A woman of vision
Mark Twain recommended we strive to live our lives so that when we die even the undertaker will be sorry.
As was so often the case, the advice offered by one of Bermuda's favourite adopted sons was spot on.
We live in a decidedly schizophrenic world, one that delights in sending us mixed messages.
On the one hand it seems to tell us to value the externals, to embrace the superficial and the frivolous, and the gilded and the temporary. If we only ever marched to the insistent beat of that drum you would think we really did worship money, power and fame like so many golden idols — and to the complete exclusion of everything else.
But that's not the whole story, not by far.
For what the world genuinely admires and never wants to lose is goodness, the simple goodness of spirit and heart.
So we reserve our highest respect for those among us who embody virtue in its various forms: courage, honesty, mercy, generosity and kindness.
Those we grieve the most for, those whose lives and deeds and characters we as a community celebrate, are those who leave our island home a better place than they found it.
Jean Howes was one such individual.
She was so universally loved and respected that when she died this week at the age of 90, almost everyone in Bermuda felt they had lost a dear friend whether or not they knew her personally.
Jean Howes lost her sight in childhood as a result of being struck in the eye with a stone.
However, she came to believe that those who suffered from wilful blindness were far more handicapped going through life than she ever was.
She was fond of citing the blind and deaf humanitarian Helen Keller's maxim that people are actually born with an incurable capacity for making the best of things, but sometimes need to be pointedly reminded of that.
For Mrs Howes there really were none so blind as those who chose not to see all of the options and possibilities available to them. And she took every opportunity to demonstrate that there were no limitations except those we impose on ourselves.
Bermuda Society for the Blind president Amanda Marshall has said of Mrs Howes: “She was the most famous blind person in Bermuda and was therefore an advocate, mentor and spokesperson.
“Jean really believed that being blind didn't matter and that you should live life to the fullest — she showed everyone how to do that.”
This really was the case. She served as an enduring and beloved inspiration, not just to Bermuda's blind but to those with 20/20 sight who, metaphorically speaking, might have allowed their fields of vision to narrow — a category most all of us fall into from time to time.
For more than 60 years, she made countless TV and radio appearances, and sat down for numerous newspaper interviews to champion the cause of the blind in Bermuda. She also engaged in hands-on charitable and community work involving everything from teaching Braille to politely but persuasively lobbying politicians and the private sector for greater recognition for the needs of the blind.
Mrs Howes was, of course, equally well known for her delightful forays into the worlds of music and entertainment.
A country and western devotee, for many years she performed with her band at the hospital and at homes for the elderly, and co-hosted a series of TV Christmas specials with Bermudian showroom fixture Gene Steede.
All the while this resourceful, good-natured and tireless woman held down full-time jobs, raised a son, was an adoring and doting grandmother and even became a published poet.
She has left as her legacy an example of what we should all strive for in life.
A woman of principles and conviction, a voice for the voiceless, the embodiment of compassion, selflessness and determination, Jean Howes enriched and enhanced the life of the entire Bermudian community, as well as the lives of her family members and friends.
Over the course of her long and productive life, she came to personify what we really do value the most: goodness, the simple goodness of spirit and heart.