Mapp inspires young to aim high
Lawson Mapp jokingly refers to himself as the last of the dinosaurs.
He thinks he’s the only sign painter on the island who still works entirely by hand.
“There are many sign painters in Bermuda today, but most of them rely on computers and don’t know the rudiments of sign making,” Mr Mapp said. “They don’t need to know, because the computer does everything.”
He looks a little puzzled when asked about the challenges of doing the job the old-fashioned way, with paintbrush and paint.
“I don’t really have any difficulties,” he said. “I studied the basics at the London School of Printing. They taught me how to lay everything out and form the letters.
“It does happen that sometimes you spell things wrong, but then you just take turpentine, wipe it off and start again.”
After half a century in business, he hopes to sell Mapp Signs Ltd on Richmond Road, Pembroke, and retire.
“I’ve never been on a cruise,” he said. “I’d like to go on one. It would make me sad to close down the business, but less so if I can sell it to someone else and see it continue.”
He was born on Parsons Road and raised mostly by his grandmother, Agnes Boyce.
When he left Elliot Primary School at 14, he really wanted to go to the Berkeley Institute, but there was no money.
“A lot of times it was the girls who went to high school,” he said. “If you were a boy, you were expected to go out, get a job and help your family.”
At 16, he was working two jobs, sanding floors and painting houses, when he came across Harry Green’s shop on Serpentine Road.
He’d been fascinated by signs and lettering since childhood.
“I loved that you could take a brush and do lettering,” he said. “The fact that you had to have control to do that just fascinated me. I was always fascinated by the trucks with the letters on.”
He went into Mr Green’s shop and won himself a third job.
“Every free minute I got, I’d go over there to help him,” Mr Mapp said. “I remember I got ten shillings for a day’s work, and that seemed like a lot of money.
“He had these delivery trucks come in and I had to put Bermuda Bakery on there. He’d leave that for Saturdays when I came to help. With his brush he would mark out the ‘B’ and then I would take my big brush and fill it in.”
Mr Green eventually took on Mr Mapp full time and the pair worked together for 12 years before the former retired.
One of the jobs they did together was paint Hamilton’s coat of arms on the brand-new City Hall building in 1960.
The crest is still there, high up on the south side to the left.
“I was doing the mermaid on the city crest,” Mr Mapp said. “I had to go up in this box to do it. Since then I’ve done the crest three more times over the years.”
Back then, he never imagined he’d one day become the city’s mayor.
“Here is a little pond dog up there painting with his boss,” Mr Mapp said. “It is really extraordinary.”
In 1979, a few years after setting up Mapp Signs Ltd on Tills Hill, he threw in his name to become a councillor with the Corporation of Hamilton.
“I always enjoyed helping people,” he said. “I always wanted to be a voice for those who didn’t have one.”
He worried that his humble beginnings in Pembroke would count against him, particularly because Bermuda was still quite segregated at that time.
However, he knew he also had good standing as a member of the United Bermuda Party and church warden at the Anglican Cathedral.
“I discussed it with a few people,” he said. “They said, ‘Try it and see’. I was amazed when I got elected.”
Over the years he moved up the ranks — to alderman, to deputy mayor under William Frith, and mayor from 2000 to 2006.
“I was the second black Hamilton mayor after Cecil Dismont, who was elected in 1988,” he said.
One of his highlights was meeting the Queen at City Hall in 1994.
“I didn’t get to talk to her,” he said. “There were a lot of other people there. I remember she had her arm in a sling because she’d fallen off her horse.”
He’s most proud of the work he did on plans to refurbish the Hamilton waterfront, although he was disappointed none of it ever came to fruition.
During his time with the Corporation of Hamilton, he was also elected as a UBP Member of Parliament.
“I represented Pembroke East Central, where I grew up, from 1984 to 1989,” he said. “I knew every crevice in the constituency. I enjoyed that with Robert Barritt.”
Today, when he’s not making signs, he loves travelling and collecting stamps.
He is still involved with the Anglican Cathedral and is a board member of the Eliza DoLittle Society.
He hopes his story will inspire today’s young people to aim high.
“I didn’t even have a high school education,” he said. “I tell young people, if you can’t go away for higher education, go to the library. Do some reading, study Bermuda history. That helps you along the way.”
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