Pioneering Gil always looks ahead
Gil Tucker was the only black student in his class throughout his years at Saltus Grammar School.
Both welcomed and teased, he refused to let anyone set limits on him.
At Harrington Sound Primary School, where he’d studied earlier, he’d been inspired by a teacher, Clevelyn Crichlow.
“He instilled in me that I was as good as anyone, as did my parents,” Mr Tucker said.
That attitude helped. “The school went out of its way to be as sensitive as it could for me,” he said. “There were negative instances, which I don’t dwell on. I had a few really close friends that I cherish to this day.”
His parents, Rodney and Wynette, never made a big deal about it, but he tried to use race to explain away every bad grade he got, Mr Tucker admitted with a laugh.
“My parents would have none of it,” he said. “They said race is not an excuse for failure. It is an obstacle and problem, but you work your way around it.”
When he became head boy, he was faced with a dilemma.
“One of the roles of the head boy was to lay the wreath on the grave of the founder, Samuel Saltus, on Founder’s Day,” Mr Tucker said. “For the first time in Saltus’ history you would have a black kid do that.
“Saltus’s will was left for the education of white boys.
“I remember at a class, we were having a conversation about whether I should do it — he didn’t leave the school for me. Some of the kids said no and some said yes.”
His father weighed in and clinched the deal.
“He said if you take the job, then you take on the responsibility that comes with the job,” Mr Tucker said. “You cannot cherry pick what the job is.”
Mr Tucker was pictured on the front page of The Royal Gazette, carrying out his duties.
Today, he is chairman of the board of the private school.
Members of his Saltus family will join him on Saturday when he’s honoured with Ruth Thomas at the Hamilton Princess&Beach Club as part of Black History Month.
“When they called me, I thought they had the wrong person,” Mr Tucker joked. “I had to give it some thought before I accepted.”
He grew up in the Devil’s Hole area of Smith’s.
“My father was a musical prodigy and taught himself to play music at a young age,” Mr Tucker said. “He played with the Talbot Brothers, his uncles, for the last 20 years of their career.
“He was also an entertainer, barber and organist at Wesley Methodist Church for more than 30 years.”
He also loved music and even took voice lessons, but never considered music as a possible career. “I didn’t relish going through life being compared to my father,” he said.
Instead, in the early 1970s, he went to Boston College. The American Government was busing black and white students to schools outside their neighbourhoods in an effort to end the segregated education system.
“I ended up right in the middle of the heated racial debate about school busing,” Mr Tucker said. “It created huge racial tension within Boston. I always had to be aware of where I was in the city.
“One of my classes had me working for the Attorney-General of Massachusetts in some administrative role.
“One day, I was down at City Hall, when a black lawyer was walking across the plaza and was attacked by a bunch of white youths with an American flag.”
“For the last two years of university I worked for Ernst&Young as a summer student,” he said. “When I graduated, they offered me a job.
“Eventually, I went to Washington to work for them there before coming back to Bermuda to work in 1987.”
Most of the managers were white; the partners were white and male, for the most part.
“But many of the accountants and students, non-qualified accountants and students, were black,” he said. “My big clients were the hotels and the retail stores, such as Trimingham’s.
“They were not well integrated and were not used to having black people peer into their business affairs as you would do as an auditor.
“There would be cases where people would be hesitant to let me look at some stuff.
“When I walked into a room, the first thing I had to do was make people comfortable with my blackness.
“They weren’t used to dealing with black people, particularly in this role.
Mr Tucker added: “My clients were the old oligarchy.”
In 1992, he became a partner and in 2005, a managing partner.
He is proud that the company created the $30,000 EY R Gil Tucker Scholarship to help young people continue their education. Although Mr Tucker retired in 2015, a number of responsibilities keep him busy.
“I sit on the HSBC Bermuda board,” he said. “I am chair of the Audit and Risk Committee.
“I sit on the Financial Policy Council for the Government. I am always open to people who want mentoring.
“I would not have been able to accomplish a lot of what I was able to accomplish without building a network and having support.
“Some of that support came from the black community, but I had a diverse group of people who supported me throughout my academic and professional career. I see what a difference mentoring makes.
“So I made a point of it if anyone, even at EY, if anyone wanted to talk to me about a career, even if the career was totally different from mine.”
In his personal life, he’s a car enthusiast and loves to cook.
He and his wife Beverly have been married for 38 years and have two children, Alaina and Rodwyn.
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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