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Graduating as a nurse was Wilma’s proudest day

Retired nurse Wilma Frith with a photo of herself on the job at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, back in the 1970s (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Growing up on Cox’s Hill, Pembroke, Wilma Frith longed to become a nurse.

“When I was playing with my dolls, they were always my patients,” the 85-year-old remembered.

But she had to wait a long time to see her dream become reality.

After high school, there were no obvious pathways for her to become a nurse, so she studied secretarial skills, short hand and typing, with educator Millie Neverson, and at the Jean Jacques School of Commerce in Hamilton.

She was 16 when she met her late husband, Allan Frith, from St George’s.

“One night I was walking home from a birthday party with a group of friends,” she said. “Allan’s friend was with us. Allan had a girlfriend over on the North Shore. He left her house to come and pick up the friend. The friend introduced us. As they say, the rest is history.”

After marrying on January 5, 1956 the couple moved to St George’s, where they had five children: Glenn, Lynelle, Patrice (Frith Hayward), Patrick (deceased) and Ian.

Mr Frith worked as an insurance agent for British American, and Mrs Frith worked in the Accountant General’s office at the airport for several years, before moving to the post office in St Georges.

“I was there when I had my twins, Patrice and Patrick,” she said. “The doctor said they were going to be big, so I needed to stay at home and rest. That was when I left the post office.”

It was not until Mrs Frith was 38 that her old dream of being a nurse resurfaced.

In 1973, King Edward VII Memorial Hospital started a nurse training programme for people ages 18 to 40. Mrs Frith knew that if she did not get a move on, she would be too old to qualify.

At first Mr Frith was less than enthused about her plan to study nursing. He wondered who would take care of their children? They ranged from teens to seven years old.

But the children themselves were excited for her.

“I think Patrice in particular, was inspired by me going back to school,” Mrs Frith said. “I think my daughter, Lynelle, was already away in school at that time.”

So, despite her husband’s good natured grumblings, she signed up for the two-year course run in a training room at the hospital in Paget. Mr Frith took care of their children while she went to class.

She and seven other students worked in all aspects of the hospital including the kitchen and laundry. The trainees wore light pink uniforms and white caps.

“The only thing we did not do as students was the intensive care unit,” Mrs Frith said.

The programme was tough and one of her fellow students dropped out.

"The studying was not always easy, but I made up my mind that I was going to succeed,“ she said. “I was going to study, and I was going to become a really good nurse.”

When it was time for her to take her nursing exams, she was not the least bit nervous.

“I knew that I was going to pass, one way or the other,” she said. “That is how much I really enjoyed it.”

And she did pass. Later, she took great delight in showing her husband the invitation to her graduation. He was happy for her, and a little embarrassed he had not been more supportive when she first said she wanted to do it.

It was wonderful day when she was able to exchange her training uniform for the starched white dress and cap that nurses wore at that time.

During her nursing career she worked in different wards at the hospital including Curtis Ward and the dietary ward.

“I really enjoyed nursing,” she said. “I liked everything about it.”

Towards the end of her time at the hospital, the job switched from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts.

“I cared too much for my life to work a 12-hour shift,” she said.

So she moved over to the ICU to become a ward clerk.

“A ward clerk is a secretary, looking after the notes and making sure that everything is in order,” she said.

It was not a hands-on post, but when her new colleagues realised she was a trained nurse, they came to depend on her heavily.

She took early retirement in 1990, after 15 years at the hospital.

“Then I worked for several years as a private duty nurse,” Mrs Frith said. “When I finished with that I volunteered with the Bermuda Red Cross in the Blood Donor Centre for two or three years. I also taught cardio pulmonary resuscitation for the Red Cross.”

Today, she is fully retired. She does not miss the long hours and night shifts.

She and her family moved back to Cox’s Hill, and today she lives in the house where she grew up.

There, she and her husband doted on their nine grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. Last summer, they had two great grandchildren born a week apart.

Mr Frith was able to see the first, born in July, but became too sick with a heart condition to meet the second one. He died on August 4, 2020 after 64 years of marriage.

“I miss him terribly,” Mrs Frith said.

She said they had their ups and downs over the years, but got through them.

In her retirement, Mrs Frith loves cross stitching. A lot of her handiwork hangs on the walls of her living room. She also reads.

"I just finished reading Island Flame by Jonathan Smith,” she said.

Looking back at her life, she is most proud that she was able to graduate from nursing school and become a nurse.

Her advice to other people worried that they are too old to chase their dreams is, go for it!

“I don’t think people should let something like age bother them if they are really interested,” she said. “They should follow their first mind.”

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

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Published August 11, 2021 at 8:02 am (Updated August 12, 2021 at 8:03 am)

Graduating as a nurse was Wilma’s proudest day

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