Christopher’s beautiful life
(Wentworth Christopher (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy))
(Legend in the room: top, Wentworth Christopher with Miss Bermuda Pageant founder Olive Trott and bo)
Growing up, Wentworth Christopher never dreamt of one day travelling the world.
Somerset and St George’s seemed far enough away for the Devonshire boy.
“In those days children tended to stay in their neighbourhoods,” the 79-year-old said.
“Going to either end of the island on the train was a marvellous adventure.”
But as an adult, he went much farther than Sandys Parish.
“I ran the Miss Bermuda Pageant for almost 30 years,” Mr Christopher said. “In that time I got to go to competitions all over the world, to Gambia, Antigua, Barbados, Senegal, and Hong Kong, just to name a few places.”
He was in the audience at the Royal Albert Hall in London when his protégé, Gina Swainson, won the Miss World Pageant on November 15, 1979.
Mr Christopher admitted he is not one for big displays of emotion, but the moment Miss Swainson’s name was read out as the winner, he leapt out of his seat and a ran to a phone.
“I was the first person to let people in Bermuda know she had won,” he said. “I thought I was being quite dramatic. I told journalist Ira Philip it has been a foggy day in London town, but the sun is shining tonight.”
When he returned home with the beauty queen, waving crowds lined their route.
“I’ve seen everyone from the Queen to Winston Churchill to Haile Selassie visit Bermuda,” Mr Christopher said. “None of them generated the excitement that Gina did. People were just so proud. There was electricity in the air.”
But he said the lesson for him, was how quickly fame fades.
“While she’ll always be remembered here in Bermuda, in London people were on to someone new within a year,” he said.
He first got into beauty pageants through event promoter Olive Trott.
In 1965, he helped Ms Trott arrange a boxing exhibition in Bermuda with the legendary Muhammad Ali. After the event, Ms Trott was so pleased, she asked for his help organising the second annual Miss Bermuda Pageant, the next year.
“I helped her for years and years,” Mr Christopher said. “She was amazing. If you mentioned someone like Sarah Vaughan or Count Basie, she’d say oh, Sarah, or oh, the Count. She knew them all personally. She was the first person in Bermuda to really bring in entertainers.”
In 1972, Ms Trott gave up the Miss Bermuda competition, and Mr Christopher took over, running it at his own expense.
“The Princess Hotel gave the winners $1,000 each,” he said. “All other expenses were mine to absorb. Every year it was a negative cashflow. I hired people, such as Marlene B Landy, to train the girls.”
What made it worth it for him was seeing the young contestants grow in poise.
“Sometimes, even if a girl hadn’t won, parents or employers would come up and thank us,” he said. “They would remark on how much more confident and put together the girl seemed.”
He loved travelling with contestants to overseas beauty competitions such as Miss World.
“In London at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Miss World set aside a suite for directors,” he said. “One morning, I was sitting inside with other directors when there was a knock on the door. It was Sean Connery wanting to borrow some sugar. At one competition I talked with actress Joan Collins for 45 minutes.”
It made him feel he had come a long way from his humble beginnings.
Growing up, his mother, Ismay, worked as a domestic and his father, Egbert, drove a bread cart. When Mr Christopher was six, his father died suddenly from breast cancer.
He still gets teary-eyed talking about the sacrifices his mother made to bring up himself and his siblings.
“She had seven children ages 13 to ten months old to care for by herself,” Mr Christopher said. “I can still remember playing across the street, inside the gate of the Devonshire Recreation Club. I could see my mother walking up the road, and she was tired after working two jobs as a domestic.
“As she got closer to the house, she saw a limousine in front of our house. It was there to take staff to the airport to work. She cooked there in the evenings. Then she’d start running down the road. I’d be waving and calling to my mother, but she’d go in the house for a few minutes, come out again, jump in the car and be off until 1 or 2am.”
Over the years, Mr Christopher held a number of jobs. He started out as a postman, then sold cars, worked at the telephone company and spent six years as a police officer.
“My brother Calvin was also in the police,” he said.
After there was some unfairness surrounding the promotion of an older black police officer, Mr Christopher joined to fight the system from within.
“I was always interested in justice, ever since I was a child,” he said. “But during my six years with the police things improved and changed dramatically, without any input from me. I never told anyone that’s why I’d joined.”
In 1967, he left the police and found a job as the Pembroke Parish vestry clerk, then sold real estate. He met his wife, Betty, while working at the Bermuda Telephone Company in 1960.
“She was working in one section and I in another,” he said. “In 1961, the Bermuda Telephone Company built an office at Fractious Street in Hamilton Parish to amalgamate offices in Devil’s Hole, Smiths, and St George’s. Staff were invited to the opening, and I asked her if she wanted to go with me.”
They were married on November 15, 1962, and celebrate their 56th anniversary this year.
“We’ll probably go out for dinner,” he said. “But every day feels like an anniversary to us. Fifty-six years feels like it went by on a breeze. I couldn’t ask for a better wife. When I was working on Miss Bermuda, we’d have weekly planning meetings at my house, sometimes with seven or eight people at a time.
“Each week Betty would cook a delicious meal for us. I’ll tell you nobody ever missed a meeting. They didn’t want to miss her cooking. I couldn’t have done it without her support.”
Ask him what he is most proud of in life and he jokingly says, “just being here”.
Twelve years ago he underwent triple bypass surgery and spent a long time in recovery.
“I’m just proud to be here and walking around,” he said. “I think I’m very blessed in my life. What do I like to do now? As little as possible!”
He retired from the Miss Bermuda Pageant in 1991.
“I moved on to other things after that,” he said. “If there’s a beauty pageant on, I might turn the television on, but I’m not that into it any more. His passion now is Bermuda history and he’s often been called upon to lecture on some aspect of it.
“My grandson gave me a diary and a beautiful pen for my last birthday,” he said. “He thought I should write down my Bermuda memories. I’ve been trying to.”
He has two children, Kevin and Elizabeth Christopher, and loves spending time with his grandson and granddaughter, who are university age.
“My favourite place in the world is anywhere they are,” he said.
Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Have on hand the senior’s full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them
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