Retired at 80, George believes 'life is what you make of it'
As a young police officer in England, George Hammond had his pick of British colonies to apply for work.
He chose Bermuda on a whim, although he didn’t really know where it was.
“That was the one that stuck out for me,” the 85-year-old said. “I took a chance.”
In 1960, he came here on a three-year contract but decided he was staying for good after just three months.
“I didn’t want to go back to working as a police officer in Britain because the weather was grim there and everyone was miserable,” he said. “I liked the way of life here. Here there was a different atmosphere. People were happier.”
Originally from County Monaghan, Ireland, Mr Hammond decided at a young age that he did not want to follow his parents into dairy farming.
“It was a 24-hour job working on a farm,” he said. “The cows had to be milked twice a day, collected and cleaned out. It was all the time. And there was very little money from it. Things weren’t too good in farming in Ireland in the 1950s. It was just after the war and there wasn’t much farming machinery available, and no money to buy what was available.”
He decided to enter the police force but soon discovered that at 5ft 8½" he wasn’t tall enough for Ireland, where the minimum height requirement was 5ft 9in.
Instead he signed up in England, which only asked that officers be 5ft 8", and spent three years there before leaving for Bermuda.
The force then had about 120 police officers, compared to more than 400 today.
“We were all billeted in single men’s quarters,” he said. “The police force was pretty simple. All we dealt with was petty theft and road accidents. We just did shifts and walked around in the middle of the night. It was a simple life. We all knew each other and trusted each other. It was a young man’s place to be at that time.”
He met his wife Carol, a Welsh doctor, at a rugby match.
“I was playing and she came to watch a game,” he said. “There would be little parties after the rugby.”
They were married in 1963.
He left the police force after six years and went to work at the Bank of Butterfield in its then fledgeling computer department. His search for an exhaust for his car changed the course of his life.
“There was always a need for parts,” Mr Hammond said. “You could never get what you wanted. People would all talk and say someone should bring in parts, but no one would do anything.”
He contacted Quinton Hazell Limited, a factory in Wales. The company was interested in providing spare parts but had high sales expectations.
“They weren’t interested in selling Mickey Mouse stuff to me,” Mr Hammond said. “But I did not take no for an answer.”
After some back and forth they accepted his offer to pay £200 for a small order; Mr Hammond went around to every small garage he knew to gauge interest.
At the end of the year he learnt that Quinton Hazell had set a sales target for him and he had exceeded it by 100 per cent.
The company offered to give him sole distributorship for two years.
In response, he formed Weir Enterprises in 1971 and ran it on weekends. Eventually he was able to leave the bank and focus exclusively on his own business.
“At first we were located on North Street in Hamilton,” Mr Hammond said. “But the business kept growing and growing until we needed more space. That’s when we moved to the current place on Victoria Street.”
He hired Jeff Cook, who is now the general manager. The mechanic suggested that Weir install parts as well as sell them.
“Then we got three mechanics from the Azores and the business was flourishing,” Mr Hammond said. “I remember a chap came to me and said, 'You have really got one thing going for you, and that is that your staff can say right away whether or not they have a part.' I listened to what the people were wanting and made a note of it.”
He recalled with pride how a lady wrote a letter to The Royal Gazette, full of praise for Weir Enterprises.
“She had gone to another company for a bulb,” Mr Hammond said. “They told her they could not do it for two or three days and it would be $60. She left in disgust.”
His staff found a bulb, installed it and charged her the princely sum of $1.50.
“That was probably the best form of publicity you could ever get,” Mr Hammond said.
He retired five years ago, having sold Weir Enterprises to BAS Bermuda. Despite that, he is there two or three times a week to say hello to his former staff.
“I was ready to retire,” he said. “I was getting too old and there is a good managing crew there now. They are all interested in it, and it is doing very well. It is providing an essential service.”
In his younger days Mr Hammond loved running and completed the New York Marathon, the London and Dublin marathons and the Bermuda Half Marathon Derby several times.
He does not run any more, but still pedals two or three miles several times a week, from his home in Tucker’s Town to Devil’s Hole. He also walks around his neighbourhood.
“I keep myself going,” he said.
He is proud of his children, Richard Hammond, an anaesthesiologist, and Jane Thorpe, a teacher at the Bermuda High School for Girls.
“The great thing about it is they are both well motivated which I am very proud of,” he said. “Probably my wife played a major role in that. She is an educated person and it came natural to her. I did not have an education. I left school at 14.”
Despite that he has been successful in life.
“When I first came to Bermuda to work as a police officer, that was never my ambition,” he said. “Life is what you make of it. That is about all I can say.”
Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them