A tribute to my lighthouse and salt of the earth
If any Bermudian woman of my generation deserves the title of salt of the earth, it was Marilyn Alfreda Outerbridge (née Grant) — or simply “Merle”, as we all affectionately knew her.
Her passing evoked great sadness in her family as expected, but also to literally hundreds of Bermudians from one end of this island to the other. Of that I am certain.
Merle had the gift. That gift was one that enabled her to touch people by the force of her charisma, great charm and powerful conviction that always saw her seeking justice and fairness in her dealings with everyone.
She was always my lighthouse. As her Member of Parliament from 2012 to 2020, I could always depend on her careful reasoning and deliberation on the important issues of the day to get me to that safe port. I always would cherish my meetings and at times passionate lectures at her house that were designed to ground me in deeper truths.
Her love for her African-Bermudian community could never be denied; nor her determination to always do the right thing.
Merle was an African-Bermudian tied to many families here who were proud of their African roots. And these roots were grounded from here to the Caribbean and onward to the motherland of Africa herself.
Our families were never ashamed of those roots. In fact, we embraced and celebrated those roots.
Merle, guided by her great faith in God and deep spirituality, was also a pioneer. Led by her husband, Gladwyn Rupert Jack Outerbridge, who would later be known as “Father Raphael” — who predeceased her — and Albert Place, who would take on the name Qes Tewolde, she was determined to let their faith in Christianity be expressed in a way that bound them ever more tightly to their African roots.
Their conscious decision, supported then by only a handful of families, to embrace and seek to establish a more African-centred form of worship in Bermuda by establishing the Ethiopian Orthodox church was visionary and ground-breaking. Merle and her husband would later go on to establish the mother church to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, by establishing the Egyptian Coptic Church in Bermuda.
Both acts were historic and even courageous. The Bermudian doubting Thomases then would have bet against either church surviving here for more than a few months, even. And yet, decades later, both are still thriving and serving the faithful. The work of those founders, which included our sister Merle, should be acknowledged as a part of Bermuda’s rich cultural and religious history.
It should be noted that these ancient African-based denominations had a direct link to each other that has been maintained to the present day. In fact, for a number of centuries the bishops of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church were appointed by the patriarch or head of the Egyptian Coptic Church, who was viewed as the patriarch of all of Africa.
That aspect of that special relationship would exist for more than a millennium up until 1959. Both denominations also predate many Christian denominations by hundreds of years — and by more than a thousand years in the case of the Anglican and Protestant denominations that we are so familiar with here in Bermuda.
My wife and I both attended a Sunday service at the Coptic Church at the top of St Augustine’s Hill — or as we more commonly refer to it, Smith’s Hill — upon receiving a kind invitation from Merle. We still have the icon that the priest presented to us on that day which we will always cherish and which will now serve as a precious memory of her.
I will miss Merle. She was a fine mother, wife and dear friend, and a leader in her own right to so many of us here in Bermuda. Let not her legacy be forgotten.