Linda enjoying being of service to others
In her early teens, Linda Smith did a lot of goofing off. “All I wanted to do was play,” the 72-year-old remembered.
But she still managed to be one of the top three students in her class at Sandys Secondary School.
Then the school principal, Dorothy Thompson, stepped in.
“She called my mother [Olive Trott Foote] and said, we need to find a way to get Linda out of here,” Mrs Smith said. “She is just wasting her time.”
Her mother, a single mother of five, prayed for guidance.
“She said God told her to arrange for me to go to school in Canada,” Mrs Smith said.
And that is what her mother did, with the help of people she knew there.
It was a huge turning point in Mrs Smith’s life.
“I was 15,” she said. “I had no family there, and no support. I had to learn how to fend for myself.”
But she saw the opportunity for what it was and determined that she would let no one get in the way of her education. She wanted to be a teacher.
At McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, she did a double major in anthropology and physical education.
She returned to Bermuda to teach in 1976, at her old secondary school. She had trained in 15 different sports, but did not know netball, the sport she needed most in Bermuda.
“But, I had older students who played on netball teams in Bermuda,” she said. “I told them you need to teach me this game, otherwise people will be cheating and I won’t know.”
Many of her students were not much younger than herself, and some of them stood head and shoulders above her. She worked hard to build relationships with them.
“I told my students, I am here to help you enjoy what you are doing, and inspire you to move on to better things,” she said.
Over the years she taught everything from reading and spelling to mathematics at schools around the island. She met her husband, Kelson Smith, another educator, when she was 27 and he was 29.
“The first time I saw him I was still living in Canada,” she said. “I was in Bermuda on Christmas vacation. I thought ‘oh, I haven’t seen him before’.”
She next saw him after she had returned home for good, at a play at the Hamilton Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hamilton. She tried to talk to him, but he gave her the brush. That only made her more determined.
“Later, he told me that when he saw me in my big afro bouncing around with all that energy, he thought I was only 18 or 19,” she laughed. “He was thinking, who is this fresh upstart?”
They did eventually get her age ironed out. They went to a park for their first date and had a great time talking. They were married 3½ months later. Because they were both almost 30 they felt they did not have much time to waste.
In 1999, the couple moved to Cohutta, Georgia, a small town 45 minutes north of Atlanta, near the Tennessee border.
“My husband was working at the Bermuda College in administration,” Mrs Smith said. “He loved the classroom and wanted to move back into teaching. I looked at it as an adventure.”
Mr Smith now teaches at Dalton State College in Dalton, Georgia.
Mrs Smith is not officially retired. She still does some tutoring, but is more focused on volunteering.
Through a programme at the Dalton Seventh-day Adventist Church, she helps refugees.
“We help by supplying clothing, food, furniture or anything refugees in the area need to equip their homes to make it easier,” she said. “I have been introduced to them when they have done presentations in the church. There are usually quite a large number of them, so it is a bit challenging to meet people on an individual basis.”
But her group finds out their needs and then collects the stuff. It is made available to refugees in gyms or large, open areas.
“They always take just what they need,” she said.
Mrs Smith said there is sometimes negative things said about refugees on the American media, but she does not see them as a burden.
“I view them as people who are seeking the best for their families, just like everyone else,” she said. “These folks have come over to the United States with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“The situations that they are coming from are absolutely devastating. They have lost family members. They have been through tremendous struggles. I can sympathise with that, which is why I will do what I can to help them.”
She has also been on mission trips, twice, to take clothing and other supplies to orphans near Kitwe, Zambia. She became involved through a Zambian friend in her church.
Many of the children they helped were orphaned by HIV/Aids.
“There are programmes in the cities,” she said, “but they live in the countryside out in the brush.”
There are no long term programmes to help the children, no free schooling and no medical facilities.
But Mrs Smith was amazed at how the children carefully shared anything they were given among themselves.
“They all were looking out for each other,” she said. “They had an amazing attitude. They did not fuss, and they would sing for us with such joy.”
Her last trip to Zambia was in 2015. Then her Zambian friend died and the church assistance programme stopped.
“I really wish I could go back, and had the means to take others with me to help,” Mrs Smith said.
But she is enjoying life.
“I turned around and the last 30 and 40 years had just gone by in a flash,” she said. “I am grateful that I get the opportunity to help someone else.”
The Smiths have two children, Krystal McKenzie and Jason Smith, and three grandchildren.
They celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary on February 2.
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens each week. 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