Blackman sustained by spirit of independence
Norma Blackman was always strongly independent. She credits her parents, Constance and Gilbert Cox.
“They taught me not to bring my problems home, to sort them out myself,” the 84-year-old said. “I didn't find that harsh. I found that strengthening.
“It meant they believed in me.”
She grew up on Ewing Street in Hamilton, with two younger sisters. Her mother was a teacher before marriage, and her father a hotel chef.
Lady Blackman remembers being put on a train by herself at the tender age of 5, to visit her great-grandparents in Sandys.
When she disembarked she was horrified to see her great-grandfather standing there with a wheelbarrow.
“I was a city slicker,” she said. “I didn't do wheelbarrows. He brought it because he thought I might be too tired to walk.”
On the next visit, she outwitted her grandfather by hopping off the train one stop early and taking another route to their home.
As a teen she dreamt of becoming a doctor, but lacked funds for medical school. Instead, she chose teaching because the Government offered a scholarship.
“We had to do a one-year trial period in teaching before going off to college,” she said. “I found I loved teaching.”
In 1951 she went off to teachers' training college in Hamilton, Ontario. She was fascinated by psychology and vowed to get her doctorate but put that plan on hold in 1955 so she could marry Leonard Astwood.
“His family and my mother's family were friends,” she said. “Our first date was to the movies, I think. It was a very happy and successful marriage.”
When their three children were little, the Astwoods went to the United States so she could finally get her doctorate.
“When I was teaching I could see areas where I would be more helpful, particularly to children who had learning problems, or behaviour problems,” she said.
Lady Blackman returned to the island in 1974, becoming the first Bermudian clinical psychologist with a PhD.
She got a job in government as the schools psychologist. Most of the children she saw had reading issues, mostly dyslexia.
“During my training I was taught that dyslexia was very, very rare,” she said. “We now know that isn't the case. I was kept very busy. I was the only one doing this kind of work. I saw hundreds of children, and worked long hours.”
In 1981 tragedy struck. Her husband had a stroke while they were visiting Israel.
“We were packing to leave to go home to Bermuda,” she said. “Leonard spent several weeks in recovery in a hospital in Israel, and then they declared him well enough to come home to Bermuda.
“He died when we reached the airport here. He had a heart attack. We were married 26 years.”
She was 55 and he was 57.
Her independent streak helped her through the difficult time.
“It was a very hard time, but we managed and we got through,” she said. “I had three teenagers to put through university. Remarrying was the last thing on my mind.”
Her career kept her busy. In 1983 she became Director of Social Services; in 1987 she was appointed an independent senator.
“The governor called and asked one day,” she said. “I was so shocked by the whole idea. I said I'd have to give it some thought.
“It took me a good six weeks before I gave my answer.”
The answer was yes.
“It was a continuation of service to country,” she said. “I have always wanted to be able to serve and to do what I could for the community.”
It was as a senator that she met her second husband, Barbadian Frank Blackman. As Secretary to the Cabinet, he visited Bermuda with Barbados Prime Minister Tom Adams.
Lady Blackman wrote a paper ahead of the visit, and attended a dinner party hosting the dignitaries.
“I was gracious,” she said. “I wasn't looking for a mate when I met him, not by any thread of the imagination. It was a matter of being polite and gracious and that was it. I had no plans to remarry.”
And Sir Frank was married.
Lady Blackman met him, briefly, a few more times when he worked in Bermuda on the Boundaries Commission, and then met his wife while at a conference in Barbados.
“She'd never been to Bermuda, so I invited her,” Lady Blackman said. “She was supposed to come, but then she became ill. She wrote me a letter to say she'd be unable to make it. She died not long afterward.”
She sent Sir Frank a note of sympathy and a correspondence started up. In 1995, she invited him to spend Christmas with her family in Bermuda.
“We had a tradition of having strangers stay with us over the Christmas period.
“We often had people with us who worked on the base lands and didn't have families to celebrate with. But I think he might have had an ulterior motive.”
He proposed before the end of the ten-day visit.
“I didn't accept right away,” she said. “Answering required considerable thought. It meant living in two places.”
But after several months she said yes. She retired from the Senate, where she'd been vice-president.
“I could have stayed with the Senate, but I preferred to be there every week,” she said.
They celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary in August.
She was presented with an Order of the British Empire in 1996 and honoured as a community hero in Bermuda last year.
In Barbados, Lady Blackman volunteered with the Dyslexia Centre, but is now retired from that.
“What I do now is behind the scenes,” she said. “I keep a low profile when I am in Bermuda.
“I come to see my children and granddaughter. I am learning to crochet right now. I made my first baby blanket this summer.”
Lady Blackman has one granddaughter, Madison, and one grandson, Simon, through her stepson Peter Blackman.
Norma Blackman always aimed high.
One of her proudest moments was scoring a goal for the basketball team at her school in Canada.
In Bermuda she’d been too small to play netball, but her teachers’ training college required her to play.
“I threw the ball and then people started cheering,” she said.
“At first, I thought maybe I’d done something wrong.”
After college, she taught in Bermuda for 20 years — and kept on learning herself.
She got her bachelor’s from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario and a diploma in the psychology of childhood at Birmingham University in England. She then earned her doctorate from Adelphi University in New York.
She completed her internship as a clinical fellow in psychology at Harvard University Medical School from 1973 to 1974.