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Horton siblings honoured for their time in education

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Randy, Ellen-Kate and Robert Horton (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

At Warwick Secondary School in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when someone shouted “Horton is coming!” everyone scattered.

Nobody stopped to ask if it was Ellen-Kate or her brother, Randy.

They both had a reputation for firmness.

“They were all soon back at their desks doing what they were supposed to,” said Ellen-Kate, 76.

It was much the same at the Berkeley Institute where their brother, Robert, taught and was deputy principal.

But each was also fiercely caring. Randy believed that to be effective, teachers needed to love their students. He often visited them in their homes to get a better perspective on their lives.

Meanwhile, it was important to Robert that students love learning as much as he did.

“My 18 years at the Berkeley Institute before going into the civil service were probably the most enjoyable years of my professional career,” the 74-year-old said. “My former students, who are everywhere, are like my best friends now. It is very gratifying.”

It also makes walking anywhere with them, slow going – there is always a former student wanting a hug or to talk.

On Saturday, the Hortons will be honoured for their contributions to education at a gala dinner at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club marking Black History Month. Duranda Greene, the retiring president of the Bermuda College, will also be recognised.

Future leaders from left Robert, Ellen-Kate and Randy Horton in 1960 (Photograph supplied)

The three Hortons and their younger sister June Dill, grew up on Cooks Hill in Sandys. Their parents, Raymond and Dorothea “Peggy” Horton, did not have much education themselves, but believed in it strongly.

“Our mother was always on my case,” said Randy, 78. “I remember times when the other boys were outside playing and she was making sure I was inside doing my homework before I went outside and played.”

While students at the Berkeley Institute, Randy wanted to be an undertaker, Ellen-Kate wanted to be a research scientist and Robert longed to become a lawyer.

But directly after high school they all found jobs in local primary schools, preparing students to take Berkeley’s entrance exams. They loved teaching.

All three received government teacher training scholarships, but Ellen-Kate turned hers down. Instead, she worked for a few years, then went to Wilberforce University, an historically Black college in Ohio, before moving on to Kent State University to get a master’s.

On May 5, 1971, her studies were interrupted by violence.

Members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students who were peacefully protesting against the Vietnam War. Four students were killed, nine were wounded; Ellen-Kate was crossing the campus when the mêlée erupted.

“There were tanks rolling around the university,” she said. “There were guardsman with fixed bayonets.”

As students fled the massacre, one boy ran by covered in blood.

“His room-mate had been shot to death right next to him,” she said.

She left with just two courses to complete and refused to ever go back. The campus held too many traumatic memories.

Although Robert loved working with students at the Berkeley Institute he did not immediately give up his dream of becoming a lawyer. In 1975 he gave his notice when he finally saved up enough money for law school.

“But the school offered me the post of deputy principal,” he said. “I was 28. Ego took over and I stayed.”

It is a choice he does not regret.

Early in the Hortons’ careers, teachers in Bermuda were woefully underpaid and did not have adequate health insurance. Randy developed a heart condition in his mid-thirties. After spending ten weeks in the hospital, he was left with a mountain of bills that had to be paid off through fundraising.

To help rectify some of these problems Ellen-Kate joined the Bermuda Union of Teachers and became president and then organiser. She still remembers when the BUT joined the General Strike of 1981.

“I was holding the flag at the front and our banner,” she said. “When we walked into Union Square in Hamilton the seas parted, and people were saying, ‘Oh my God, the teachers are coming.’”

She then led the island’s teachers in a one-day, all-out strike.

“Mr [Mansfield] Brock called me at Warwick Secondary,” Ellen-Kate said. “He was the Permanent Secretary of Education. He said, ‘Ellen-Kate, don’t do it. You’re going to make a fool of yourself. My teachers will not strike on me.’”

The next morning they all met in a church hall.

“I took roll call,” she said. “The loudest applause came when I said Warwick Academy, and they said six out.”

At that time it seemed incredible for private schoolteachers to join with teachers from the public sector.

“I called Mr Brock. He said, ‘When can we talk?’”

Shortly afterward the government offered comprehensive health insurance for teachers.

“Today’s teachers should be for ever grateful to the efforts made to the union, 40 years ago,” Robert said.

Randy put his name forward for the Progressive Labour Party and served as an MP from 1998 until 2017. When he was Minister of Labour, Home Affairs and Public Safety, Robert was the permanent secretary. When he went to the Ministry of Education, Ellen-Kate was his permanent secretary.

When he became Speaker of the House in 2013 under the One Bermuda Alliance government, some people viewed it as a betrayal of the PLP.

“I have never gone against the PLP,” Randy said. “I don’t know why people couldn’t understand that having me there was probably better than having an OBA person there. At least I would look at things in a balanced way.”

He believed that it would help stabilise Bermuda in challenging times.

“In the end it worked out,” he said. “I enjoyed it. I learnt a lot about myself and a lot about the people I was dealing with.”

Today, the Hortons are retired from their careers, but are by no means resting on their laurels.

Robert is a member of the Family Panel at Magistrates’ Court, a trustee of the Packwood Home and a member of the Employment Tribunal, among other things.

Randy serves on the board of Bermuda College and is chairman of the Honorary Fellows of the Bermuda College.

Ellen-Kate is embroiled in a battle to save West End Primary School on Scotts Hill Road, Sandys. It is on the chopping block due to falling student numbers.

The Hortons all went to the school.

“It is 102 years old,” Ellen-Kate said. “It is one of the oldest schools in the Western hemisphere to continuously educate Black students. It is a battle that must be won. Without that school, we would not be here.”

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 February 22, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated February 23, 2023 at 8:15 am)

Horton siblings honoured for their time in education

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