Elizabeth Kawaley (1922-2022): veteran educator who was ‘always so calm and so gentle’
Elizabeth “Betty” Kawaley, was a veteran educator, author and a former president of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, described by family as patient but principled
Mrs Kawaley served as BUT president between 1948 and 1949, making her just the second woman to hold the post.
Kathy Lathan, her daughter, said: “All of the stories her students would tell us was that she was always so calm and so gentle. That is how she always was with us too.
“She was easily tempered, but she was not a pushover and stood up for what she believed in. She just didn’t believe it was necessary to raise your voice or get angry to make your point.”
Ms Lathan said that while she had the appearance of being mild-mannered, her mother was steadfast in her belief in social justice.
“She was a pacifist – she believed there was power in numbers and you could make a change and make a difference in a country if people could work together,” she said.
“After she spent time in Canada and Paris, she saw that those parts of the world were ahead of Bermuda when it came to segregation.
“She had seen not only how it should be, but how it could be, and that made her even more determined.”
Mrs Kawaley was also described as a woman who was dedicated to her family and had a deep love of corny jokes and tea time.
“Tea time was always a special time,” Ms Lathan added. “There would be tea and cake and cookies.”
Mrs Kawaley was born on Long Bird Island in St David's, the second of seven children, but when she was a child the family moved to Angle Street in Hamilton.
At 17, she won the first Bermuda Scholarship for Girls, a groundbreaking scholarship open to the girl with the highest exam score, regardless of race.
She then went on to study at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, travelling to Canada by ship in 1939 shortly after the Second World War had been declared.
“Some people in Kingston were appalled to see me,” Mrs Kawaley said in 2018.
“They'd never seen a black person before. But my roommates, or sisters as I think of them, would link arms with me and say, come along.”
After university, she spent a year studying French in Paris, before she returned to the island to teach at the Berkeley Institute, Sandys Secondary School and Warwick Secondary School.
She met her husband Solomon Kawaley, a science teacher originally from Sierra Leone, when she was working at Berkeley and the couple had three children before he died in 2013, just days before the couple’s 61st anniversary.
Mrs Kawaley was described as a fearless supporter of the Theatre Boycott, writing a Letter to the Editor that offered unreserved support for the action.
She also unknowingly bolstered the boycott when her college roommates came to the island to visit.
Mrs Kawaley had the three stay with her neighbours, Gerald and Izola Harvey, who were planning the boycott and convinced the visitors to help them purchase a copy machine for making posters.
While she retired from teaching on May 4, 1981, she joined with her former colleagues the following day as teachers staged a one-day strike in solidarity with Bermuda Industrial Union members who had been involved in a protracted strike at the time.
Glenn Fubler wrote in a Letter to the Editor to celebrate Mrs Kawaley’s 100th birthday earlier this year: “Those of us in the ‘trenches’ sought to ensure sustaining a non-violent campaign to effect a peaceful resolution.
“This required a reasonable showing of BUT members marching to Union Square and this was brought about when a number of the union’s elders, with Betty Kawaley, front and centre, made their appearance – walking their talk of quiet courage.
“The iconic episode indicated a seismic shift in the social fabric of the island.”