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‘We became ghosts’: Lovette’s life after her father’s bankruptcy

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Lovette Brangman with a copy of her teacher’s certificate from the Hamilton Normal School in Canada (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Lovette Brangman’s dining table seats 18 people but sometimes, it’s just not big enough.

Family means everything to her and so she does whatever she can to squeeze her loved ones into her home in Smith’s.

She also owns the property next door and another in the City of Hamilton – at 87 Mrs Brangman has a lot more security than she did as a child.

“I tell my grandchildren about how I grew up, but I don’t think they really appreciate what I went through,” she said.

Her father, Walton St George Brown, inherited a cigar business from his father, Charles Brown, in the 1930s, but by 1938 was bankrupt.

Pursued by powerful creditors, he fled to the Caribbean, leaving his wife, Edna, and five children behind. Fearing retaliation from those creditors, friends and neighbours shunned the Browns.

“We became ghosts,” said Mrs Brangman, who was four years old at the time.

After her family were evicted from their Court Street home, Mrs Brangman was sent to live with relatives on Bat and Ball Lane in Sandys. When her mother died two years later, her guardians became abusive.

“Every day they were knocking my head up against the wall, and then coming back and getting another one in,” she said. “They would say, ‘We don't know why you came up here. You're just a pain in the neck’.”

One bright spot was her education. She shone at West End Primary School and won a scholarship to attend the Berkeley Institute.

One day she was at Simmons Ice Cream Factory when Warren Simmons, the owner of the Sandys business, asked if she knew anyone who needed a job.

Mrs Brangman put herself forward. Although initially concerned that she was too young, Mr Simmons gave in.

“I learnt everything about running a business from just watching him and his wife,” she said.

Mr Simmons helped Mrs Brangman to open a bank account and treated her “like family”.

After Berkeley, she worked as a substitute teacher at West End Primary for a few months before winning a government teaching scholarship.

Toddler-Garten graduation photograph printed in The Royal Gazette in 1966 (File photograph)

She arrived at Hamilton Normal School in Ontario, Canada in 1953 and discovered that it had burnt down. Classes were held in three church halls.

She met her future husband, Walter Brangman, at a dance attended by a handful of Bermudian students.

A future architect, he was enrolled at Ryerson Institute of Technology in Toronto. Mrs Brangman wasn’t interested. She was determined to graduate and did not want to be distracted from her goals.

“I thought he was someone to have fun with,” she said.

“He was in his last year and I was in my first year. I would not talk to him and I wouldn’t go out with him for a whole year.”

Back in Bermuda for the summer, she learnt that Mr Brangman intended to stay in Canada and put his degree to use.

That made her all the more determined to avoid him because she knew she had to return home to fulfil the terms of her scholarship.

Lovette Brangman when she was presented with the Sarah Bass Allen Award in 2016 (File photograph)

However, Mr Brangman was equally determined, and spent several years wooing her with red carnations.

Eventually she stopped running. They married when she was 22 and he was 28.

“We had a very happy marriage,” she said. “I never knew marriage could be so good.”

The couple never went to sleep without first working out their disagreements.

“What we could not agree on we agreed to never discuss again,” she said.

They lived a spartan existence in Sandys for the first few years; Mrs Brangman washed clothes in the bathtub. She was determined not to incur any debt, unless it was tied to a house.

Three years into their marriage, Mr Brangman bought land on Lightbourne Lane in Smith’s and built their first home.

He was the island's first registered Black architect and struggled to find work with local firms.

“They told him they did not hire Black people,” Mrs Brangman said.

With no other choice, he set up business in a room in their new house.

“He did extremely well,” his wife said.

In 1961, she left West Pembroke Primary to set up Toddler-Garten, a nursery school housed in a dug-out space under their home.

“I started out with just a bench because I could not afford furniture,” she said. “I had the first nursery school in Bermuda. I had to pull out my old textbooks and create my own curriculum.”

Five students quickly expanded to 14. The phone rang off the hook with people looking for space. Mrs Brangman decided to build a school on her property.

She struggled to get a loan from Bank of Bermuda or Bank of Butterfield; the concept of a nursery school was just too revolutionary for the bankers.

In desperation, she went to L. P. Gutteridge, a local mortgage and finance, travel and insurance company.

“They thought it was a marvellous idea,” she said.

In her mid-forties, Mrs Brangman decided to realise a long-held dream of getting an MBA before her high-school-aged children returned home with their degrees.

“My husband already had his, and I wanted to get mine before my children got their college degrees,” she said.

She signed up for a course being offered on the island by Nova University in Florida.

“It was a two-year programme,” she said. “I graduated in 1980, and flew out to Florida to do the graduation walk.”

Having the paper in hand was important to her. Years earlier, when she had graduated from university, she was denied a physical copy of her degree through an arrangement with the Bermuda Government.

“They wanted us to stay on the island and teach,” said Mrs Brangman, who was only able to get a copy of the certificate years later. “Without the certificate we were not able to work overseas.”

She retired from teaching at 55, and now rents her school to First Friends Nursery & Preschool.

Her husband, a former Progressive Labour Party MP who became a founding member of the National Liberal Party, died in 2011. They had three sons, Nalton, Remonde and Ouemonde, and eight grandchildren.

Mrs Brangman has received several honours in her life and was one of five women worldwide selected by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2016 to receive the Sarah Bass Allen Award for outstanding church and community service.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every week. 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 August 09, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 10, 2023 at 8:05 am)

‘We became ghosts’: Lovette’s life after her father’s bankruptcy

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