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Former world champion still bowling at 80

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Joan Hollis with her bowling ball (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

At 80, Joan Hollis easily recalls a time when she was one of the world’s top bowlers.

In the 1980s she beat everyone she played in tournaments in the United States and Europe.

Back home in Bermuda she received a hero’s welcome. People lined the streets as a motorcade escorted her from the airport to Warwick Lanes bowling alley; her employers, Bank of Bermuda, held a special dinner in her honour.

“I think practice and determination made me a good bowler,” she said explaining that at her best her bowling average was 189, which is "good".

It all almost never happened. Ms Hollis had used up all her vacation time when she found out she had qualified for the American Zone Championships in 1979.

The bank insisted on seeing "a special letter from the Bermuda Bowling Association" before they allowed her to attend the competition in Miami, Florida.

Her confidence took a nose-dive once she saw what she was up against.

“The other competitors all had five bowling balls with them,” she said. “And they had coaches, plural.”

Ms Hollis came with just one bowling ball, and was accompanied by just two people one of whom, Jim Godwin, was competing.

“Someone interviewed me and seemed amused when I said there was only one bowling alley in Bermuda,” she said.

It was clear that no one expected her to win. The reigning champion, American Annese Kelly Dunleavy, rolled out her champagne celebration before it was all over.

In the end it came down to Bermuda, Mexico, Canada and the United States.

“When I beat Mexico I thought well, if I only win third place that is great for Bermuda,” she said.

She could not believe it when she took the top place. Ms Kelly Dunleavy could hardly believe it either.

“She just cried and cried,” Ms Hollis said.

Up next came an offer from NBC to fly her to Vienna, Austria to participate in the European championships the following year.

In Germany she was shocked to discover that her ball wasn’t with her.

“I did not speak German,” she said. “I couldn’t make anyone understand. Finally, I got on the plane to Austria. I went without it. I was so worried that I would not have the ball for the championships. They said if you don’t have the ball we will drill you another ball. But that was not the point. I wanted my ball.”

She was “very happy” when the ball arrived the following night and went on to win the championship.

“Then the celebrations started,” Ms Hollis said. “There was a Japanese gentleman there. He presented me with a gold bracelet with a bottle of champagne which I bought back to Bermuda.”

Acting premier, the late Jim Woolridge, presents Joan Hollis with a plaque after winning the European bowling championships in 1980 in Vienna, Austria (Photograph supplied)

The late Jim Woolridge, then the acting premier, presented her with a plaque from the government.

Ms Hollis went on to win other bowling tournaments over the years, but none as glorious as those. Today she still bowls and is the treasurer of the Fishbowl League at Warwick Lanes.

She first tried bowling at 21 in Lily Bowl, an alley located where Shelly Bay MarketPlace is today.

She was introduced to it by her father, Hartwell Hollis, and her brother, Dudley.

“I started going with them. We had a lot of fun.”

Joan Hollis, far left, at the Lily Bowl in the 1960s (Photograph supplied)

She had always loved sports. At the Bermuda High School for Girls she excelled in netball, baseball and softball and was even pegged for the Olympics in discus at one point.

She enjoyed the friendship and competition in bowling.

“I fell in love with it, really,” said Ms Hollis, who captained Bermuda’s first team only two years after she started playing.

In 2005 she received a certificate from the Bermuda Government recognising her achievements in bowling. The next year she was inducted into the Bermuda Hall of Fame.

In her teens she had wanted to become a police officer but in 1960 she decided she couldn’t realistically suffer through the training programme at Scotland Yard.

Only after she arrived in London, England did she learn it would involve six months with no pay and, if she failed a series of exams at the end, there wouldn’t be a job at all.

“I did not have any financial backing, so I had to come home,” she said. “I could not stay.”

Ms Hollis became a cashier in a grocery store, and then joined Bank of Bermuda as a teller, working her way up to supervisor of the credit card department.

She left in 1980 to run Island Video Bermuda on Burnaby Hill in Hamilton with her good friend Ann Flood. The business became Leisure Time after they sold it.

Her next venture, A & J Sports Cards, tapped into her passion for sports.

“I sold baseball cards, football cards and hockey, you name it, any kind of sports,” she said. “I also had Nascar memorabilia such as jackets, for sale. A lot of the kids coming from school would come in and buy a pack of baseball cards. We would trade and whatever. I loved to do that.”

She closed in 2012.

Today, she is heavily involved with the Holy Trinity Church in Hamilton Parish where her mother, Myrtle Hollis, was the choir director for more than 50 years.

In 2013, Ms Hollis took charge of the graveyard.

“I love doing it,” she said. “I deal with the accounts and billing people for the graves. I also deal with the undertakers and funerals.”

She is a firm believer in ghosts and says working at the church she has sometimes felt a presence over her shoulder.

“One day I got out of my car and was walking towards the church hall,” she said. “There was someone standing in the middle of the road waving his arms.”

She thought he was strange because he was dressed all in black.

“When I came back out, he was gone,” she said. “There was nobody there.”

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 December 08, 2021 at 7:56 am (Updated December 09, 2021 at 7:51 am)

Former world champion still bowling at 80

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