Elevator king and former Boy Scout Commissioner laps up life
Gary Dowling’s family was so poor he never saw a toilet until he started school.
“We used out houses out back,” the 72-year-old said. “And as for running water, there was a pump in the yard that you cranked by hand.”
His grandmother, Florence Lee, “ran” the area they lived in along the North Shore in Pembroke.
“She was tough as nails,” he said. “My grandfather, Randolph Lee, came from Barbados. He used to fix boats and cruisers. I went to Barbados once and met the whole family. The singer who did the Super Bowl half-time show, Rihanna, she is a cousin of mine. I have not yet got to meet her, though.”
He was raised by his mother, Ina, and her late husband, Clarence Smith.
“My stepfather was very good to me,” Mr Dowling said.
At six, he joined the Boy Scouts. His troupe held meetings at the Salvation Army in the City of Hamilton under the leadership of Vivian Spring – who later became Boy Scout Commissioner – Tim Doyle, Arthur Douglas and Gary Simons.
“Mr Simons was a great guy, but he was very disciplined. He would put the oleander on you in a minute.”
Of them all, Mr Douglas had the biggest impact on his life. He was an elevator mechanic and encouraged Mr Dowling to join the trade.
“He said elevator repair was a good paying job,” Mr Dowling said. “I said, ‘That sounds great, but what is an elevator?’ I had never seen one before.”
Fortunately his education at the Bermuda Technical Institute made him a good candidate for the job.
“When I graduated from BTI in 1962 I could completely rewire my house,” he said. “I used to teach at the school. Sometimes we would have students come in on day release. I would ask them to measure out a block of wood and they would ask is 1/8 of an inch bigger than a 1/16? So we had to teach them how to use a measuring tape.”
The school, which was located on Roberts Avenue in Devonshire, closed in 1972.
“It was the worst thing Bermuda ever did when they got rid of that school,” Mr Dowling said, explaining that many of the students left the all-boys trade school with marketable skills and were able to set up solid careers for themselves.
Once he was ready to work he joined Mr Douglas at Otis Elevator. The pair then formed the Bermuda Elevator Company with Tony Smith.
During Mr Dowling’s 48 years in the business, he had plenty of adventures.
“One day I was working on top of an elevator in the Perry Building on Church Street,” he said. “It had been smashing into the roof.
“We bought an expert in from the United States to help us. We worked on it, and we thought it was fixed. The guy from the US went to put his tools away, but I just wanted to run it one more time to make sure.”
He got on the roof of the elevator and flicked a switch to make it rise.
“Then this voice said ‘You better put your head down. This elevator is moving fast.’ I had always been kind of hard-headed, but this time I did what the voice told me to do.”
He thinks that the voice was God speaking. The elevator crashed into the roof. Mr Dowling’s left side and leg were smashed, but his head was spared.
“They had to call an ambulance, and I was in recovery for about six weeks,” he said. “I could have died, but it wasn’t my time to go. I still had a lot left to do.”
Another time, he was stuck in an elevator for hours when it got caught between floors.
“I broke the cardinal rule of elevator repair and got into the elevator when no one else was around,” he said. “I thought I’d fixed it.”
When someone in the building finally appeared he could hear grumbling about why the elevator repairman had not turned up to do the job.
“I called out ‘Hello’. The man said ‘Jesus!’ I said, ‘No, not, Jesus, just your elevator repairman. Can you get me out?’”
Ten years ago he decided he’d had enough. “I was tired of it,” he said.
For years Mr Dowling coached young people through football and cricket; he also mentored Boy Scouts.
“One day [Mr Douglas] said, ‘Come and give me a hand with the Cedar Hill, Warwick Boy Scouts and I will show you how to run the troop,” Mr Dowling said. “He came the next week and then two weeks later he never showed up.”
When Mr Dowling called him out on his absence, Mr Douglas laughingly said he seemed to be doing a good job and clearly did not need him any more.
“So he left me holding the bag,” he said with a smile. Mr Dowling was a Scout leader for 30 years and took his Scouts on trips all over the world.
“In 1991, I took a group of about 30 to Seoul, Korea, to the World Scout Jamboree,” he said. “We were there for about two or three weeks and even had a chance to go up on the Korean demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.”
He got nervous when he saw armed soldiers on both sides of the border.
“They were aiming at us and we were aiming at them,” he said. “I said, ‘I am not used to this. Everyone who is coming with me can jump back in the bus and we are leaving.’”
In 1992 after the passing of Commissioner Spring members of the executive decided Mr Dowling should take over the role
He retired about a decade ago but is involved in a number of charities. Outside of the Scouts, his favourite is the Kiwanis Club.
“I got involved through some friends I knew who were in it,” he said. “I have been Lieutenant Governor a couple of times. I am just on the executive, at the moment.”
In his youth he was well-known as a cricket player for Willow Cuts and was president of Western Counties for eight years before stepping down in 2012.
“We toured the West Indies at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s,” he said. “My best game ever was played against the Police. We beat ‘em bad. I used to tease them. I would say it is cheaper for you to just write the score in and give us two extras and you go home, because you are never going to beat us.”
In 1996 Mr Dowling received the Progressive Labour Party’s Founder’s Day and Drum Major Award for his work with the Boy Scouts, and youth development.
He and his wife Dawn have been married for 50 years and have two children, Gary Jr, and Natasha, and four grandchildren.
“I have had a great life, especially with helping all the charities,” Mr Dowling said. “If you don’t give, you don’t get.”
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
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