A celebration of fatherhood
Breaking up is hard to do. Ask Fathers United.
The group’s 40 members met once a month for 41 years until it disbanded in 2015.
Even though age and declining health had reduced the numbers, the eight who remain still question if it was the right move.
The problem is, they miss each other.
“The end was a sad thing because it was a good organisation, but we had to do it because there were so few of us left,” said Dennis Hollis, 80.
“Many of our members have passed away.”
Added Hadley Woolridge, 87: “We still have so many things to talk about.”
The late Charles Weldon came up with the idea.
“He’d invite a group of us over to his house for a codfish breakfast after church on Father’s Day,” said Mr Woolridge. “It got to be a tradition so, in 1973, he said we ought to form a club.”
It took a year to thrash out the details. United we stand in fatherly love became their motto.
The group’s purpose was to develop and improve the social wellbeing of the community.
Their monthly meetings were always on a Friday night, initially in their homes and then in a building near Flatts Post Office.
Not just anybody could become a member.
“I joined in 1997,” said Mr Hollis.
“A friend invited me. I knew everyone in the group but they had to accept you — you couldn’t just join. They didn’t let just anyone in. That’s what made it a good organisation.”
All it took for someone to be turned down, was a single objection.
“It had to be someone that we all wanted to spend time with,” said Mr Woolridge. “If one person said no, we didn’t ask why, we just said no.”
Each man gave $500. The money was put in a bank account and the interest used for charitable projects. The $500 was returned to the member’s next of kin, on his death.
“We’d donate wheelchairs to people, we’d give scholarships to students, we’d give to any worthy cause that came up,” said Boyd Smith, a former secretary, treasurer and president.
The 90-year-old reckons they donated thousands of dollars to people in need over the years.
“It was a good group,” he said.
“Every Christmas we had a function and gave raffles and prizes to people. I miss them. It was a very congenial group.”
Henry Trott, who was one of the youngest members, is 79. Frederick Raynor, 85, loved helping organise Fathers United’s social functions.
“I was never interested in holding office,” he said.
“I loved to entertain. I always preferred to be on the outside doing different things. They put on a lot of good functions.
“We had a night for the wives and everyone enjoyed themselves. We had a lot of good days.”
Fish fries raised money for charities; there’s a scrapbook full of thank you letters.
“The first year we helped a young lady with lupus,” said Mr Woolridge.
“In other years, we helped to build two pews at Bethel AME Church. They were doing a lot of renovations.”
If an organisation needed something in a hurry they would simply take the necessary cash out of club funds.
One year, they painted the kitchen at St Mark’s Church. Another year, they raised $750 so a young Bermudian could travel with performance group Up With People.
“Every Father’s Day we visited one of the churches and from there we went to one of the establishments to have a luncheon,” said Mr Woolridge.
They also went on vacation together.
“Once, we went to New Orleans and came back on a cruise boat,” said Mr Trott.
“We went to Baltimore several times. Our wives and families would come with us, so we all had a great time.”
The group met Kurt Schmoke, Baltimore’s first African-American mayor, and invited him here in 1989.
“We held a special banquet for him at the old Marriott Castle Harbour Hotel,” said Mr Raynor.
The group were thrilled when Mr Schmoke returned to Bermuda on holiday the following year.
“He stayed at Elbow Beach,” said Mr Woolridge. “We all became really good friends with him.”
Two years ago, Mr Smith suggested the club disband and the remaining funds be used to support members in nursing homes or poor health.
It was with a heavy heart that Mr Woolridge agreed.
“We didn’t owe anything so we distributed the money among all the people who were living,” he said.
Added Mr Hollis: “It was a good organisation. Everyone worked together. We helped a lot of people.”