Last call for ‘Bermuda Bev’
Regulars on Delta Air Lines nicknamed the smiling attendant that welcomed them “Bermuda Bev”.
For 41 years the three-hour flight between the island and Atlanta was the only one Bev Oakes would do.
John Gullon and Keith Adams were among the ground crew who became her friends as did the frequent flyers whose names she reels off without pause: the late David Saul, Kyjuan Brown, John Swift, Martha and Rod Ferguson; Gary Shuman, Mimi Belboda, Wendy Tucker, Grady Carmichael, Blake Marshall, Gigi and Joe Johnson, Sharon and Larry Jacobs, Edward Harris, Geoff Gardener, Ewart Brown, Barrie DeCouto “and, of course, the famous Lopes brothers, Gilbert and Manny”.
“I could go on and on,” said the 72-year-old, who retired in March, worried by Covid-19 and a shoulder injury that constantly flared. “I just love the Bermudians. I truly do.
“When Covid-19 happened I took time off, being at high risk, and when Delta offered the retirement package I thought, OK this is my sign.
“I truly loved my job and the great company I was a part of. It was a very, very difficult decision for me to leave. But, just like the way I was hired, I truly believe it is part of God's plan for me.”
Mrs Oakes fell in love with the island long before her first trip. In 1954, she received a sketch by Alfred Birdsey that she still has today, from her sister and brother-in-law following their honeymoon here.
“I was still in high school and it just interested me what they had told me about Bermuda. From then I was interested.”
As a child she became fascinated with planes through her father's frequent business trips from their home in Ohio to his company's headquarters in California. At 12, when she flew for the first time, she was thrilled when the “stewardess” let her serve peanuts.
“That was it,” she said of her dream of joining the industry. “That cinched it right then.
“My brother and sister both went through four years of college and are very successful in their careers — that wasn't me.
“I was homecoming queen in my high school and I was queen in my junior high. I'm more of a people person than interested in school or being a student. So when I had to go to college, I told my parents I didn't want to go. I wanted to be a stewardess. They said: ‘Well go for two years and then we'll talk about it.'”
Two years later she started sending job applications to airlines. The first seven turned her down. By the time Delta Air Lines expressed interest she thought: “Why bother?”
Her father convinced her that she should give it a try. Her interview was on a Thursday; that Saturday she was in class learning the job.
“I started flying with Delta in 1968, but I wasn't anywhere I could fly to Bermuda at that time until I transferred to the Atlanta base in 1979,” Mrs Oakes said.
She initially flew here on L-1011s serviced by a team of four mechanics which included two people who have become “close friends” — Mr Gullon and Mr Adams.
The pair would come every day looking for the plane's newspapers, which were then “very expensive” to buy. Mrs Oakes started saving them and received a Diet Pepsi for the trouble.
“Delta is Coke country because the board of directors for Coke is on the board of directors for Delta so you never see Pepsi products on Delta and I'm a Diet Pepsi fanatic,” she said.
Both men flew to the US for Mrs Oakes's wedding to her late husband, Tom Collins. It was her first marriage, at age 40.
“John and Keith came over for the wedding. They didn't even invite their wives,” she laughed.
“The next morning we left and we honeymooned there for a week at the Hamilton Princess.
“Tom and John bonded, almost like two brothers. So after that John insisted we spend a week at his house and John is probably the best tour guide Bermuda could ever have.
“He knows the history of everything. He took us to every nook and cranny and told us every bit of history about everything there and the best restaurants that the locals went to.
“We got hooked on the Paraquet and Tom Moore's Tavern and places like that. We went to Waterlot Inn one night and Four Ways, and after that I just continually started flying in there on a regular basis and got to know so many of the locals and became friends with them.”
Her husband fought the colon cancer he developed for three years before he died. Because he “loved Bermuda so much”, Mrs Oakes and his three children scattered his ashes here.
“It never stopped him coming to Bermuda,” she said of the illness. “He was even hospitalised there; [the late] Dr [Beresford] Swan and specialist Dr [Wilbert] Warner were wonderful.”
It was Mr Collins who decided her current husband, Ray Oakes, would be a good match for her.
“He told his son, Tom, before he died, to make sure Ray and I got together; that he would be the perfect man to take care of me. He knew me so well. I never would have chosen Ray, but he was right. I am blessed to have had two wonderful men in my life.”
Over five decades, she has received 600 letters from passengers appreciative of her service.
“I just try and treat folks the way I'd like to be treated,” Mrs Oakes said.
“The airplane was my home and I welcomed them into it and wanted them to relax. For some Bermudians it was one flight a year and I wanted it to be a pleasant and memorable experience.”
Mr Swift, the founder of Pembroke Paint Ltd, was so impressed that he wrote to the Department of Tourism 11 years ago.
“It was such a glowing letter about me and how I promoted Bermuda so much,” Mrs Oakes said.
“I would go around and tell people what restaurants to go to and what to sightsee and this and that.”
The Department of Tourism arranged for her to be interviewed by media here and flew her husband, Ray Oakes, in to join her.
“The very next week when I was standing at the front door of the plane boarding, this woman was walking up the steps and she said: ‘Oh my gosh, it's Bermuda Bev!'
“And all these businessmen in first-class started laughing and said: ‘That's right she's Bermuda Bev.' And so I got that nickname from that.”
Although she had the opportunity, she was “too emotional” to do “a last flight”.
“I did send over 100 people a poem I wrote,” she said.
“I cannot tell you how many people have sent me gifts and retirement cards.”
As for the future, she plans to spend more time in Georgia where she and her husband live on seven acres of land.
“When we got married 21 years ago, my husband wanted acreage and I always wanted a swimming pool and we got that here,” Mrs Oakes said.
“We're very fortunate. We can be around each other 24/7 whereas I know a lot of people can't do that. We don't want to be apart from one another. We just enjoy life together. We're both very happy and content.
“We have enough here to keep us busy. I have several flower gardens and I keep the weeds out of them and I go swimming two or three times a day at this time of year. In the winter time, I just take walks instead. Right now I seem to stay so busy I don't know how I had time to work.”
A Bermuda Tribute
For more than 40 years flight attendant Bev Oakes flew the Bermuda-Atlanta route with Delta Air Lines. She wrote the following tribute to the many friends she made on the way:
My 52 years with Delta has come to an end
Through it all I have made true friends
You helped me learn over all the miles
Your kindness, the good times, they made me smile
My Bermuda run will now be over and done
But the beauty of this country remains number one
Friendship is a gift, it can't be bought or sold
It comes from the heart, it is greater than gold
And now it is time for me to depart
Best wishes, from the bottom of my heart
• Friends wanting to contact “Bermuda Bev” should send letters to 725 Manley Road, Griffin, Georgia 30223, USA