Jeanie’s focused on always learning

  • Staying focused: Jeanie Flath hopes to be remembered as someone who always trying to learn (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

    Staying focused: Jeanie Flath hopes to be remembered as someone who always trying to learn (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

  • On song: Jeanie Flath playing the guitar years ago (Photograph supplied)

    On song: Jeanie Flath playing the guitar years ago (Photograph supplied)

  • Staying focused: Jeanie Flath hopes to be remembered as someone who always trying to learn (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

    Staying focused: Jeanie Flath hopes to be remembered as someone who always trying to learn (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

In kindergarten Jeanie Flath was told she would never learn to read.

Dyslexic, she suffered through years of remedial classes until age 12 when she mastered the skill.

When the late Jasen Moniz invited her to join her book club years later, Mrs Flath worried she would be too slow.

She was ultimately convinced after Ms Moniz promised she didn’t have to finish a book if she didn’t like it.

“In the last 15 years, our group has read 120 books,” Mrs Flath said.

Some she read and some she didn’t, but the book that stands out the most for her is Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

In it, Dr Gawande argues that the goal should not be a good death, but a good life right up until the end.

“It completely changed our outlook,” Mrs Flath said. “We all got together and said we can’t just read this book, we have to get this conversation started in our community.”

It’s from there that the charity Final Steps was born with an aim of normalising conversations about death and dying.

Mrs Flath was the daughter of Bermudian Jean Elliot Aitken Lyles and Arromanus Coleman Lyles, an American naval officer.

The couple met at the beginning of the Second World War when Mr Lyles helped build the Naval Operating Base in Southampton.

Mrs Flath’s mother went to South Carolina immediately after their marriage and lived with her husband’s family for the duration of the war.

Mrs Flath, 70, was born in Bethesda, Maryland.

She had a twin brother, Coleman, and an older sister, Nea.

Because her father worked with the military, the family moved every two years.

The longest they spent in a single place was Athens, Georgia, where they lived for three years.

It was there that Mrs Flath joined a programme for students with dyslexia at the University of Georgia.

At the time educators were only just learning what the disorder was.

“They were doing research and I became a guinea pig for them,” she said. “My brother got to play and I had to spend the afternoon in this programme.

“They had me doing stuff almost like Braille. Instead of relying on my eyesight they had me doing touch.

“They were also trying to train my brain to go from left to right.”

She was 21 when she decided to live in Bermuda.

“Bermuda was the only home I have ever had,” she said. “When we were moving, we always spent summer vacation in Bermuda, with my grandparents. It was home base.”

With her came her new husband, Bob Flath. The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in November.

“We met while I was going to school in Rhode Island,” she said. “We met at a party. Bob was an avid reader, so I really had to start reading myself.”

Her husband worked as a farmer.

Mrs Flath played the guitar, got involved with the Bermuda Folk Club and was a visual merchandiser in a store at Kindley Air Force Base.

“It was starting to evolve to be a science,” she said. “How do you organise a shelf of merchandise? A certain shelf has a visual sweet spot, like in photography.

“I never thought I was very clever. Then I got out of school and got my first job and thought, I can do this.”

In 1991, her visual talent came in handy with Hyper Ltd, the photography business she and her husband ran with Marshall DeCouto.

“Bob named the business,” Mrs Flath said. “I guess I’m a high-energy person. I was an active child, but also quite dreamy. I was probably trying to figure out the left-sided brain stuff.

“We did mainly still photography for about the first four or five years. We got a contract to work with the Department of Tourism and did all of their stock photography.

“We did resort work. There was no digital photography, so we had to use real film.

“We would set up a shot and we would have to make sure that shot was as perfect as it could be, because there was no Photoshop. We’d take three or four Polaroids and then we’d shoot film.”

She loved the job. “There were moments where everything was just so beautiful because it was so perfect. I always say I quit to save my marriage,” she joked. “I really respect families that run businesses, but it is very difficult to divide your work life from your home life.”

She stopped in 2005. After working as a programme co-ordinator at Windreach Recreational Village for a few years, she retired in 2014.

Final Steps takes a huge chunk of her time. She is also on the council at Peace Lutheran Church in Paget.

“I run all of their hall rentals,” she said. “I keep busy. That is really important.”

She and her husband have two daughters, Johanna Flath and Katie Carr, and four grandchildren.

“When I die, I want to be remembered as a good mother and someone who was always trying to learn,” she said. “If you are in the mind frame that there is nothing left to learn or you are not still evolving, then you are old.”

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published Feb 4, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 3, 2020 at 8:05 pm)

Jeanie’s focused on always learning

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