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94-year-old dropped out of high school but never stopped learning

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Grace Aubrey is keeping close to home, right now (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Grace Aubrey in her 30s (Photograph supplied)
Grace Aubrey, right, and cousin Milton Trott headed for work at the army hospital set up at the Bermuda Biological Station at Ferry Reach in the 1940s (Photograph supplied)
Grace Aubrey at the army hospital set up at the Bermuda Biological Station at Ferry Reach in the early 1940s (Photograph supplied)

At the age of 14 Grace Aubrey had a monster of a job – making 1,000 doughnuts a day.

It was one of the first posts she held after her parents ran into financial difficulty and she was forced to leave school.

The teenager was fortunate to find work running errands for an office at Kindley Air Force Base, St David’s.

“I liked it,” the 94-year-old said. “I learnt a lot.”

Despite that she couldn’t say no when a woman she met on the train asked her to take her doughnut-making job over for a couple of weeks.

“She had to go away,” Ms Aubrey said. “I told her sure, I would like to. Her job was to make 1,000 doughnuts for the men on the base, every morning. And they were huge doughnuts.”

Although it sounded like a huge task it was actually easy, she insisted. All the ingredients came mixed together in a large bag. She just had to measure it out.

The big problem was getting up in time to get to St David’s from her home in Pembroke West, by 6am. It helped that the base sent a truck in the early hours of the morning and gathered staff along the way.

Ms Aubrey’s next job was in the kitchen of a hospital set up at Ferry Reach.

“It was for people on the base who were sick,” she said. “With the building of the base, a lot of people got injured.

“I remember there was this huge dumbwaiter. You had to put the food for the patients on that, then pull on these ropes to get it to go up to the next floor.”

She would then she would push a large trolley around the wards delivering the food.

She later ran restaurants at Coral Beach & Tennis Club and Marriott Castle Harbour Hotel.

“I liked that,” she said. “I liked cooking, but right now I am cooked out. I don’t do it any more if I can get away with it.

“I don’t eat a lot of meat. And I don’t eat a lot of sweets. My numbers are usually good. I have diabetes, but it is in control.”

Ms Aubrey grew up on My Lord’s Bay Road in Hamilton Parish, but also spent a lot of time with her aunt, Susan Symonds, in Pembroke West.

Her father, Derrick Johnston, was head plumber at Elbow Beach Hotel; her mother, Gladys, looked after their ten children.

Ms Aubrey remembers her childhood as being a happy one. The community bazaars organised by Flatts Cricket Club were a highlight; the then-popular coconut shy was a huge draw.

“They’d put a stick in the ground and then put half a coconut over it. There were these sticks you had to throw at the coconut to make it fall. You had to stand about six feet away from it and throw. The prize was a coconut.

“My mother always used to take part in it. We always knew we would get coconut cakes later on.”

Ms Aubrey attended Temperance Hall, a primary school near what is now the Shelly Bay MarketPlace. Two hundred students of varying ages were packed inside a single, large room.

“We were all crowded together there,” Ms Aubrey said. “Every class was one beside the other.”

She remembers being a good student. When she reached her teens she attended the private Excelsior Secondary School on the North Shore in Pembroke, near Government House until she was 14 and had to leave.

“I was supposed to go to the Berkeley Institute, but it didn’t happen,” she said.

She married John Aubrey, a taxi driver and horse enthusiast, on September 21, 1960. The pair remained together until his death in 2009.

“I’d known him all my life,” she said. “His father farmed on Aubrey Road, and drove a hearse. In those days farmers often drove hearses because they had teams of horses to pull them.”

Although she had to give up on high school Ms Aubrey never gave up on education, gaining secretarial and book keeping skills through the courses she took at night.

After 18 years in administration with the Department of Works & Engineering, she retired in 1991.

She then joined the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, working part-time in the gift shop for eight years.

“I really liked that job,” she said.

Today, she enjoys reading.

“I read The Royal Gazette every morning,” she said.

Faced with the threat of Covid-19, she does not go out much.

“More and more, I prefer to stay at home,” she said.

Ms Aubrey has five children: Shirley Tucker Sampson, Bev Morfitt, Michael, Daurene Aubrey and the late Duane Aubrey. She also has nine grandchildren and several great grandchildren.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published December 16, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated December 15, 2020 at 1:35 pm)

94-year-old dropped out of high school but never stopped learning

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