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Dance has always been an important part of Mary's life

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Mary Johnson in front of her Christmas tree (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Mary Johnson with her Gilbert Institute Brownie troop in the 1980s (Photograph supplied)
Mary Johnson, centre, in the 1990s working with the Special Olympic Association (Photograph supplied)

Mary Johnson is not fussed by the expected Christmas tree shortage this year – she has not taken her faux one down from last December.

“I just couldn’t be bothered,” said the 81-year-old who needed the cheer she got from seeing the lively ornaments; her husband, Leslie, died in June after a long battle with cancer.

The couple, who were married for almost 63 years, used to love dancing at clubs around the island.

In their forties they became passionate about it

Salsa was Mrs Johnson's favourite although she “wasn’t very good".

Even when he was sick, her husband would go with her to the line dancing class she has taught seniors for many years at the Bermuda College.

“He would sit on the sidelines and tap his feet,” Mrs Johnson said. “He really loved the ladies. I miss him.

“We had our ups and downs. People who say marriage is perfect are not telling the truth; we all have our own opinions. But it worked out.”

When she was growing up she was unable to go out and dance as she would have liked.

Her parents, John and Laura Tavares, were very strict.

“I wasn’t allowed to do anything,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to go to town because there might be boys there.”

She enjoyed her time at Gilbert Institute Primary School but insists she “didn’t learn very much". The students would often describe imaginary species to their bird loving teacher Mrs Smith.

"Eventually, she caught on. She said, 'Oh no, not any more. You have to do some work.' But it was fun.”

She left Gilbert at 13 to work as a housekeeper for a Paget family. Four years later she moved in with a cousin, who had an apartment in town, and worked in various roles at the Island Theatre, the Rosebank Theatre and the Little Theatre.

She was introduced to Leslie while on a visit to Spanish Point to see a shark.

“He was so good looking,” she laughed.

They were married a year later, in 1958. By the time she was 21 they had two daughters, Karen and Lynn.

In the early years, the Johnsons did not have time to do much more than work hard and raise their children.

“We had no money,” Mrs Johnson said. “We were penniless.”

Her husband worked as a mechanic for Holmes, Williams and Purvey for several years before starting his own business. He eventually became well known for repairing lawnmowers.

“It didn’t make us rich but he was able to make a living,” she said.

The business allowed the couple to build a home on Tamarind Vale Road in Warwick, where Mrs Johnson still lives.

When her daughters entered Gilbert Institute, she became the leader of their Brownie troop.

“We used to pick up trash,” she said. “We used to get together in a Brownie ring at the end of an afternoon and do all sorts of crafts. We made kites and we went swimming. I did that for 13 years.”

In her forties, with her daughters out of the house, she started playing tennis and after a year or two won her first match.

“I beat this girl who was 18,” she said. “I was so excited. That was the first time ever that I knew what people meant when they talked about adrenalin. During that game I knew exactly where the ball was going. It was so exciting.”

Although she lost a match against the same girl the following week, it did not dampen her enthusiasm.

Eventually, someone asked her to coach Lynne Coad, a young Bermudian taking part in the Special Olympics.

“We went to Minnesota once, and Connecticut,” she said. “Lynn won a trophy. I could not watch her play. I was so nervous.

"We did a lot of things with Special Olympics. They are so grateful. Today they still recognise me. They might not say my name, but they will come up and give me a hug.”

Her daughters used to tease her that she used volunteering as a way of running away from home.

In 1997 she received a Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour for her work with Girlguiding Bermuda.

Mrs Johnson also ran a thrift shop for the Lorraine Rest Home for eight years. The money raised helped outfit the Warwick centre with refrigerators, beds and linens.

“We operated out of a small room at the Warwick Post Office,” she said. “Every time we opened we had to take everything out of that room.”

For many years the Johnsons sold the decorations and jewellery they made from sea glass and Bermuda cedar at the Bermuda Crafts Centre in Dockyard.

“For the last couple of months I haven’t been able to do it,” she said. “Normally I have a table in the garage. I have pulled the table into my living room in hopes that I will get motivated.”

She has four grandsons and one great granddaughter.

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

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Published October 06, 2021 at 7:53 am (Updated October 07, 2021 at 8:19 am)

Dance has always been an important part of Mary's life

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