in 1996, a few years short of his 65th birthday, to care for his mother, Ruth, who was ill.

He still spends a lot of time with children.

Mr Burns has 17 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren; an upstairs neighbour, aged 5, often appears at his door.

“She’s an only child,” he explained with a shrug. “She always wants me to play football with her. I kick it around as best I can, given my age.”

Back in the 1950s, Mr Burns was considered one of Bermuda’s best.

He played table tennis, softball, and cricket, but football was his true passion.

“I’ve loved sports since my school days,” the Warwick resident said. “Back then there were no substitute players. If you didn’t get picked to play, you didn’t get on the field even if a player was injured.”

Because he hated to be left out of a game he worked hard to make himself indispensable.

“I had a weak left foot,” he said. “I’d kick the ball against the wall, left, left, left.”

At 22, he joined the Key West Rangers, a Spanish Point team.

“We were all die hards,” he laughed. “I played goal, centre forward if someone got hurt. I played left half, right half.”

It was this versatility that got him picked for the Bermuda Football League in 1955.

Comprised of Bermuda’s best, the team was formed to tour overseas.

“Our team manager, Dudley Eve, said if he sent me, he’d be saving himself four plane tickets,” Mr Burns laughed. “I could take on whatever position was needed on the field.”

They visited Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey that year. It was his first time off the island.

He inherited the nickname “Lofty” from his grandfather, Leon.

“He was quite a small man,” said Mr Burns, who grew to 5ft 9in. “Instead of calling him Shorty, they called him Lofty.”

He grew up on Serpentine Road in Pembroke.

His father, Kenneth, worked for Gibbons Company; his mother worked at Green Lantern, a restaurant owned by his uncle Cyril.

“I used to help [him] out in the restaurant sometimes,” he said.

Mr Burns’s dream was to become a carpenter.

“I started working for Gibbons Company at 13,” he said. “They said that they were going to set up a carpentry shop and as soon as they did I could work there.” But it never happened.

So he became a jack of all trades.

“I had friends who had different trades — plumbing, carpentry,” he said. “I would ask, ‘How you do this or do that?’ I didn’t know the different names of tools, but I could fix things.”

Mr Burns married and divorced.

He then met his second wife, Cynthia, a teacher in the Opportunity Workshop programme at St Brendan’s.

They were married for 39 years before she died in 2013.

Today, he is active in the Hamilton Seventh-day Adventist Church and loves to watch sports.

“I’m a deacon in the church,” Mr Burns said. “I do some painting for them and fix different things.”

He has eight children: Belinda Butterfield, Kenneth Burns, Leroy Gino, Brian Doers, Laverne Williams, Trent and Steven Lightbourne and Tricia Lambert.

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