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From cast iron to PVC, Aleitha has seen and sold it all

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Aleitha Jones DeShield just can’t help it. Every time she goes into a hotel she can’t help crouching down to take a peak under the sink, or behind the toilet. She isn’t looking for dirt she’s checking the plumbing fixtures.

Mrs DeShield, 68, is about to retire after 51 years in the plumbing industry. When she started she was the only female working in the profession in Bermuda. Even today, there are only a handful of women involved.

“I have never been out in the field, although I have worked with all the materials,” she said. “I started in the business right out of high school, working for E J Burrows Plumbing on Victoria Street.”

She got to know the fittings, did customs clearance and then eventually ended up becoming the office manager. Mr [Edgar] Burrows’ son [former PLP MP] Reginald opened a business on Serpentine Road and she went to work for him until 1994, when she moved to Bermuda Air Conditioning.

“It I has been an interesting profession,” she said. “When I started there were no women selling plumbing fixtures or fittings. I have seen the industry change from using cast iron, to galvanised pipes to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. PVC is much easier to work with. When you had the cast iron you had to have lead and oakum to use with it. With the PVC you just clean it, put the glue on it and you are gone. It is very easy to use.”

She stayed in plumbing because she liked it. She enjoyed the challenge of looking in a box of random parts, and being able to say where the bits and pieces belonged.

“When I first started people thought it was unusual for a woman to be in the plumbing trade,” she said. “I was taught well. I still get a few who will come by and say ‘oh, I need such and such’. Then they say they want to wait for a male to serve them. I say, ‘okay, you can wait for him, but I can help you’. Then one of the other guys who works here will say ‘she has been in the industry longer than I have, so I think you need to go along with her’.”

Mrs DeShield now has a young woman working with her at BAC who worked in the field before coming into the shop. There is also another woman at another store, she said.

“But I was the first, as far as I know,” said Mrs DeShield.

She retires on Friday, her birthday, because she decided it was time to turn over a new leaf and enjoy life.

“BAC is a wonderful firm to work with,” she said. “It has some lovely people. It has been a good ride and now I am just going to relax and enjoy myself. My husband, Bernard, retires at the same time as me from Works and Engineering.

“He and I are going to do some travelling, and probably go around the Island and do more sightseeing. We are going to spend some time in our summer home in St George’s because we have a boat right out front.

“All our children are grown. My husband and I have seven children between us, all adults. We have grandchildren too but I can’t remember how many. I think we have nine.”

She and her husband are very involved with Bethel AME Church in Shelly Bay, Hamilton Parish.

“I just love to help people, no matter what it is,” she said. “If I can help, I want to be used. Right now I am learning how to do flower arranging at church. I didn’t think there was so many things involved in flower arranging, but it is fun.”

She recommended other young people consider going into the plumbing business, describing it as a “wonderful profession”.

“However, it requires memory, due diligence and knowing how to service people’s needs,” she said. “Really, you need to be a people person and can’t be afraid to listen to what the customer wants to tell you. You have to be able to take what they have said and put it where it needs to go so they are a very satisfied customer, they will come back.”

Aleitha Jones-DeShield, is retiring after working in plumbing for more than 50 years ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )
Aleitha Jones-DeShield, is retiring after working in plumbing for more than 50 years ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )

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Published March 27, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 27, 2012 at 9:44 am)

From cast iron to PVC, Aleitha has seen and sold it all

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