Singer can still shine
(She’s some kind of wonderful: former singer Jeanette Burchall Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
When Jeanette Burchall sings, she gets a little carried away. She had to stop singing in church; her voice was just too loud.
“I’d be singing with the congregation when suddenly everyone else would be quiet and you’d only hear my voice,” she said. “My daughter would be nudging me. Now, I just sing in the bath.”
Her powerful voice is a holdover from the 1960s when she performed as “Little Miss Wonderful”. “I think I gave myself that name when I was 16,” the 69-year-old said. “At the time I was about 5ft1 and 100lbs soaking wet — and I had this big voice.”
With Cleveland Simmons as her manager, she frequently led the Battle of the Bands competitions at the Rosebank Theatre.
“All we won was a plaque or a ribbon, and your name would be in the paper,” she said. “Then people would call up and ask you to sing at weddings. It was just nice, good times back then.”
For a few years, she also did some modelling for Elbow Beach and Grotto Bay hotels.
“I was the hottest thing since hot water,” she laughed. “I was good looking. I was a budding beauty, if I might blow my own horn.”
She looks back fondly at her teen years. “Today, children don’t know fun,” she said. “We would get eight or nine of us and pile in the car and we would go to discos from one end of the island to the other. We dressed. We wore rhinestones, sequins and high heels.”
She admitted to still being a bit of a diva. “I can shine when I want to,” she said. “I’m not going down with the ship, but I can still hold my life jacket.”
She grew up in Warwick, the third of nine children. Her mother, Hildred DeShield, worked at the Copper Kettle Restaurant on Burnaby Street where Vibe Boutique is today.
“When we came home from school, we knew we had to get the rice or the potatoes on and empty out the washing machine and that sort of thing,” Mrs Burchall said. “It always seemed like mom knocked off at 6pm and was home at 6.01pm, so there was hell to pay if the chores weren’t done.”
There were only bedrooms in the house. “Two of my siblings lived elsewhere but those were the days when there were two or three children to a bed. There was always someone’s elbow in your neck or foot in your face.
And there was one bath run for all of us. The youngest went first. By the time it got to me there were things floating on top of the water. I was putting on what they washed off. Those were some rough days,” she laughed. “But we didn’t know any different back then. That’s just how it was.”
Today, she lives in St David’s with her husband Ronnie in a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath home, with two apartments.
“It sure is different from what I grew up in,” she said. “We built this house from the ground up over a period of seven years. When we started, the land was all rocks. We built the apartments first. We lived in a one-bedroom in Southampton for about ten years before we moved down here.”
She still giggles about meeting him for the first time on the beach. They’ll celebrate their 39th anniversary in September.
“Those were the days. Everyone wanted a handsome looking man. Everyone was footloose and fancy free. He chased me on the beach, caught me, liked me and had me ever since. He said all the right things and that was it. Here I am.”
After she finished Northlands Secondary School, Mrs Burchall took secretarial courses with Merle Swan Williams before enrolling at the Bermuda College.
She found jobs in the accounts departments at Marriott and Elbow Beach hotels, and at the Friendly Store, the former Warwick grocers.
In the 1990s, she went to work for the Registrar of Companies.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. “I was working with nice people and I was doing different work every day, so I wasn’t bored.”
She retired in 2013 and soon realised she had too much time on her hands. “Everyone else in the house was gone during the day,” she said.
About three years ago, her son Leo Simmons needed to be treated at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. There, she found her calling as a volunteer.
“I was waiting for him to come out, so we went to the hospital restaurant for breakfast,” Mrs Burchall said. “One of the Pink Ladies said, ‘Oh, you’re retired’. I said to her, ‘I’ve cleaned the house, finished my chores. I’ve cooked. It’s 11.30am and I need something to do’.”
The woman returned with a form. Before Mrs Burchall knew it, she was one of the Pink Ladies. “I must have had rocks in my head but I like it. I used to do menus on the wards but I couldn’t handle seeing all those sick people. So now I work in the restaurant on Mondays.”
When she’s not at the hospital, she enjoys picnicking with her husband, cooking, knitting and travelling. In addition to Leo, the Burchalls have two children, Ronnie and Ronette Burchall, and two grandchildren.
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them
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