Raise a glass to Robert Sheen – retiring at 90
Robert Sheen retires today, aged 90.
His colleagues at Island Glass will wish him farewell at a staff luncheon, and send him on his way.
Mr Sheen says he will spend the time caring for Merle, his wife of more than 45 years, tending their garden, doing chores around the house and tinkering in his workshop.
“I’ll be busy,” he said. “I’ve always been active. I’m always doing something.”
He celebrated his birthday on January 19 with a visit to the Police Club in Prospect, where he received the Covid-19 vaccine.
“My daughter and granddaughters had a surprise party for me on [January 16] – and it was a surprise. And then they had a surprise party here on the Wednesday after my birthday because I only work Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.”
From an early age Mr Sheen enjoyed working with his hands, helping out on the family farm before he gave that up to assist his father with mechanical work.
“We used to have cows, pigs and chickens. My great uncle used to have a farm at Daniel’s Head where 9 Beaches [once was]. We’d grow corn and then bring it in to feed the animals with and put it through what they call a silo, which would grind it, and it would go up into a chute and storage.”
It was not a common practice among farms in Bermuda. Mr Sheen believes a cousin of his brought the idea back from Canada, having learnt about it in his agricultural studies there.
“When he came back he told his father about the silos and things and that’s what we used to do. We’d have fresh milk without the pasteurisation; fresh beef, pork, chicken on the farm.”
With no interest in farming as a career he began helping his father repair old motorbikes such as Mobylettes and the New Hudson, Francis Barnett, Excelsior and Rudge models made by Villiers Engineering.
“They closed down the old trades school. There were a lot of young people going and learning a bit of carpentry, engineering, motor mechanics and things like that. It’s unfortunate that there’s nothing like that being taught today. I started when I was in school, doing woodwork and metal work.”
Sometime around age 14, he left school and joined The Royal Gazette Ltd. Mr Sheen spent nearly 12 years with the company and was ultimately given responsibility for repairing the lead casting machines.
“I started off as an operator on the Linotypes – which was setting all the newsprint for the paper – and then gradually went to school in London. I took a course in mechanics – how to repair the machine and what have you – and then came back and took over the repair of all the machines. I used to get them ready for when the operators came in to start work.”
He was hired by Island Glass in 1986, a few years after it opened on Addendum Lane in Pembroke.
“At that time I was in sales. Customers coming in wanted quotes for windows and what have you and I was cutting glass, repairing things, giving estimates basically. Then I went out to construction sites – installing windows, installing doors.”
The glazier moved to its Serpentine Road location in the early 90s. At 65 Mr Sheen decided he was not ready to give up his job, mainly because the company needed him and he liked “to help people out”. Plus, he would have missed the customers.
“I’ve done charity work I would say, probably from the age of 15. I’ve been a member of the Lion’s Club for maybe 61 years now.
“I’ve always been active. Even at home I don’t sit and read books or anything like that. I’m either in the garden or in my workshop doing cedar craftwork, making souvenirs and things.”
Mr Sheen’s mother lived for “99 years and three months”; a great grandfather was 102 before he died. That he has reached 90 has not come as a huge surprise but he is at times frustrated by the limitations of his age.
“I come from a long line of people that lived to an old age: the Darrells, the Leseurs, the Gibbons family,” he said.
“I can’t lift like I used to. It gets me a little frustrated when I’ve got to call somebody else to even lift a bunch of bananas off the tree. Other than that I feel great.”
After 35 years, Mr Sheen is still fascinated by the business and knows how to use “more or less” all the parts in its substantial stockroom.
“The stockroom has grown immensely in size from what it used to be. It’s probably got three quarters of a million [parts] – various hinges for doors, anything related to doors and windows; for repairs there are spare parts, door closures, things of that nature.
“With a mechanical background you learn to adapt yourself to whatever the situation is; whatever comes up. Just here this week I had a window come in. I’d never seen one like it before but I just attacked it, started off and worked right along with it. No problem.”
He stayed with the company because he “enjoyed working with the people”. Passing on his skills to colleagues was another privilege.
“I enjoy teaching. Some of the people, when I see them having difficulty with something I’ll go and check with them and if it’s something I can help them out with I’ll show them how to do it.”