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Black History Makers: Patricia Gordon-Pamplin discusses late father

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Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon monument in Union Square (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon was a medical doctor, parliamentarian and activist who paved the way for the rights of Black Bermudians and workers. Deemed “the father of trade unionism”, his work coloured the social and political change that defined the 20th century. For Bermuda History Month, The Royal Gazette examines Dr Gordon’s complex legacy as a father, an activist, and a history maker

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin had a surreal relationship with her father.

Having lost him at age 5 to a heart attack, she only had a handful of memories of the late Dr Gordon.

Despite the few experiences she had with him, the now 74-year-old remembered him as “a 5ft 5in’ giant” whose legacy followed her throughout life.

“I can remember him leaving home to go to the opening of Parliament,” Ms Gordon-Pamplin said, recounting one of her earliest memories of him.

“He was dressed in his morning suit and top hat as they used to wear during those days.

“He would never leave the house without patting out and saying ‘got you last’, and then he would run out the yard.

“On this particular occasion he’s all dressed and he’s going out in the yard and says ‘got you last!’

“My little legs were trying to take me as fast as they could carry me, and I couldn’t catch up with him because he literally ran.

“I’m standing there at the gate of my house and I’m screaming my eyes out because I didn’t get him last.”

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin (Photograph supplied)

As a bright child, Ms Gordon Pamplin was often the guest of honour at her father’s meetings, where Dr Gordon would have her recite her alphabet backwards for his colleagues when she was only three years old.

She also remembered the physician by trade having his office in their home and leaving his patients every night, no matter how many he had, to tuck his children into bed.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said: “My mom would say to him ‘Edgar, you’ve got patients’.

“But my dad’s response was ‘my patients must have patience’ because that was his children’s time.”

Ms Gordon-Pamplin was the third of five children to Dr Gordon and Mildred Lucille Layne Bean.

She considered herself the last child to have memories of Dr Gordon, as her youngest brother, Keith, was a baby when he died, and her little sister, Pamela, was born six months after his death.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin and Dame Pamela are now his only living children, with Ms Gordon-Pamplin the only child left to have known him personally.

The former One Bermuda Alliance member described herself as a “daddy’s girl” growing up, having earned the nickname “Princess Pat” and admiring it like a true royal title.

She said that this, combined with her father’s encouragement and the long line of “indomitable” women on her mother’s side, led to her immense stubbornness.

It was this, however, that she said turned sour after the death of her father.

Dr Gordon died of a heart attack on April 20, 1955, at age 60, after years of excessive drinking and smoking.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin explained that her mother later told her he knew he wouldn’t make it out of the hospital when the heart attack came – a premonition that came true just hours later.

She said that she became a difficult child for years afterwards, becoming “incorrigible” and defiant, until her mother was forced to send her away to a Jamaican boarding school at age 11.

She explained: “We had so many fun times in and around the house when he was alive that I think that my defiance, as I became a lot more difficult as time went on, had to do with that environment being stripped away from me as such a young child.”

But Ms Gordon-Pamplin added: “I don’t think I was angry, I think I was just sad.

“I was constantly reminded of my need, especially by my mom, to carry myself appropriately.

“But I was just defiant – I didn’t care, I didn’t want to care, I thought people should mind their own business and that nobody needs to be reporting to my mom what I was like before I got home.”

Dr Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon monument in Union Square (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

She said that as she got older she started to learn the impact her father had had on the community.

The meetings he had at their home, which she thought were friendly gatherings, were union strategy meetings aimed at changing the structure of Bermuda.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said her father’s legacy as both a sensitive caretaker and a fierce fighter for justice followed her all the way into adulthood.

She did not initially become interested in politics, believing that her father and sister, an accomplished politician in her own right, had done everything to carve the Gordon name into Bermuda’s political sphere.

But it was not until the mid-1990s when her husband convinced her to take her dissatisfaction with the government head-on and said to her: “Your father did his share, your sister did her share — where is your contribution?”

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said that her involvement with politics reminded her how much of her father’s own morals rubbed off on her.

She explained: “My dad, almost to a fault, made sure to reach out and embrace, especially people in need, and that’s something that’s just rubbed off on me and it permeated my entire political career.

“I’ve always been concerned about people and I think it is that feature from my dad. My father would treat patients and not send them a bill, or if he sent them a bill, if they paid they paid, and if they didn’t they didn’t.

“That was something I picked up — I would give and give and give, and I don’t give with the expectation of getting.”

E.F. Gordon, who championed the cause of Bermuda’s workers (File Photograph)

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said that she did not think her father would have been disappointed that she did not join the Progressive Labour Party, explaining that she had “never not supported labour”.

She did, however, think that her father would be “offended” by the mentality of the oligarchy of his time being adopted and excused simply because it was changing hands based on race.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin added that she fears this is happening.

She explained: “Where he strove so hard to make sure that people got along together, we see seeds of division that are being sowed for political expedience and I think that’s tragic for a country.

“We are too small to have these types of divisions being entrenched in our daily lives.”

She added: “I think that it is expedient, it’s convenient, and I think that people will utilise whatever means they have in the name of political power.

“But I think what we need to be doing, if I had a thought about it, was to start to look at how we the people can make demands of the leadership, irrespective of who that leadership is and what that leadership looks like?

“How can we have sufficient gumption to say to somebody who might look like us that you are not doing what it is that I expect you to do, so get on with it?”

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said, despite her fears, that her father’s legacy was alive and well, and was never more than a mention away.

“I don’t believe that there is a day that goes by that somebody somewhere does not invoke the name of Dr E F Gordon, and that says something,” she said.

“Many people walk through this journey called life and make zero impact and are hardly, if ever, remembered.

“My dad will never fall in that category.”

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Published February 27, 2024 at 7:57 am (Updated February 27, 2024 at 8:41 am)

Black History Makers: Patricia Gordon-Pamplin discusses late father

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