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‘The last day’s toil of a 40-year tour of duty by a gentleman of quality’

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Ronnie Tacklin, Corporation of Hamilton gardener, retires after 40 years’ service for the City (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A tireless “ambassador for Hamilton” retired yesterday after 40 years on the job.

Ronnie Tacklin, who kept watch over Queen Elizabeth Park as a gardener and custodian for the Corporation of Hamilton, told The Royal Gazette: “I call this my church without walls.”

Along with maintaining the park, Mr Tacklin is known as “uncle” to many of those down on their luck who shelter in its grounds.

“Guys look up to me,” he said. “There have been characters here from all the way back in the day.

“It’s sad that it has got worse, but I still have hope for my people that come in the park.”

Ronnie Tacklin, Corporation of Hamilton gardener, retires after 40 years (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Mr Tacklin, who is stepping down at the age of 65, said that Steven DeSilva, the parks superintendent for the corporation, had joked that even after retirement he would “still be having your church services here with these guys”.

With a gentle but assured manner, Mr Tacklin has helped to keep the peace as well as assisting some of the homeless in turning their lives around.

One, known as Lois, he called “a miracle” who has flourished in Mr Tacklin’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

“It’s been a journey — I’ve seen a lot of things happen,” Mr Tacklin said.

He recalled incidents from breaking up fights to the day the park got enveloped in orange smoke after a man shot a stolen flare gun into a tree.

With his partner on the job, Manuel De Canto, Mr Tacklin once rushed to the aid of a distraught man attempting suicide with a noose hung from the tree.

“I grabbed hold of his legs and Manuel went up and cut the rope with a knife,” he said. They saved his life.

The two have been “keeping each other’s backs” for 33 years.

Ronnie Tacklin: An “unsung ambassador” of Hamilton.

Retiring Corporation of Hamilton stalwart Ronnie Tacklin is “an unsung ambassador for Hamilton and Bermuda”, according to Andrew Bermingham, president of the Bermuda Historical Society.

“He has done an indispensable job under quite difficult circumstances – they don’t come any better than Ronnie Tacklin.

“He has dealt with his own health issues over the past few years, and kept going as a jack-of-all-trades over Queen Elizabeth Park, taking care of custodial duties at the museum and the library.

“The challenges he has faced are quite heavy in responsibility. He played a big part in managing the lines for Covid-19 testing at Perot and has had to deal with an unsocial element in the park.

“He dealt with the restrooms and trash disposal, and he opens the gates. He does all the menial, unsung work that people like Ronnie deserve credit for. He will be a difficult act to replace.

“In some respects, he is the face of a Bermuda that most people do not even think about.

“Without the effort from people like Ronnie Tacklin, ordinary things would not work.”

Mr Tacklin signed up 40 years ago with a Hamilton legend, George Ogden, the man then in charge of the city’s parks.

One question from the interview stayed with him.

“He said, ‘tell me something, Mr Tacklin, if I hire you and you’re out on the street picking up trash, and one of your friends comes by, how will you feel’?

“I said, ‘I won’t feel any way; I’m working, and I have a job to do.’ And that’s when it began.”

Mr Tacklin’s retirement marks the end of an era for many in the corporation.

In a message to staff, Mr DeSilva said that yesterday marked “the last day’s toil of a 40-year tour of duty by a gentleman of quality”.

The superintendent said Mr Tacklin’s career came with care and maintenance of more than 350,000 individual flowers.

“Tilling the good earth. Making people smile while they took photographs. Mowing lawns averaging at least once per week to amass the equivalent of 120 football pitches.

“He has managed the collection of more than 190,000 bags of rubbish and assisted in clean-ups from no fewer than 13 hurricanes and tropical storm events.”

Mr DeSilva noted he had “stepped in to quell anger among young men” but “most easily recalls the smiles and warmth from park users — countless people stopping to remark on how beautiful the park looks”.

“He has put in an innings to be respected and held aloft.”

Mr Tacklin described himself as “a man of faith” who heeds Philippians Chapter 4, verse 13: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Married 39 years to his wife, Rhonda, Mr Tacklin said they are “known as the R family”.

“There’s my oldest son, Richard, our second, Ryan, and the youngest, Reid, and the cream of the crop, Rhonda-Lynn.”

In the early days, the family lived within what was then Par-la-Ville Park in a two-bedroom apartment.

The handy location came with the “terror” of repeated attempts by vagrants to break in, he said.

Mr Tacklin added that he was proud of the park and his role as a mentor to many corporation staff.

“I have seen many co-workers pass away,” he said.

“One thing they would ask me to do every now and then when someone passes is to say a little prayer.”

Retirement comes with a new role as a part-time custodian for the Bermuda National Library, where Mr Tacklin will continue cleaning up for the Bermuda Historical Society Museum.

He also plans to “get more into my ministry”.

“For now, I just keep on keeping on,” he said.

“I’m 65, still alive and just happy that I have other things I’ll be doing.”

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Published December 21, 2022 at 6:09 pm (Updated December 21, 2022 at 6:09 pm)

‘The last day’s toil of a 40-year tour of duty by a gentleman of quality’

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