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Near-tragedy made me more compassionate

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Flames were licking her legs, and her flip-flops had melted to the floor.

In 1970, Marion Tatem almost died in a horrific boat fire.

“It was Cup Match and we were going out on a boat,” said Mrs Tatem, now 92. “Someone turned the boat engine key and everything erupted into flames. The boat had recently come out of repairs.

“My children were little and were scared to jump into the water. I kept saying, ‘jump, jump'.”

Luckily, she managed to pull herself free from her shoes and jump into the water, but not before being badly burned.

She spent months recovering in a British burns hospital.

The experience left her with lifelong scars, but also with greater compassion.

“I definitely think the experience gave me more compassion for others,” she said. “That and being widowed twice.”

Today, she is one of the oldest Pink Ladies with Hospitals Auxiliary of Bermuda, a charity that helps Bermuda's hospitals. She joined the Pink Ladies not long after her second husband, Albert Tatem, died.

“My cousin, Valerie Bull, was in charge of the Pink Ladies,” said Mrs Tatem. “She kept bugging me to join. Finally, I did.

“I loved it. I started out, feeding patients, but when my cousin died, I took over her duties helping overseas patients in the hospital.”

Her daughter, Patsy Cook, said she had a real gift for consoling people, and she often opened her own home to families of overseas patients.

“Sometimes it would be hard to find the families accommodation at 10pm,” Mrs Tatem said. “So I would bring them home.

“Sometimes I would look after visitors' children so the parents could be at the hospital.”

She recalled one week when she climbed Gibbs Hill Lighthouse twice to entertain families of patients.

“I did it for the first time with this couple,” she said. “I vowed that would be the last time.

“Then, within a couple of days, I was looking after these children whose mother had been involved in a terrible cycle accident. I asked them what they wanted to do and they said ‘the lighthouse'.”

That was back in her younger days, in her 80s.

She still gets Christmas cards from people she has helped.

These days, she mans the information desk in the old wing, at least twice a week.

“I live nearby so they often call me when they are short a volunteer,” she said.

“It is very rewarding to think you did something for someone in their hour of need,” she said.

Mrs Tatem grew up on Serpentine Road in Pembroke near what is now the Royal Palms Hotel. Her parents, Mildred and Sidney Floyd, were very strict.

“My father would wait for me on the corner. If I wasn't home by curfew, boy was I in trouble,” said Mrs Tatem. “It was a good life, if you paid attention.”

Mrs Tatem started working at 14, at Smith's perfume counter, and married her first husband, Sandy Powell, at 18. He was stationed in Bermuda with the British Admiralty. When war broke out, she went to England with Mr Powell and their young daughter, Sandra Butterfield.

“We went on a troopship,” Mrs Tatem said. “That was a harrowing experience. We were dodging torpedoes the whole way.”

Not long after they settled in Walthamstow, outside London, Mr Powell was redeployed to Hong Kong. Mrs Tatem had to remain in England.

“We lived in an apartment next to my in-laws,” she said. “We had many near misses with the bombing. Our ceiling came in at one point, but we never had a direct hit.”

Her second daughter, Patsy Cook, was born in England.

At the end of the war, the family returned home on a banana boat bound for Jamaica. The Powells had five more children including John and Frankie Powell, Janie Smith, Judy Benevides and Deborah Ferguson.

Unfortunately, Mr Powell died tragically from an asthma attack at a young age.

“We went to the hospital with him, but they were dealing with a stabbing,” Mrs Tatem said. “By the time they dealt with him it was too late.”

She married Albert Tatem later in life and he passed away a few years ago.

Today, she still drives and does her own shopping.

She has “around” 20 grandchildren, 20 great grands and several great great grandchildren. Her offspring call her “GG”, short for great granny. “When we all get together it is a houseful,” she said.

“Other than the accident, I have had a good life. I don't feel like I have been cheated in life in any way.”

She is very concerned about young people today.

“They have lot more freedom than my children ever did,” she said. “You see them out on the roads at all hours of the night. There's a lot more out there today to corrupt young people. My advice to them would be: ‘Don't be rowdy and pay attention more'.”

•Lifestyle is profiling an outstanding senior citizen every Tuesday. If you would like to suggest someone please call Jessie Moniz Hardy at 278-0150 or e-mail jmhardy@royalgazette.com.

In the pink: Marion Tatem, 92, answers the phone at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. Mrs Tatem works for the charity Hospitals Auxiliary of Bermuda

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Published August 25, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 25, 2015 at 2:41 am)

Near-tragedy made me more compassionate

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