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91 – and determined to remain active

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Senior Nea Willits outside her home in Paget.

Nea Willits was 86 when she decided she needed a personal trainer.

She was struggling to carry her laundry and wanted to build up her strength.

“I started out at the Olympic Club about five years ago,” said Mrs Willits.

“Now I take a personal trainer, Melissa Smith, to Coral Beach Club. She is wonderful. Of the three trainers I’ve had, I think I was the oldest client for all of them.”

Now 91, she does some weightlifting as part of her twice-weekly regime. Her trainer also has her work on her joints and balance. She admitted it hasn’t been a magic cure.

She has arthritic knees which make it difficult to stand for long periods of time.

“I think I am stronger now,” she said, “but at this point in my life it’s just about maintenance — otherwise you get weaker and weaker.”

She played golf up until she was 89, but gave it up because she wasn’t hitting the ball as far as she once did. Now she contents herself with bridge at the Bermuda Bridge Club.

“I am competitive,” she said. “But I’m not nasty about it. When I play something I want to win, but I’m not distraught if I don’t.”

She grew up at Bloomfield in Paget. Her father, Edmund C Gosling worked for the family business, Goslings; her mother, Ethel Jones, was a housewife. She had three older brothers, Edmund “Teddy”, Francis “Goose” and Malcolm.

“Malcolm was two years older than me, but I didn’t know the other two that well when I was a child,” she said. “They were much older and away at boarding school. Every summer we would either go to England to see them or they would come home.

“When we went out there I would inevitably be left with someone while my mother went off with the older boys, because I was so little.

“As an adult, I became very close to Goose. He became a dear friend.”

Her parents separated when she was ten and eventually divorced. During the Second World War, her mother rented out Bloomfield rooms to senior naval officers to bring in extra money.

“My mother played poker with Admiral Jules James [who commanded US forces in Bermuda],” said Mrs Willits. “He said he would find officers to fill our empty rooms. My mother said, ‘But I have a 17-year-old daughter in the house’.

“But he said don’t worry, I’ll select the officers myself. He did a good job because the four we had were lovely. They treated me like a little sister.”

At that time she worked as an office girl at the Naval Operating Base.

“I had to catch the ferry every morning to Darrell’s Island,” she said.

“That was terrible because I didn’t like early mornings very much. I did filing and delivered mail. The thing about it was, they had some great dances.”

It was through one of these dances that she met her future husband, American naval officer Lyle Willits.

She didn’t like him on their first meeting.

“He was very persistent and he kept calling,” she said. “Then he called and said we could have dinner with a chaplain along. So I agreed. I liked him a lot more when I met him the second time. We were married a few months later.”

Her husband had just started medical school in Kansas City when war broke out.

“He’d signed up for the Navy Reserves,” said Mrs Willits. “Of course, when war loomed they called up the reserves. He was on a ship to Bermuda when war was declared. He trained as a communications officer.”

When her husband was called back to the United States, she followed.

“When the war ended I still had to wait several months before he came home,” she said. “Someone had to close up shop as everyone went home, and it turned out to be the communications officer.”

Her husband went back to school and eventually became a pharmacology professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

The couple lived in Kansas City for many years. Mrs Willits found a job as a school administrator.

“I was ordering text books and that sort of thing,” she said.

When she left that job, she became a volunteer docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

“The docent training was fairly intense,” she said. “When I gave my first real tour I had my husband come along for moral support. Afterward I asked him how it went. I was nervous because no one asked any questions. He said, ‘Nea, you talked so much they couldn’t get a word in edgewise’.”

They returned to Bermuda to live in 1976, after her husband retired.

“He always loved Bermuda,” she said.

She volunteered with Meals on Wheels in Bermuda for 18 years and was later a volunteer docent with the fledgling Bermuda National Gallery.

“When it first opened I was the only trained docent on the Island,” she said. “I always loved art.

“I have a little collection now. My favourite piece is one by Sheilagh Head I bought from Jay Bluck’s store on Front Street.

“Back then, her prices were nothing like they are now. Still, it was a lot of money for me and I paid in three instalments. I have always loved her work.”

Mrs Willits also has a passion for writing and has taken part in several writers’ groups and workshops on the Island including one at the Seniors Learning Centre that produced a book of memories called Legacies.

For years, she has also been a member of The 19th Century Club.

The group has about 20 members. They spend several months researching and writing and then come together to share their work. Over the years, Mrs Willits has researched everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Orinoco River to oriental art.

“This year’s theme is inventions,” she said. “I’m writing about railways. It’s very interesting. Some trains can get up to 200mph now.”

She and her husband never had any children.

She is a dog lover and has a beloved SPCA special, Fred, who won the Best Heinz 57 award at the charity’s fair a few years ago.

“Fred and I were very pleased,” she said.

Senior Nea Willits outside her home in Paget with her dog Fred.