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Blind woman, 86, creates cards to inspire others

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Venita Smith on her 86th birthday last month with three of her eight siblings: Sylvia Smith, Gracelyn Guishard and Beryl Furbert (Photograph supplied)
Venita Smith’s inspirational cards are for sale in stores across the island (Photograph supplied)
Venita Smith with her grandson Dwayne Wilson, centre, and nephew Timmy Martins (Photograph supplied)

For 30 years due to diabetes, Venita Smith battled poor vision. And then came the day she suddenly couldn’t see anything at all.

An ophthalmologist sent her home with some eye drops and promised her sight would soon return.

When it didn’t a few months later, she visited a specialist in Atlanta, Georgia who told her that her retina had detached and, as so much time had passed, she would never see again.

“They could do surgery to reattach my retina but that would cost $26,000 plus insurance and [would not guarantee I could] see again,” said Ms Smith, who received the news in 2014. “I opted to just get on with things.”

A family effort followed. Help came from her daughter Gracelyn Roberts and stepson Ralph Trott; she moved in with her daughter Teresa and her husband Kenneth Wilson.

“I used to be able to go outside and get on a bus by myself. I miss being able to do that,” said Ms Smith, who refused to sit around feeling sorry for herself.

“I’m human. There are times I get down but then I say to myself, ‘Now look. Get yourself together!’ I am the type of person, if there is something I do not have control over, I don’t let it worry me.”

The 86-year-old takes strength from her faith. Determined to help others find similar peace she launched a box of inspirational cards: Just for Today, I Will Be a Gem. One of her sisters, Grenell Stocks, helped with the design and the printing.

Part proceeds from their sale will go to Allen Temple AME Church, where she regularly worships.

Ms Smith said it was a coincidence that she was offering the cards now, in the midst of a pandemic

"But maybe that is what God wants," she said. "It just so happened that this is a time when people need some sort of inspiration.

"People have been calling me since it has been on sale. I think I really I did it at this time because I have been at home all this time, and been feeling not alone, but lonely."

She added: “I believe in God. I have seen how God has worked in my life.”

The box contains 31 cards with a precious stone described on one side and an inspirational Bible verse on the other. Her favourite is the diamond.

“When it comes out of the ground, it is rough and not really attractive,” she said. “Once it is polished and groomed it becomes beautiful. My faith is like that.”

Ms Smith was raised in Sandys by her Kittitian grandfather, John Caesar, and her Guyanese step grandmother, Teresa.

She remembers how, at the age of six, she went to Guyana for Christmas just as the Second World War was declared.

It was a rough trip south on Lady Nelson. Halfway there, a plane was spotted circling the ship and passengers and crew were called to the lifeboat stations.

Ms Smith thought she was going to die.

When they arrived in Guyana she sobbed when she saw her great aunt’s motor car waiting for them.

“I told my grandmother, ‘If we’re dead I don’t want to go to heaven in a motor car, I want to go in a chariot!’” Ms Smith laughed. “That was the first time I had ever seen a motor car.”

Back in Bermuda, as the war heated up, her mother Christiana and her stepfather Maxwell Riley decided it was safer for her to stay put rather than attempt to cross the Atlantic again. Ms Smith and her grandmother stayed in Guyana for two years, eventually returning home by plane.

“We went home in an aircraft that flew across the different Caribbean islands, then to Miami to New York City and to Bermuda,” Ms Smith said.

In Miami she experienced racism for the first time despite having gone to school with children of many different races in Guyana.

“I saw a water fountain,” she said. “Being only eight, it was fascinating to me to see this water rising up out of this fountain. I went to drink from this fountain. I was told, ‘N&*%#$ girl, you can’t drink there.’ My granny, who was a mulatto coloured woman, came over to the fountain and took me away. She explained it to me. I had pretty bad experiences between Miami and New York.”

She also had a difficult time adjusting once she got back to Bermuda. The children teased her because she had picked up a Guyanese accent.

“I had pierced ears with gold earrings,” she said. “The children used to laugh and say, ‘Oh you are a jigger foot.’”

Her grandfather ran the West End Grocery store and she spent a great deal of time with him.

“I have been a receptionist and book-keeper all the days of my life. My grandfather insisted that I had to learn things.”

Neighbour Clara Gordon, wife of the civil rights activist and trade unionist E F Gordon, taught her all about music.

“She was an opera singer. I learnt how to appreciate classical music at about nine years old. Mrs Gordon always insisted that I read magazines. She would get them and would look in those and find the children’s stories for me to read.”

Ms Smith finished primary school two years early and was sent to St Kitts for high school. But after three years her grandmother died and she had to return to Bermuda.

After a year at Sandys Secondary School she attended the Jean Jaques School of Commerce on Dundonald Street in Hamilton.

“I loved typing,” she said.

Encouraged by Mr Jaques, she went off learn secretarial skills at Dominion Business College in Toronto, Canada.

“When I was there I set a typing record on the old Underwood typewriters,” she said. “You had to type a minimum of 70 words per minute with no more than five errors. I got a certificate for 105 words a minute with one error. That was exciting. There were a couple of other Bermudians in the class and they really bigged me up afterward.”

Ms Smith worked as a legal clerk for 35 years for the likes of Sir Edward Richards, Charles Vaucrosson and Larry Medeiros. She was named Legal Secretary of the Year in the 1980s. She also taught typing at the Jean Jaques School of Commerce as well as night courses at Sandys Secondary School for several years.

Prior to fully losing her sight she was on the board of Vision Bermuda, which was then called The Bermuda Society for the Blind. In that role she organised a way for sight-impaired people to “receive telephone and radio reports of funeral and death notices”.

She met her husband, Wilbur Smith, at his mother’s funeral. Initially, she wasn’t at all impressed – he was crying too loudly for her taste.

They stayed together for 35 years before separating and remained friends until his death six years ago.

Ms Smith’s inspirational cards are available at Caesar’s Pharmacy in Sandys, Stash in the Washington Mall in Hamilton, and Needles Etc in St George’s.

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

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Published April 14, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated April 15, 2021 at 8:46 am)

Blind woman, 86, creates cards to inspire others

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