Violet Lightbourne (1922-2019)

  • Unafraid to meet people: Salvation Army major Violet Lightbourne (Photograph supplied)

    Unafraid to meet people: Salvation Army major Violet Lightbourne (Photograph supplied)

Violet Lightbourne, a Salvation Army stalwart and “prayer warrior” known across the community as Auntie Vi, has died at 96.

A retired major at the charity, Ms Lightbourne was internationally known through her dedicated service.

With her late husband, Albert, a Bermudian and also a Salvation Army major, she travelled throughout the Caribbean.

Their work ranged from Belize, Barbados and Grenada to Jamaica, before they settled in Bermuda with their family in 1961. Ms Lightbourne hailed from Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts & Nevis.

Her daughter, Jasmin Stewart, said her mother joined the Salvation Army “quite young, at 18 or 19” through her husband.

Ms Stewart explained: “We believe that you have to be called into the service. It’s not a vocation. She was deeply spiritual — she gave her heart to the Lord at a young age and was convinced that service was needed.

“It was not just to live a good life. It was to serve.”

As a young woman, Ms Lightbourne was nicknamed “deep waters” for her quiet demeanour.

But she could be “fiery, if you crossed the line”, Ms Stewart said. “She could be strict. She was never afraid to say what was what, and she was very strong in her faith.”

Fearless and devoted to helping, Ms Lightbourne would go by herself into bars to talk to patrons and hand out Salvation Army literature, she said.

“Her empathy impressed me,” Ms Stewart said. “She would comfort people and cry with them in a genuine way. Not everybody can be like that.”

Ms Stewart grew up with two brothers: the late Ron Lightbourne, and their eldest, Oliver.

But they shared some of their childhood in Grenada with Stuart Hayward, the Bermudian former MP and environmentalist, who was sent to live with them at age 14.

Mr Hayward recalled travelling with “Uncle Albert” to the island, to get his schooling back on track in the 1950s.

“Aunt Vi was as bubbly as they come, very religious, and a good sport,” Mr Hayward said.

“I always felt I was part of her family. She gave me a lot of encouragement and laughed at my jokes. I think she helped very much in my transformation from a troubled soul to a relatively healthy and promising human being.

“She encouraged my, shall we call it, creativity, even when it strayed into something more like mischief.”

Grenada took a battering from Hurricane Janet in 1955.

The storm, which Mr Hayward found an adventure but which frightened “Aunt Vi”, “curtailed any more school”, he said.

His sister, Sylvia Hayward, spent much of her teens with the family in Bermuda, and called Ms Lightbourne “a great cook and a very loving, generous soul”.

Ms Hayward said: “She personified her Christian beliefs, always doing good. Her reproofs were gentle.

“She laughed a lot, hugged a lot and always was interested in what was happening in my family life. She loved Stu fiercely and admired him for his fearlessness.

“She loved my mom and dad just as much and encouraged Ron to hang with him, so much so that Ron was like a second son to my dad.”

Calvin Ming, the Bermuda Salvation Army’s public relations and development director, said her kindness and empathy were “infectious”.

Mr Ming said: “She was joyful and, in Christian terms, always praising the Lord. She was unafraid to talk with anyone.”

Ms Lightbourne would comfort addicts and the homeless, and much of her Bermuda work was devoted to the elderly.

Mr Ming said: “Auntie Vi was what we call a prayer warrior. Every community needs a person who takes on the tough issues and prays earnestly.

“Many children all over the community where bought into Ms Lightbourne’s influence. You always knew that you were loved, and the Salvation Army was central for her.

“She loved everyone. That can only come from one place.”

A celebration of Ms Lightbourne’s life was held on Saturday at the Hamilton Citadel of the Salvation Army.

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Published Feb 4, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 4, 2019 at 6:32 am)

Violet Lightbourne (1922-2019)

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