Queen joked about trading places with Poker’
These days Leroy Augustus rides a scooter, but for most of his life horses were his preference.
It’s how he got his nickname, given at an early age by his parents Albina and Samuel.
“My parents called me Poker because I always liked poking around with horses,” the 87-year-old said.
His mother knew exactly where to look whenever she couldn’t find him at home: helping his grandfather, Fred Smith, with his horses or at the nearby stables at Government House.
The day his parents surprised him with his first pony remains a happy memory. He was seven and his mother sent him to the barn, ostensibly to take care of the family cow.
“I saw this little pony,” he said. “I ran back to my mother in the kitchen and said, ‘Mama there’s a pony in the stables!’ She said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know anything about it.’
“My father worked for the electric light station, climbing poles and doing things like that. When he came home I said, ‘Pop, whose is this pony?’ He said, ‘What pony? I don’t see any pony.’ Then he said it was my birthday present.”
Once he’d finished school, he got a job at the old Shelly Bay racetrack looking after Erskine Adderley’s horses.
To his great surprise he was one day commandeered to race a sulkie — a lightweight horse cart. He took the most useful tip he received to heart: get the horse as close to the rail as possible.
“For my first race I was very nervous,” Mr Augustus said. “I was racing against some of Bermuda’s top riders, and I’d never raced before.
“If you’re on the outside it takes a fast horse to beat you. I won my first two races. I had a lot of fun.”
In the early 1970s he worked at the stables at Government House.
On three occasions he drove a carriage carrying the Queen. Once, on Cedar Avenue, she was surprised when the crowd started shouting his name.
“A lot of people knew me,” he said. “There was so many people in the crowd I couldn’t tell who was doing the calling. The Queen said, ‘Goodness, you’re a popular man. Do you want me to drive?’”
Every May 24, Mr Augustus dressed as a cowboy and got his horse Tiger to “dance” to Tennessee Waltz, a popular country music song, as part of the annual parade.
“Tiger won a lot of prizes in the parade,” he said. “My family taught me how to train horses. The secret is you have to raise them up the way you do a child.”
At one point, Mr Augustus ran a horse boarding business, caring for nearly 20 animals out of his homestead in Pembroke.
He vividly recalls a disagreement he had in 1974 with the owner of a horse called Splash. Mr Augustus felt the horse had gone off her feed because the man allowed his friends to ride her too hard. The owner accused him of not taking good care of the horse, and moved Splash to another stable three miles away.
Two years later the horse made a noisy reappearance, breaking away from her new stables at 1am and kicking in the gate to the Augustus paddock in order to have a foal there.
“I think the owner was a bit embarrassed,” Mr Augustus said.
He gave up the business 20 years ago and started driving a taxi in what became his trademark uniform: a bright red coat, pith helmet and white linen trousers.
He still has a binder full of letters from happy tourists commending his service.
One letter from Sherry Payne, a New York travel agent, recounted how her sister-in-law fell ill after arriving on the Zenith in 1996 and was rushed to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
“I told Poker what had happened,” Ms Payne wrote. “My brother had to leave the ship to stay with his wife. Poker immediately took action. This wonderful man escorted my brother to the hospital and stayed by his side for a week and a half. He saw to it that he ate, and he showed him all over Bermuda. He introduced him to his family and they took him in like he was one of their own. I was so grateful that Poker was there.”
The experience made her want to sell the island even more, she said.
Although now retired, Mr Augustus will still help out friends with horses on occasion. Sometimes when he rides his scooter, he likes to wear his old taxi uniform.
• 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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