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Ice Water keeps things ticking on Vesey Street

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Robert ‘Ice Water’ Smith (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Robert ‘Ice Water’ Smith with the boy scouts in New York City (Photograph supplied)
Robert ‘Ice Water’ Smith, left, and his wife Barbara (Photograph supplied)
Robert ‘Ice Water’ Smith, right, fighting Allan ‘Forty’ Rego years ago (Photograph supplied)
Royal Gazette report from August 25, 1950 of the opening of the 2nd Hamilton Coralanders Boy Scout troop’s new headquarters at Fort Langton, Devonshire (Photograph supplied)

People often crane their necks as they drive past Robert ‘Ice Water’ Smith’s house on Vesey Street in Devonshire.

They are not looking for him; they are checking out the clock on his balcony. It is not a particularly big clock, or a fancy one, but it is possibly a symbol of the 89 year old’s sense of responsibility. He put it up years ago to help his neighbours.

“I thought it was necessary, because the horse and pony people go across there on the way to races at the National Equestrian Centre down the road,” he said. “I think it assists them. I try to make sure it’s working properly."

Growing up on the North Shore in Pembroke, Mr Smith learnt a strong sense of responsibility from his parents, Edward and Enid Smith.

“My daddy was a jack of all trades,” he said. “He used to dig tanks by hand. He would cut grass. Anything we could do to make a living, legally, we done it. He was also very stern and he really instilled a sense of discipline.”

There were times when Mr Smith wondered if his father was a bit too strict.

When the school day ended at 3.30pm, Mr Smith had to be home by 3.45pm or his father would come looking for him.

“When I was young I did not really understand why he was so strict,” Mr Smith said. “Now that I have been a father to four children, I understand that he did it out of love.”

Mr Smith’s sense of discipline served him well when he joined the 2nd Hamilton Coralanders Boy Scout troop at age 12.

“It was about discipline, learning and respect,” he said. “It was about tying knots, and learning how to signal. We used to go to church services at the Bermuda Cathedral in Hamilton and march to St George or to Somerset. We might put on a display in different places. It kept the young people active.”

Mr Smith said entire families were involved in scouting, not just the young people.

He was still with the Coralanders at 17, when they were given Fort Langton on the North Shore in Devonshire, as their headquarters in August 1950.

He is sad that the fort was demolished in 1984 to make way for the Department of Public Transportation’s bus facility.

“Fort Langton was one of the better forts in Bermuda,” he said.

In his day, the moat around the fort was 25 to 26ft deep. In 1950, the scouts helped to build a bridge across it, so that they could use the fort.

“We used to practice drums, blow bugles and signal, and you would never know anyone was down there,” he said. “There were about 15 rooms in it.”

His scout leaders including district scout master Vernon Trott, Kimball Tucker and bandleader Cedric Thomas, among others.

He took his first trips abroad with the boy scouts at age 18 and 19.

“I went to two jamborees in New York City,” he said.

He is disappointed that boy scouting is not as prominent as it was in his day.

“It is a movement we could use today,” Mr Smith said. “It trains the young people and keeps people focused. We would go out and cut grass. Helping people was part of it.”

Just before his second trip to New York with the boy scouts in 1952, his father died. As the second eldest of ten, he knew he had to look out for his mother.

“At that age, I had enough knowledge and could look at my family and see what I had to do to help,” he said. “I was the last to leave home. I was not going to leave her. We had a lot of fun growing up, but I was very responsible.”

His father was the original ‘Ice Water’ Smith.

“In those days hard working men used to drink black rum,” Mr Smith said. “They nicknamed the drink ‘ice water’. My father always seemed to be the man that had what they wanted, so they called him ‘Ice Water’.”

Mr Smith and his older brother, Edward, inherited the nickname.

“I don’t mind,” Mr Smith said.

But growing up was not all work for Mr Smith. As a young man he enjoyed dancing at places such as the old Unity Patio on Happy Valley Road in Devonshire, and also playing sports.

“I played almost every game there is besides tennis,” he said. “In my youth, I played on a cricket team called the Sky Larks. I also boxed. I was a middle weight.”

He won some fights, and he lost some.

“When I was a young man, there was a lot of activity because of the bases,” he said. "A lot of the fights I was in were fought on the Kindley Air Force Base in St David’s.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, he worked at The Royal Gazette.

“I worked there when Ford Baxter was the manager,” he said. “At that time The Royal Gazette was located on Reid Street where Gibbons Company is now. I used to help with the printing. I would go in on Saturdays to help with the Sunday paper.”

He worked for the newspaper for 17 years.

But when he married his wife, Barbara, in 1959, he needed two jobs.

“I held two jobs for most of my life,” he said.

In 1965 he went to work as a mason.

“It was just Johnny Pereira, myself and a couple of other masons,” he said. “They amalgamated a few years later into D & J Construction. They have done very well since then. I was with them for several years. I propelled myself to foremanship.”

But he left the company to build several houses of his own, a long held dream.

“It was my goal to own my own home,” he said.

He built his current home in Devonshire, 50 years ago. Then he built two more homes, selling one after it was completed.

He retired 20 years ago from the Coral Beach & Tennis Club, where he worked as head mason and jack of all trades for several years.

Since then he has been a technology holdout. He laughs off attempts by his children to get him to use a computer.

“I don’t need that,” he said. “If I had it, it might help me, but don’t tell me I need it. I don’t need it.”

Instead, he prefers to work in his garden in a plot near his home.

“I am just waiting for the weather to cool down and we get some rain, so I can put some plants in,” he said. “I bought a new plough and a fence.”

Although he no longer plays sports, he still follows them avidly.

“I like to watch the youth play football up in Prospect,” he said.

He has also been all over the world following cricket, and travelled to Dubai with the Bermuda National Cricket Team as their mascot, in December 2010. He loves to carry the Bermuda flag, at games.

Mr Smith has four children, Kevin (deceased), Edward, Andrea and Adrienne and several grandchildren.

As a father he was also strict.

“I did not skylark with my children,” he said. “I would tell them like it is.”

Character means a lot to Mr Smith.

“It really irritates me when people say ‘I can do what I want’,” he said. “We all have to listen to someone else.”

In his case, that would be his wife Barbara of 62 years.

“If my missus says I have to do something, then I have to do it,” he said. “I can’t do what I want, because there would be no agreement and no peace. Nobody can do whatever they want.”

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 18, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated August 18, 2021 at 2:56 pm)

Ice Water keeps things ticking on Vesey Street

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