Father, builder, soldier and a survivor
Hillary Williams still remembers the first time he read one of his poems in public. At 5, his voice boomed as he stood bravely in front of the church congregation: “Mattock, shovel, rake and hoe, plant some beans and let them grow. When they’ve grown, leave them up, sell the beans and buy a cup.”
“Afterward the whole church was in an uproar,” the 81-year-old laughed.
He continued writing and reciting for much of his life and then, nine years ago, a stroke slurred his speech making him difficult to understand. His family urged him to use the poems he’d written to strengthen his facial muscles. One was about nearly drowning in Sinky Bay, Southampton, an area known for having a dangerous rip tide, particularly after bad weather.
Part of it reads: “I wanted to go swimming and my mother said today is no day for fishing, son or swimming in the bay, the waves are swelling oh so high, you could get washed away. Stay here by mother’s loving side till the falling of the tide.
“Then you can go swimming, because the sea subsides. Mothers are so funny and they think they know it all. But I’ve just turned 9 years old a lad quite strong I’ll say, and I can swim to save myself.”
Not only did he almost drown that day but so did his older sister, Norma, who jumped in to save him despite not knowing how to swim. The siblings were saved by a fisherman, Jimmy Pitcher, who threw them a rope. “I thanked him many times for that over the years,” Mr Williams said. “He died a few years ago.”
His father, John Milton Williams, was a farmer and his mother, Alexandria, wanted all ten of her children to learn a trade.
“She thought it was the only thing that would carry us through life,” Mr Williams said. “So at 14, I started out mixing mortar and bringing stone and block to build houses.”
He worked on many building projects over the years, and built eight houses. He also worked in stone cutting. In 1954, he was called up to the Bermuda Militia Artillery and put on kitchen duty. “I cooked for the whole platoon,” he said. “The officers used to come down saying they heard I had a flair for cooking.”
The 17-year-old got into a fist-fight with another soldier who was unhappy with the portion he was given. “He said ‘I want more food’. I said, ‘Look bye, I’ve eaten as much as you can, no more. What you’ve had we’ve all had. Accept what you’ve had and dismiss yourself’. He refused. I said, ‘Boy I’ll knock you out with one blow’.”
When the soldier refused to back down, Mr Williams was forced to carry out his threat.
In 2001, he put the culinary skills gleaned from the army into a bakery on The Glebe Road in Pembroke.
“It used to be Ford’s New World Bakery,” Mr Williams said. “My sister Kathleen Ford and her family ran it. I took it over and renamed it Hillary’s New World Bakery. I operated that for four or five years.”
Mr Williams met his future wife, Ursula Lamb, while worshipping at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in St David’s.
“I was attracted by her round face, piercing eyes and loving nature,” he said.
After they married, in the Town Square in St George in 1964, Mr Williams moved from Southampton to St David’s. “St David’s was a very tightknit community back then,” he said. “Some accepted me, and some rejected me. We were married 50 years when she died four years ago.”
Mostly bedridden, Mr Williams enjoys visits from family and friends and the occasional trip to church. He loves spending time with his children, Doreen, Kevin, Dwayne and Darron, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“Everything I did I took pride in because I always wanted to reach my zenith in perfection,” he said.
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