Life adventures from modelling to wooing Ali
Leola Stovell is a self confessed fashionista.
“I have so many clothes at home it’s sinful,” the 76-year-old laughed.
She attributes this to growing up in a family of seamstresses.
At 12, she moved from Bermuda to Stamford, Connecticut to live with her great aunts Daisey Talbot and Carol Outerbridge, while she went to high school. The aunts loved to sew for her. Eventually, friends saw her in so many new outfits they dubbed her “poor little rich girl”.
“I was blessed,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t have what I had.”
But the down side was that her aunt Daisey wouldn’t let her go anywhere with her friends.
“She was very strict,” Ms Stovell remembered. “I really wanted to learn how to roller skate, but I never go to.”
But her aunt did introduce her to modelling, something she loved the first time she tried it.
“The AME church she went to was always doing something to help the youth,” Ms Stovell said. “She noticed some of the children needed attention — they needed to learn how to dress and how to walk. She had a finishing school. When I went to live with her at 12, she put me in there. The AME Church really loved to dress. She used to have fashion shows for them. Every year she used to do a big dinner for Jackie Robinson. He was the first black man in baseball. We used to have fashion shows and big picnics at his house and jazz shows way out in Stamford.”
She got to meet Mr Robinson and his wife, but was never allowed to mingle with their guests.
“I had to stay with my great aunt as she prepared for their luncheons or tea parties,” she said.
When she graduated high school, her parents back in Bermuda, Austin and Mabel Wellman, couldn’t afford to send her to college, so she returned home. On the island again, her interest in modelling continued. She took classes at charm schools run by Marlene B Landy and Norma Sherlock Johnstone.
“Norma was from England and did very well in Europe as a model and fashion coordinator,” Ms Stovell said. “She had Chryselda’s Charm School in a building where the Parlaville parking lot is now.”
Over the years Ms Stovell modelled for local hotels, and stores such as AS Coopers, Trimingham Bros, and HAE Smith. She also took part in fashion shows. In 1960 she was a runner up in the Miss Bermuda Bathing Beauty Contest run by Freddie Matthews and Foster “Shorty” Ming.
In the 1990s she stopped modelling, but after a 25 year hiatus, she was back at it again this July, modelling for Amir X’s fashion show in Hamilton held during Fashion Week. She took to the runway with a group of other ladies over the age of 65.
It was a little tricky for her because she hurt her ankle a few years ago, after tripping over a mat in her house.
She didn’t attend to her injured ankle right away, and as a result it impacted her gait. Later she tried acupuncture and chiropractic treatment, but they didn’t work.
“I decided that in the fashion show I’d just walk really fast,” she said. “And that worked really well. I wore a beautiful blue and pink outfit for the show, with a pink hat. They said I worked the hat!”
In her early working life she designed shell jewellery for companies such as The Shell Shop on East Broadway, and AS Coopers when it was located on the corner of Church and Burnaby Streets. When she got tired of that she worked in sales. One day she was on her way to church when Everard Davis, manager of ZFB, stopped her to offer her a job in advertising at the television station on the North Shore.
“I must have been in my early twenties,” she said.
She didn’t know anything about advertising, but Mr Davis promised to teach her. After six moths, the station began to develop her as a personality, putting her in charge of a game show called Lingo. It was similar to bingo, but used letters instead of numbers.
“They sent away for all these cards,” Ms Stovell said. “They came in cases. I had to drive around every week and take these cards to the sponsors.”
People would get a game card when they bought a certain amount of groceries or other products, and prizes included a new car, trips overseas, a motorcycle and groceries, among other things. The show was strategically placed between Dark Shadows, a popular game show of the day and the evening news.
If people thought they’d won, they called Ms Stovell, and she had to follow up the next day.
“Sometimes they thought they’d won and they hadn’t,” she explained.
During her time at the station she was able to meet several celebrities.
She dined with Haile Selassie at Government House in 1963.
“I was invited to Ethiopia but later declined due the unrest in that area during those days,” she said.
Two years later, she turned the head of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, when he visited the island and came into ZFB for an interview.
She was doing the weather when he noticed her and said: ‘Who’s that pretty black girl with the pretty white teeth?’. He insisted that she come to a formal dinner planned for him the Waterlot Inn in Southampton.
“At that time I had this afro,” Ms Stovell said.
She went home and put on a wig she had from modelling. When she turned up at the dinner, Mr Ali was a bit surprised to see the change.
“When I walked in he said is that the pretty black girl with the pretty white teeth?” she said. “Joe Brown said, yes it is. We had a great time.”
Later she took pictures with Mr Ali at Clayhouse Inn, an event announced ahead of time on the air.
“These people brought their children down there at whatever hour it was just to meet Muhammad Ali,” she said. “To this day, people ask if I found that picture of Muhammad Ali with all of us in it. My mother had the picture and I don’t know what she did with it. It’s gone, unfortunately.”
She stayed with Capital Broadcasting, which ran ZFB, when it merged with the Bermuda Broadcasting Company in 1982. She was director of advertising, sales and marketing from 1995 until she retired from the company in 2015.
She is now semi-retired, and works as an advertising and sales executive at Hott 107.5 and Magic 102.7FM operated by Inter-Island Communications Ltd.
“I had a great time in media,” she said.
She has two children Malcolm Stovell and Maliscia McGlashan-Dawes, three grandchildren and three great grandsons.
She has been a member of the Hamilton Lions Club since 1981, and has been included in the American Biographical Almanac.
“I have had a blessed life,” she said. “I have had a good time. It was a lot of hard work, I’ll tell you.”
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or email@example.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them
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