Elizabeth Kitson (1918-2019)
A legacy of learning has been left by Elizabeth Kitson, the founder of the Reading Clinic, who died last week aged 100.
She will be remembered as a mother who taught her children to work hard for their goals and as a “remarkable, amazing” woman who helped countless others fulfil their potential.
Susanna Willingham, her daughter, said: “She presented ideals to strive for. She loved learning. She was a leader in so many ways. I learnt that learning was of value and I learnt that you could pursue your dreams or your ideals.”
Mrs Kitson was born Betty Muriel Gorham in 1918 to Arthur Gorham, a Front Street merchant, and Muriel Masters.
She was the fourth of five children and grew up on Pitts Bay Road, Pembroke.
She got her first summer job at 17 writing a column for The Royal Gazette and, about then, met the man who became her husband, Commander Geoffrey Kitson, a Scotsman in Bermuda who worked for the Admiralty.
The couple married on September 17, 1939 and their son, Kirk, now 78, was born the next year before the family moved to England. They returned to Bermuda a few years after the Second World War with another son, Richard, now 74, and their daughter, now 67, arrived later.
Mrs Kitson was drawn to a home on Pitts Bay Road that had fallen into disrepair, which became the Rosedon Hotel that is now run by her grandchildren, Lee Petty and Scott Kitson.
Ms Willingham said: “She bought Rosedon when it was a derelict, beautiful house, she thought somebody should do something with that house.
“She dusted if off and made it into a B&B.”
She added: “She was happy to start something, she loved to have a project, she loved to renovate things.
“She decorated Rosedon for the first 40 years of its existence.”
Mrs Kitson returned to studies in New York in her early forties to become a reading specialist and started doing reading assessments back in Bermuda in the 1960s.
However, she identified a lack of follow-up services and, in 1968, launched The Reading Clinic, which offered instruction from her home.
Some students had dyslexia, others had fallen behind in reading and needed extra help.
Ms Willingham recalled: “My father tutored, my aunt tutored, in the early days they all pitched in and it was a fabulous experience because it was successful for the kids.”
She explained that her mother changed her name “to the less diminutive form” when she was recognised as a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1980.
The Reading Clinic moved into its own space on the Bermuda High School for Girls’ property in 1991.
Ms Willingham added: “It showed us that we should have tenacity too. We observed that she was hard-working.
“She also loved beauty a lot, natural beauty, like natural stone, I think we all learnt a love of beauty from her, she was inclined in that way.”
Ms Willingham said her mother was also a good athlete, played golf competitively and was even a junior Olympic swimmer.
She added: “She was not harshly competitive but she cared about doing well.
“I think it gave us all a sense of striving to do better and also to serve the community, she was also the chairman of the Committee of 25 for Handicapped Children. I can see my mother on the tarmac at the airport with three kids with wheelchairs getting them on to the plane to go to the United States to get help.
“She was really into helping the less fortunate in that way.”
Mrs Kitson, who had seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, retired from her work with The Reading Clinic in 2000, having helped hundreds of children.
She continued to back scholarships for students of the charity as well as at Bermuda College and schools such as Warwick Academy and Saltus Grammar School.
But Ms Willingham said her mother’s efforts were carried out “quietly”.
She added: “Even though she was a leader she didn’t really like the public eye.
“She made speeches about dyslexia because they needed to be given, because it was still a disputed disorder.”
Her death on May 16, which her daughter said was “completely peaceful”, came more than 20 years after the death of her husband, who died aged 80.
Glenn Faries, the Reading Clinic’s executive director, said: “It goes without saying that Mrs Kitson was an amazing woman, a remarkable woman and I think that her vision for children in Bermuda with learning differences was incredibly influential, it was basically the driving force behind her founding the Reading Clinic and putting it in place 51 years ago.”
He added that Mrs Kitson was “visionary” in the way she saw children who were otherwise considered “as someone who is never going to be able to succeed” and provided them with the tools to achieve and exceed their potential.
Dr Faries added: “She was ahead of her time as far as that goes.”
A funeral service will be held on June 15 at 3pm at St Paul’s Church in Paget.