Family weathers the storm of horrific Hurricane Irma
June Famous looked forward to hurricanes when she was a child in Tortola. Storms were an exciting time for her and her young cousins. The entire family would shelter together, under one roof.
“We’d say this was what it was like in Noah’s Ark,” said Mrs Famous. “We were never scared.”
That all changed with Hurricane Irma on September 6.
Her daughter Roslyn Famous and sister Jenecia Fairfax were on Tortola as the Category 5 storm smashed through the British Virgin Islands, leaving at least five people dead.
“Roslyn is a freelance translator in Puerto Rico,” said Mrs Famous. “She went to Tortola on September 2 to be with my sister who was scheduled for cancer surgery on September 5.
“I said, ‘Oh God, take that hurricane and send it out into the ocean where it can’t hurt anyone’. So I wasn’t worried, until I heard through the news media that Anguilla, Barbuda and Tortola had sustained horrific damages. Then I was really concerned for my family there.”
For three days the 74-year-old frantically tried to reach her sister, a resident of Healthy Hill.
“I couldn’t get through to my uncle, who is a government minister,” said Mrs Famous. “I knew that if I couldn’t reach him, I couldn’t get through to anyone.
“I have a sister, Florence Maduro, who lives in New York. That lady does not panic, but concerns were so great for her sister and her niece, each night when we spoke we ended up sobbing.
“We said everything is going to be OK, because we trust God.”
Finally, she got the call she’d been waiting for.
“My gracious Lord, when I finally heard from Roslyn I felt like someone gave me all the money in the world,” Mrs Famous said.
“It was such a relief to hear from her. The unknown is not a pleasant place to be in, and I’d been imagining the worst.”
As it turned out, her family was fine although her sister had lost most of the windows in her house.
“Roslyn said, ‘I know you get excited when there is a hurricane, but you would not have been excited if you’d been in Tortola for this one,” said Mrs Famous.
“My sister didn’t know whether she was going to go with the windows, or if the whole house was going to collapse on them.”
She and her husband, Thomas, “finally found a charter” flight for Roslyn and her aunt. The pair landed safely in Puerto Rico on Thursday. Her sister then flew on to Indiana to get the surgery she needed.
Mrs Famous was actually born on St Thomas, one of the US Virgin Islands. Her parents, Amay Fraser and Christopher Glover, separated and when she was two, her mother went to study in New York City.
An aunt in Tortola, Rehenia Turnbull, took care of her and her three sisters.
Mrs Famous has only happy memories of her childhood there.
From an early age she showed a talent for mathematics. She remembers crying if she didn’t get 100 per cent on a maths test.
At 16, she left for the US to study accounting at City University of New York.
“At that time there weren’t a lot of women in the field,” she said. “We were supposed to be secretaries, not accountants. But I preferred figures to typing.”
A cousin introduced her to Thomas Famous, a Bermudian studying architecture.
They fell in love and were married in New York on May 15, 1965, and moved back to Bermuda immediately.
It meant she had to put off her final year of university. She wouldn’t complete her degree until 1978.
“My early weeks in Bermuda were terrible,” she said. “I’d been working in New York at Equitable Life. I had friends there at work and at church and I’d been living in a nice neighbourhood.”
In Bermuda she knew no one and struggled to get a job.
Cricketer Alma “Champ” Hunt suggested she try at American International because she had American citizenship due to her birth on St Thomas.
It took her several months to secure a position.
“That was when I realised there were words called prejudice and segregation,” she said. “I would go there faithfully every week.
“There was a lady there from Norway, who said they were looking for someone with my qualifications. She would send my CV off and they would be excited to have this person come and work with them.
“In those days there were no pictures on the application. When I appeared for the interview, the job was suddenly gone.”
She kept trying, determined to land a job whether it was “a file clerk, pot washer or whatever”.
On September 14, she was hired.
She started out as a statistical typist, but worked her way up through the ranks over the years. When she retired from the company in 2008, she was vice-president of investments.
Now in her spare time she runs Famous Enterprises, helping her friends and family to book travel tickets.
“It keeps me up late looking for the best travel deals,” she said.
She and her husband’s son, Christopher is the government MP. They also have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Raising funds to help
The West Indian Association is holding a cruise to raise funds for islands battered by Hurricane Irma.
Proceeds will go directly to agencies in the affected areas.
The boat will leave Albouy’s Point at 8pm on Saturday and return at 12am.
Tickets are available from WIA committee members and The Edge on Reid Street, for $60. The cost includes dinner.
Tickets can also be bought at the boat, for $70.
For more information call 524-2216.
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