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Leon embraces passion for photography

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Some people wonder how they will fill their days once they have retired. Not Leon Simmons. The former accountant has always loved photography.

“It's not unusual for me to pull the car over suddenly because I saw something interesting to photograph,” the 73-year-old said. “That happened to me just recently. I was driving and saw this palm tree with a dying leaf on it. The leaf was very orange. I love abstract shots or pictures of reflections.”

He bought his first camera in 1970, a Leica M4. He wanted it because it was what the professionals used.

“I saved for two years for it and it cost me £800 ($1,170),” he said. “I bought it at the Camera Store in Hamilton.”

Mr Simmons now has a state-of-the-art Nikon P900, known as “the beast” for its enormous fixed lens.

“I got my Nikon as a Christmas present for myself last December,” he said.

He christened it with a photo essay on churches.

“I thought taking pictures of churches would be a good blessing for the camera,” he said. “If you look at Bermuda's small size, it's amazing how many churches there are.”

In the end he shot 111, including several that were abandoned. He is now focused on the America's Cup event village in Dockyard.

“When it started I went there and took pictures of the site before they started to move the gravel around,” he said. “Now each month I go and update the pictures to show the progress.”

He posts his work on Facebook.

Photography has its challenges for him. One of the most difficult shots was of a clown in a London parade. He said: “I was trying to take a double exposure portrait. But the clown kept moving. I just had to set my camera and wait for the clown to stop moving. I did get the photo in the end.”

He was once taking photographs of birds in Pembroke Marsh when he slipped and fell into a muddy pond; he took it in stride. Mr Simmons grew up on Dundonald Street with four brothers and one sister.

His father, Canterbury Simmons, was the head postman at Hamilton Post Office, and his mother, Lucille, looked after the family.

“When I was growing up, [Dundonald Street] wasn't paved,” he said. “I can remember riding on it on my father's post office bike.

“We lived there until I was about 15. That was the time of the riots. Court Street is just off from Dundonald Street and all of the teargas was floating our way. I was 14 at that time.

“People would be running through our yard while the teargas was flowing. It was quite an ordeal for the families in that area. My parents moved us to Warwick a year later.”

His parents were deeply involved in the community and believed strongly in education.

“I went to Howard Academy and my mother was very involved,” he said.

“It was a struggling school and moved around. She was involved in keeping it alive.”

All of his siblings went to college.

“I always wanted to [be an accountant] from young,” he said. “My mother used to do some bookkeeping at a doctor's office when I was little.”

He got his start at Morris & Kempe, which later became Ernst & Young, and then joined the Civil Service.

“I was supplies and accounts manager for government schools for 28 years before taking early retirement in 1998,” he said.

Three weeks later he was hired to work for Butterfield Bank on a temporary basis.

“It was only supposed to be for six weeks,” he said. “Instead I stayed for ten years. I worked with the Reconciliations Department as an accounts administrator.”

He is most proud of the fact that he was an honorary treasurer for the Bermuda Public Services Association, now the Bermuda Public Services Union, for 24 consecutive years.

“I feel that was an accomplishment,” he said. “That gave me the opportunity to travel with union officials, but it also gave me some insight into the labour movement in Bermuda.”

He also sang in an a cappella group, the Muen Chorale.

“I was a baritone and we started with 16 members,” he said. “Now, there are only about five of us left. Even when I was in school away I sang in operatics.”

In addition to photography, he enjoys travelling and has been to Cuba, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia, among others.

He and his wife Dawn, a retired teacher, have been married for 48 years. They met at a friend's birthday party. Mr Simmons said: “Understanding each other is the secret to a long and happy marriage. It's good to do things together that you both enjoy. Of course, being in love is important.”

He and his wife have two sons, Keno and Kai, and three grandchildren.

• Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com. Have the senior's full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them.

Life through a lens: former accountant Leon Simmons, 73, has indulged his passion for photography since retiring (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Local landmark: the photographer's shot of the historic Unfinished Church in St George's (Photograph by Leon Simmons)
Recording progress: the photographer is capturing work on the America's Cup site in Dockyard (Photograph by Leon Simmons)
Natural beauty: a palm leaf (Photograph by Leon Simmons)
Changing landscape: the America's Cup site in Dockyard (Photograph by Leon Simmons)
Picture perfect: a colourful shot of pretty water lilies (Photograph by Leon Simmons)
Every picture tells a story: for Leon Simmons (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 31, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated May 31, 2016 at 8:26 am)

Leon embraces passion for photography

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