Six decades of joyful togetherness
Sixty years into their marriage, George and Helen Burt love a good game of verbal ping-pong.
“The reason we’ve been married so long is that no one else would put up with him,” Mrs Burt joked.
Mr Burt quickly shot back: “That’s because no one else could find a stepladder high enough to put me on.”
A cross-stitch pattern by Mrs Burt that hangs in the living room, betrays the real feeling between them: “Dear husband, I walk beside you from the dawn of our love to the dusk of our lives.”
Once the quips were over, Mr Burt said tolerance and patience were key to their marital success.
“We’ve had our ups and downs like any couple,” the 85-year-old said.
“You have to bear and you have to forbear. Sometimes it may mean going in the bathroom when you don’t want to go there, to cool off.”
The pair met in their early twenties, due to what Mr Burt confessed was mischief on his part.
The fully-fledged mason had just turned 21 and was about to be promoted to foreman at Charles Post Construction.
It was a Sunday and he was eager to play football; his mother warned that if he skipped church God would punish him.
He headed to the field anyway. His mother’s words proved prophetic — he broke his leg while playing.
Laid up for four months, he missed his chance as foreman for a big project, pouring concrete at Belco.
When he returned to work, he was sent to fix up a small dress shop next to the Bank of Butterfield in Hamilton.
“Helen’s sister, Laurette Trott, happened to be working at the bank there,” he said.
“During the lunch break, Laurette and her friends came out on the balcony and looked down at us. She said: ‘Which one of you fellas is the boss down there?’ I said: ‘I’m the boss.’ Laurette said: ‘Oh, you’re the boss? I have a sister that wants a boyfriend. Mr Young is having a party on Saturday night. If you come, I’ll bring my sister.’
“Believe it or not it all started from there.”
Meanwhile, the future Mrs Burt was looking for a man who did not drink.
She had seen the effects of alcoholism on a marriage and wanted no part of it.
Today, the 86-year-old says she does not remember what she said when she was introduced to Mr Burt.
“But I remember very well,” her husband laughed. “She said to me: ‘As long as you don’t drink, you’ll be OK’. I told her I did drink — water, water and juice.”
They went from there, verbally sparring with each other as much as they could for the next six decades.
After 2½ years of courting, they married on April 17, 1957 at St John’s Church in Pembroke.
Mr Burt had bought a piece of property in Smith’s not long after meeting Mrs Burt. He set about building a house for them.
“I did it in a year and a half,” he said. “I was going to work during the day and stopping off nights to lay block before I went home to Parsons Road. Every slate on the roof I laid and every block I laid.”
He had grown up on Jubilee Road in Devonshire, the second of seven children.
His father, Edward Burt, was a warehouseman and his mother, Inez, a cook and then a homemaker.
Mrs Burt, the sister of Canon Thomas Nisbett, grew up on St Monica’s Road, Pembroke, the youngest of eight children. Her mother, Adina, was a homemaker.
She said some of the best advice given to her came from her father, Elijah, a carpenter who died when she was 19.
“He used to say, ‘Once you leave the house, don’t bring your problems back home. You have to work things out for yourself’.”
Having spent years in the construction industry, Mr Burt is now an expert on traditional building techniques and has given lectures in schools and at heritage events.
His wife also worked with her hands. She trained as a seamstress at the Girls Institute of Arts and Crafts on Court Street and then did alterations for Trimingham Brothers for almost four decades.
“I started in my twenties and left when I was 65,” she said. “I took time out when our sons, Alister and Craig, were little.”
The Burts also set aside time for volunteer work — Mrs Burt with the Girls’ Brigade and the Pink Ladies at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital; Mr Burt with the Boys’ Brigade, the Elliot School PTA and the Adult Education School.
In 1991, he received a certificate of appreciation from the White House for support he gave to US president George W. Bush when he met with British Prime Minister John Major in Bermuda.
“At the time of the visit, I was working on major renovations to Government House,” said Mr Burt, who was surprised by the honour. “I worked to make sure the place was secure for the meeting.” In 2005, he received the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour for his service to the community.
“I have been working with the seniors for over 25 years, and am still doing it,” he said. “I am on the steering committee for Senior Citizens’ Week.”
Inspired by his brother-in-law Canon Nisbett, he became a licensed lay reader a few years ago.
“It was something I’d wanted to do since I was young,” he said. “All in all, it has been a great life.”
Today the couple enjoy laughing at the funny things the other does.
“He is always talking to himself,” Mrs Burt said.
“I have to talk to myself because she doesn’t listen,” her husband shot back.