Finding focus in life
Gillian Outerbridge was out walking her dog when she spotted a decaying palm.
Many people would have just seen a tree with too many dead limbs; she saw potential.
The 78-year-old went back, took a photograph and submitted it to the Charman Prize, a biennial competition held by Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.
This month she walked away with $2,000 and the Distinctive and Convincing Style Award. “I was really honoured,” she said.
She started taking photos as an eight-year-old in Surrey, England, after her grandfather won a bet he placed at the Grand National, the famous British horse race.
“One year he won £6 so he bought me a Brownie box camera and a developing kit,” she said.
Her parents, Joan and Eric Hibbert, created a dark room for her in the attic. Her early pictures were of her family.
“I remember I took one picture of my mother putting nappies on the line,” she laughed.
At 17, she found a job at the Surrey Mirror in Reigate.
“Officially, I was a reporter,” she said. “But you got a few extra shillings a week if you took a camera around with you.”
Without transportation of her own, Ms Outerbridge had to rely on the bus. Sometimes she would travel for as much as three hours to cover an event or speak with someone — and then had to find her way back home.
In 1962 she came to Bermuda to visit her aunt and uncle, Bill and Eleanor Andrews.
“There was a camera shop at the Bermudiana Hotel,” she said. “I bought a camera from them, but it wasn’t working right, so I took it back. It wasn’t focusing. My future husband, George Outerbridge, was working there. He said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous! Of course it is focusing’.”
Despite that initial disagreement, they hit it off and Ms Outerbridge decided to stay in Bermuda. She found a job at the Bermudiana photographing guests.
The pair married on July 26, 1963 and had three children together — Tracy, Alison and Ben — before they divorced 25 years ago.
Shortly after she married, she was hired by The Royal Gazette whose offices were then on Reid Street, above what is now Gibbons Company.
“There was no air conditioning,” she recalled. “We were all crammed into this office.
“We had these big, upright typewriters. All you could hear was ‘clock, clock, clock, click, click click’ from the typewriters.
“The printing works was right underneath us so that there was all this banging and crashing when the printer was running. You could watch them assemble all the type and set it up in blocks.
“It all seems so quaint and old-fashioned now. It would have been Linotype. It was wonderfully good fun. Again, I carried a camera everywhere. They didn’t really have a professional photographer, but relied on reporters to take pictures.”
A few years later, she was at home taking care of her baby daughters when the Bermuda Sun offered her a job.
“That was a lot of fun,” she said. “I ended up doing a lot of photo features. It was not quite so news-oriented as the Gazette always was.”
In 1972, she and her husband got the photo concession at the Holiday Inn Hotel, just after the St George’s resort was built.
She ended up manning the activities desk as well as taking photos of guests.
“That led to my business, Destination Management, which I ran for 35 years with my daughter Alison,” she said, explaining how the company arranged conventions and incentive programmes.
“Photography then became a hobby,” she said.
Destination Management suffered after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States. “The whole bottom fell out of my business,” she said. “Suddenly, people stopped coming, and the business never built back up to where it was.”
A year later, she decided it was time to realise a long-held dream of going on a solo sailing expedition.
“I loaded my 20ft boat, Dart, on to The Oleander and went up to New York,” she said. “I went with my Jack Russell terrier, Tucker. I started off at Liberty Landing which is right across from [the World Trade Centre]. I was so scared. I thought I’d taken off more than I could chew. Eventually, you just have to do it.”
She sailed the Hudson River eventually moving on to Lake Ontario in Canada.
“I worked my way through the canal system through Montreal and then came back down the Champlain Canal and back down the Hudson River,” she said. “It was a huge adventure. I got amazement everywhere I went that I was a woman travelling alone.”
When she returned home after three months, she put all her pictures into a book. Going About: A Waterway Adventure, published in 2007.
The following year, she repeated the trip up the Hudson and then motored across England in a recreational vehicle, again by herself.
She was sad when she had to sell her boat a few months ago. Her balance is not what it used to be and her children were concerned about her sailing alone.
“It’s gone to a good home,” she said.
Ms Outerbridge’s focus is now St Peter’s Church, where she is the office administrator and secretary of the Friends of St Peter’s board.
“As administrator, I can handle anything except the religious side of it,” she said.
“In any day, I would be dealing with the electrician, painter, or carpenter. I have 25 wonderful volunteers that keep the church open every day. There is never a dull moment.”
She retired three years ago, but came back to the office when they needed her.
“I will eventually retire,” she said. “I know some retirees are busier now than when they are working. So I think I will be one of those.”
• 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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