Viola ‘Pinky’ Rogers (1924-2022): Hotel chef and labour movement activist
A longstanding hospitality worker who became a hotel chef at a time when few women could be found in the trade was also a union and Progressive Labour Party stalwart.
A proud lifelong Somerset resident, Viola “Pinky” Rogers embarked on hotel work in her 20s at The Reefs in Southampton, after early jobs including a stint at Simmons Ice Cream Factory.
At The Reefs, she switched from housekeeping to train as the hotel’s only female short-order cook in her class.
In 1972 the hotel’s chef, Rainer Maier, left to join the freshly opened Fairmont Southampton Hotel, and encouraged Ms Rogers to follow.
One of her first jobs there was to bake cassava pie for 200 staff in the hotel’s giant new ovens.
Along with finding work at the resort for family and friends, she became a shop steward at the hotel for the Bermuda Industrial Union, and at one point held responsibility for roughly 1,000 employees.
She had already become active with the PLP when the island’s first political party formed in 1963, and campaigned for the party’s parliamentary candidates at the West End.
Mr Rogers married Calypso singer George Rogers in 1945, and the couple had four children: the late Anthea Rogers Earles, Georgia Rogers Symonds, Johnathan Rogers and Mikail Abdur-Rashid.
Ms Symonds said her mother was the only Black Bermudian chef at the Southampton Princess, as it was then known, where she worked with guest workers from “diverse backgrounds and countries”.
“She was known for her compassion, her ability to listen and give sound advice, her patience, attention to detail and caring manner which served her well in her job as mentor and trainer.
“I believe it was these skills and her empathetic concern for justice and fairness, gleaned from her earlier political experience, that earned her the position of shop steward, a title she kept until the end of her tenure.”
Ms Rogers retired from the hotel in 1987.
Ms Symonds said her mother was among many women who joined the PLP to “fight for the rights of Black people to stand up against injustices and prejudices”.
“These women did the groundwork for the early politicians by sponsoring and canvassing with them in their constituencies where they experienced first-hand what prejudice looked like.
“Yet they were steadfast and proud to work alongside their politicians such as Eugene Cox, Walter Roberts, Walter Lister and later Dennis Lister.
“In those early days, the politicians in Sandys operated as one unit.
“Whether you represented Sandys South or Sandys North, they all worked together as a team.”
Her half-century of service to the PLP was recognised with a gold pin and certificate in 2013, when Ms Rogers was among 50 grass roots members honoured at a celebration of the party’s 50th anniversary.
One of Ms Rogers’ proudest accomplishments was completing a Bermuda College psychology course in later life.
She also took a computer course, followed by classes in sign language.
In 1990 she signed up as a hotline volunteer at the Rape Crisis Centre, now the Women’s Resource Centre.
After passing a counselling course at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute, Ms Rogers took calls from women in crisis patched through to her home telephone by police.
Mr and Mrs Rogers were deeply committed to the church and attended the First Church of God on Sound View Road in Somerset, where Ms Rogers served as an usher, deacon and sang in the choice, as well as joining the “glam divas” dance group.
Mr Rogers died in 2013.
Ms Rogers was also a founding member and regular in the St James Stage Group, which put on annual fundraiser shows out of the church hall in Somerset.
Shortly before Ms Rogers’ death, she was able to meet her brother Charles Goins, who had left the island as a young child to live in the US.
The two got in touch through social media, a genealogy website and the efforts of their family.
After a lifetime apart, the two were able to talk to one another remotely several times and reconnect.
A celebration of Ms Rogers’ life was held on May 17 at the First Church of God in Somerset.
Ms Symonds said: “The service was joyous and spiritually uplifting – and so reflective of the godly life she lived.”
· Viola Gwendolyn Elizabeth Rogers, a hotel worker, union shop steward and Progressive Labour Party stalwart, was born in February 15, 1924. She died on May 7, 2022, aged 98.