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Former Hamilton mayor Gibbons dies

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E. Graham Gibbons II, a longstanding former Mayor of Hamilton, where he also presided over one of Bermuda's iconic businesses, has died at the age of 96.

Born in 1920, Mr Gibbons, who played prominent roles in business and the public service, is survived by his daughter Tracy and son Grant Gibbons, the Minister of Economic Development.

A lifelong Hamilton merchant, Mr Gibbons joined Gibbons company in 1946, and stepped down as president of Edmund Gibbons Ltd, the controlling company of the Gibbons group of companies, more than four decades later.

Known to staff as “Mr Graham” and unfailingly dressed in a suit, Mr Gibbons was known for his staunch work ethic, treating staff with unassuming respect.

He ran the companies alongside his brother, Sir David Gibbons, who served as Premier from 1977 to 1982

Before joining the business that his father Edmund Gibbons had cofounded, Mr Gibbons served for nearly a year in the Royal Navy's cipher office, based in Admiralty House, which was devoted to the cracking of German codes during the Second World War.

His daughter said he never discussed his service, “knowing that he was one of the lucky ones to spend three years in the Royal Navy during the war in quiet areas like Jamaica for training and the UK in transit to Ceylon — and then making it home in one piece”.

Becoming Mayor of Hamilton in 1972, Mr Gibbons held office until 1988 — a notably long term. He also presided over the Chamber of Commerce between 1950 and 1951, along with serving on several Government boards.

His public service was such that in 1985 Mr Gibbons was awarded Commander of the British Empire in 1985.

In 1949 he married Ida Gibbons, a skilled painter known for her watercolours, and the couple remained together until her death from cancer in 1988.

Mr Gibbons handled the retail divisions of the family businesses, while his brother dealt with companies such as Colonial Insurance and Bermuda Motors.

David Saul, former premier, said that it would be “fair to say that it would be impossible to find anyone in Bermuda who ever said a bad word about Graham Gibbons”. “He was, without doubt, one of the finest Bermudians you could find. He had a kind word for everyone.”

Dr Saul added: “His passing will not only mark the end of an era of Bermuda's founding businessmen, but I feel it will be some time before Bermuda again produces a man of such high integrity. Graham Gibbons was a model for us all: businessmen and women, and today's politicians would do well to try to follow in his footsteps. Bermuda would be a better place if we could produce more people like him.”

The Bermuda National Trust was among the recipients of the Gibbons family's largesse, and it was Mr Gibbons who quietly steered one of its prize acquisitions: the sprawling Devonshire property, Locust Hall, with its many acres of woodland and fields. His sister, Patsy Phillips, worked for the Trust.

Mr Gibbons had inherited 19 acres at Locust Hall, while his sister held six acres. Michael Darling, who was president of the Trust at the time, recalled the surprise gift and suspected that Mr Gibbons had simply wanted the property to remain intact as traditional farmland.

“Graham is really one of the nicest people, and always was,” Mr Darling said. “Interestingly, during the time he was a young naval officer at Admiralty House, my mother was among the many Bermudian ladies working as a cipher clerk decoding messages. She always loved Graham Gibbons; she said he was the nicest of all the officers to the ladies working there, who were really stretched doing their jobs.

“He was very generous behind the scenes to a lot of people, never extravagant or flamboyant — just a decent, Christian man.”

Edward (Teddy) Chapman worked with Mr Gibbons at the family company from 1950 until 1994, describing him as “a great people person” much admired by staff, and who never failed to inquire after an employee who had fallen ill, also taking a genuine interest in their families.

A keen sportsman, he enjoyed golfing in his later years with a wide circle of friends.

Mr Gibbons passed away on Saturday morning, his daughter said, and a funeral service is planned for this Saturday at the Anglican Cathedral.

Ms Gibbons added: “Dad liked to say that someone ‘had a good innings' when they passed on — so I think that would be appropriate for him.”

E. Graham Gibbons at his latest birthday celebration (Photograph supplied)
E. Graham Gibbons (Photograph by Charles Anderson)
E. Graham Gibbons in 1931 (Photograph supplied)
E. Graham Gibbons as Mayor of Hamilton (Photograph supplied)

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Published June 22, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 22, 2016 at 9:26 am)

Former Hamilton mayor Gibbons dies

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