Sylvia makes a century

  • There is no secret: Sylvia Spearing looks back on 100 years (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

    There is no secret: Sylvia Spearing looks back on 100 years (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)


A woman who notched up a century today had a fast answer when she was asked the secret to a long life.

Sylvia Spearing said: “Live every day. Try to be decent and helpful. That’s the only thing we’re put on earth for — to help each other.”

Ms Spearing, who lives just off Pitts Bay Road in Pembroke, said yesterday she planned to spend her birthday with friends and family “having a couple of good laughs and sharing some funny memories”.

She added she was an agnostic.

Ms Spearing said: “I’m not afraid, but let me put it this way — what I do regret, because I’m nosy, is I would like to see what happens, and why.

“I want to know if we have learnt anything from it all.”

“I wonder what comes afterwards. I don’t know of the beginning, and I certainly don’t know the ending.”

Ms Spearing, a mother of five, said she followed the news and nature programmes and took time to think about what message may lie behind the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Spearing’s grandfather, an importer-exporter, uprooted the family from Barranquilla, Colombia, and moved them “lock, stock and barrel to New York City”.

Her mother, Clara Cortissoz, met Adrian Emanuel, her father, and Ms Spearing’s life started in an Irish immigrant neighbourhood in Upper Manhattan, near the City College of New York on Convent Avenue.

She said: “They were lovely people, nice neighbours. The neighbours were great.”

Bermuda was popular for holidays as Furness Bermuda liners plied the short distance between New York and the island.

She met Robert Spearing, a Bermudian engineer on the liner Monarch of Bermuda, and they got married in 1938.

She came to Bermuda in 1939 on board the Monarch with Elaine, their first daughter.

She said: “My first trip down was to live here. It was beautiful. No cars. Everything was horse and buggy, or bikes.”

The couple lived a “simple, nice” life on the North Shore by Deep Bay in Pembroke, where Ms Spearing looked after the family home, raised their child, and watching the “lady boat” liners cruising in — until the Second World War intervened later that year.

Ms Spearing said there was no great hardship during the war and more children followed — Robert, Alfred and Claudia.

But her marriage was not a success. Her mother came to help with the children and Ms Spearing’s took her first job at the Goody Shop on Reid Street in Hamilton.

The American base later opened, and the US services created an airport at St George’s.

Ms Spearing started work there in 1945, at first in the mail room, and later in accounting.

Now living on Hinson’s Island in Hamilton Harbour, she was expected to be at her desk and ready for work by 8am.

In early days she had to cross to Hamilton on a rope-pulled boat, then drive to the base in her Austin car, which she left parked on Front Street.

Ms Spearing rose to head of accounts at the US Base where, as an American, officials decided she did not have to bother getting a driver’s licence.

She said she counted herself lucky to be paid American wages.

She added: “Uncle Sam was good to me.”

A second marriage was also unsuccessful, but produced a fifth child, Pamela.

Ms Spearing said the island changed “entirely” in the decades after the Americans arrived.

But she added: “Everywhere changes.”

She retired from the base in 1985.

She said she was not tempted to return to New York after she had built a life in Bermuda with her children, and has been happy with her lot ever since.

Ms Spearing added the question about life was: “What are you in it for? Greed and money? No.

“What can you do to make it better? How many of us are really in it to make things better for mankind?”

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Published Sep 5, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 5, 2020 at 7:14 am)

Sylvia makes a century

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