A love for music and life
Persis Butler remembers an idyllic childhood in Paget in the 1940s.
There was lots of land for children to roam. Loquat and cherry-picking were favourite pastimes; neighbours were extended family members.
“When someone went out and it started to rain, the neighbours would bring in their laundry for them,” the 82-year-old said.
Her mother, Rosalie Conyers, was Bermudian. Her father, Louis Adams, was born in the Turks & Caicos Islands.
“He came up to Bermuda at the age of 17,” Ms Butler said. “I think he came with his family. He was a gardener and also loved carpentry. He made all the furniture in the house for my mother when they got married.”
From an early age she loved music and begged her parents to buy her a piano. One of the happiest days of her childhood was when they finally turned up with one.
“I was 8,” she said. “My parents saw a second-hand piano advertised and brought it home. When I saw it, I just loved it.”
She had no clue how to play it. Her parents signed her up for lessons with Edna Thomas.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. “My mother used to say she never had to tell me to practise. I played all the time.”
Ms Butler would often read to her younger neighbours; the decision to become a teacher felt natural. She won a Bermuda Government scholarship to study at Ottawa Teachers’ College in Canada.
“We had to board off campus,” she said. “I lived with a group of students. At first I found it very difficult to study because I was not used to having a lot of noise around me. I eventually got used to it.”
One thing she never got used to was the cold.
“I could never understand how humans could be expected to live in those conditions,” she laughed.
When she graduated she was only too happy to return home to Bermuda to teach. Her first position was at Purvis Primary School in Warwick. She taught all subjects, but because of her passion she took courses in music and started teaching it to her students.
She always tried to make the lessons fun. She bought a second-hand set of instruments – small ukuleles and xylophones. She also filled bottles with water and had the children knock those with a stick.
“When I went to the grocery store, I would tap the bottles I saw to see how they sounded,” she said.
Eventually, she transitioned into a full-time music teacher, moving to Dellwood Primary School, Gilbert Institute, Prospect Primary School and Northlands.
She wrote many songs for her students.
“That just kind of happened,” Ms Butler said. “A melody would pop into my head and I would write it down and notate it. I loved every moment of it.”
Often her songs would touch on aspects of Bermuda’s culture or environment such as pawpaws, kiskadees or the old Bermuda Railway.
One of her songs was about Walter Ingham’s ferry boat.
In 1952, Walter Ingham’s ferry was sucked into the propeller of a passing Norwegian freight ship.
His passenger was able to swim to safety, but Mr Ingham was killed. He had been rowing his ferry across Hamilton Harbour for 50 years.
“When I was quite young, this gentleman would row people across Hamilton Harbour for a fee,” Ms Butler said. “He used to take them from Hamilton to Lower Ferry. I just got to ride on it once with my Sunday school teacher. I thought it was great. We left from the steps that are across from the Bank of Butterfield on Front Street.”
Ms Butler also ran a choir that encompassed Dellwood Primary School and Gilbert Institute students. They performed all over the island.
“I used to take my music students to sing for the Golden Hour Senior’s Club once a year,” she said. “The club meets at the Peace Lutheran Church in Paget. When I retired, at age 60, I told the club I had enjoyed our visits with them. The next thing I knew the president was asking me to join the club.”
Since retiring in 2001 she has stayed busy putting together a book of her songs with the help of Kim Dismont Robinson, the director of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.
In 2007, Ms Butler was awarded the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour for her contributions to local music education.
She released One Little Pawpaw: Bermuda Songs and Sketches for All God’s Children, in 2012.
These days Ms Butler has arthritis so she does not play as much. However, her face still breaks out in a bright smile when she talks about music.
“I just love it,” she said.
She writes poetry, on occasion, and occupies herself by putting together large jigsaw puzzles. She also enjoys watching the bluebird box in her yard in Spanish Point, Pembroke.
She and her husband, Winston, will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary this September. They met while students at The Berkeley Institute.
Ms Butler is an ardent Somerset fan but plans to spend this Cup Match relaxing at home.
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every 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