Farewell, Bermuda: you have a special place in my heart
As I prepare to leave Bermuda after nearly three years as the US Consul General, people have a range of questions for me: What did you think of Bermuda? Has it been a good experience? What will you remember? What were the highlights? And, most often: Will you be back?
My feelings about leaving Bermuda are perhaps best expressed by the esteemed British philosopher Winnie the Pooh, who said so eloquently: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Ending my 25-year diplomatic career in Bermuda is akin to the cherry on top of a sundae. It has been a wonderful, memorable experience from start to finish. Part of that stems from the United States and Bermuda enjoying a long, intertwined history that has paved the way to the warm relations and close co-operation that our governments now enjoy.
Whether the issue has been reopening a permanent Nasa tracking station on Cooper’s Island or clearing US military aircraft for landing at LF Wade International Airport, the US Government has consistently found an earnest willingness in Bermuda to engage with us in a productive and positive fashion.
I also count myself lucky to have engaged with Bermuda during a particularly busy period that included the 35th America’s Cup and the tumultuous 2017 election campaign. What has struck me time and again is the immense pride that Bermudians take in their country.
It was wonderful to see how Bermuda basked in international attention during the America’s Cup. From the overall event organisation and the youth sailing programmes to the volunteers and vendors, Bermudians showed great skill, spirit and justifiable pride in their island home.
Likewise, the election, despite the hurly-burly nature of politics in this period of social media and fast-moving news, reflected the love of Bermuda that the political participants and voters alike have for their country. Both of these events highlighted to me a strong commitment to civic engagement and a widespread desire to individually contribute to moving Bermuda forward.
I will miss Bermuda. My husband, Rob, and I have used our time to explore the fascinating history of this archipelago, as well as to appreciate its physical beauty in so many nooks and crannies. I have had the immense pleasure of encountering the magnificence of mid-Atlantic nature through whale sightings, the soaring flights of the longtails and the twilight music of the whistling frogs. I am amazed by the incredible story of the return of the cahow from near extinction as a result of the work of a handful of determined Bermudians. And no one can ever take the intense beauty of Bermuda’s waters for granted.
All this, and more, has given me personal joy during my time here.
But I don’t view Bermuda entirely through rose-coloured glasses. I am aware of the considerable challenges that Bermuda faces in this fiercely competitive world.
• Addressing the lack of diversification in the Bermuda economy
• Figuring out how to balance the absolute need to attract international talent and investment while also improving educational and professional opportunities for the people of Bermuda
• Fixing ageing infrastructure and sustaining the quality of life while dealing with severe budget shortfalls
• Assisting families in stress from unemployment or social problems
These are not easily resolved challenges for any society — and tackling those issues is particularly difficult for a small island, geographically isolated in the middle of the Atlantic.
Despite those challenges, I have confidence in the strengths of Bermuda and its people. It’s not just the resilience of Bermudians, demonstrated by the way the island pulls together after a hurricane. It is the enduring politeness and genuine kindness of Bermudians. It is the deep-seated generosity of Bermuda, reflected in the caring attitude of neighbours looking after neighbours, as well as the many charitable organisations that are supported by both Bermudians and the non-Bermudians who love their island home.
It is the cultural institutions that are committed to preserving the island’s history and traditions. It is the people who take up the often thankless roles on working groups, discussion groups and panels set up to explore the best path forward. The greatest asset Bermuda has is its people. Those include the generations who have called this special place home for hundreds of years, as well as the more recent arrivals who have “only” lived here for most of their lives.
Bermuda will always have a special place in my heart, and I will watch its progress with great interest from afar. And, yes, I certainly hope that I am lucky enough to come back to visit one day. In the meantime, I wish Bermuda “Fair Winds” and thank the people of Bermuda for their generous welcome throughout my three memorable years in this special place.
• Mary Ellen Noonan Koenig was the US Consul General of Bermuda from August 2015 to May 1, 2018
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