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Nora Kast (1923-2024): ‘Grande Dame of Southampton Parish’

Irrepressible spirit: Frances Nora Kast (Photograph by Deeanda Bannister)

A tenacious senior and history enthusiast has been recalled as a model of self-reliance.

Nora Kast, a centenarian whose centuries-old Southampton home, Greenmount, dates back to Bermuda’s Georgian era, keenly shared her archives of documents and news clippings with the National Museum of Bermuda.

Mrs Kast kept publications from the early days of Bermuda tourism that informed heritage articles for The Royal Gazette by historian and former museum director Ed Harris.

Her son, Harry Kast, said she was born in the house and died there.

He added: “A lot of work has been done on it over the years, and now it’s going to the next generation — we’re going to keep it in the family for sure.”

Mrs Kast’s friend Lawson Mapp, who served as Mayor of Hamilton from 2000 to 2006, called her the “Grande Dame of Southampton Parish”.

Mr Mapp, a sign-maker, said their 40-year friendship began when he was commissioned to design a road sign for a lane adjoining the property.

“When you go over the hill there, right to the water it’s as if nothing has changed since Sir George Somers founded the country,” Mr Mapp said.

“I met with her to talk about putting in the sign and the rest is history. She was a lovely lady, like a matriarch after living over 100 years.”

Her son said she grew up in a rural home that included a hog pen and guinea fowl, with the family farming the back land of the property.

“It was the days of hard sand roads, when there was one light bulb per house,” he said.

“She remembered the day the railway started up in 1931. She used to ride her bicycle down to the stop in front of Glasgow Lodge, hook the bike on the back, and go into town.”

Her father, L. Dunbar Bell, was a dentist and historian credited with instigating the Peppercorn Ceremony, when Freemasons from the St George’s Lodge pay the annual rent of one whole peppercorn to the Governor to use the Old State House.

Mr Kast said the Bells had lived in the house, which dates back to roughly 1760, since March 1795.

Mrs Kast attended Somers College, a private school run by the St Anne’s Church minister R.O. Walker, and graduated in 1941.

It was followed by a secretarial and bookkeeping school.

Mr Kast said: “She left the island on one of the two seaplanes from Darrell’s Island in April 1945, before the Second World War was over, and stayed with an aunt in New York City.”

He said his mother claimed to be in the background of the iconic photograph from Times Square in August 1945, when a sailor swept up a nurse in a kiss during the street celebrations for Victory over Japan Day.

He added: “She was absolutely beautiful — she had that Bermuda look — and she won a beauty contest. I believe she was Miss Flower Girl, New York City.”

She married Robert Kast in 1947, and the couple had their son the following year.

The family moved to a home in North Stamford, Connecticut, after her husband died in 1956.

Her son said: “She loved Bermuda, and would fly the Bermuda flag as well as the American flag off the garage.

“She never became American — she was always Bermudian and proud of it.”

Mrs Kast proved a shrewd investor in the stock market, and the family lived comfortably.

She was an adventurous long-distance driver, with cars including a silver 1961 Cadillac Fleetwood, and was also a keen world traveller.

Mrs Kast returned to Bermuda in 1980 and lived out her days in Greenmount, where she prided herself on self-sufficiency.

Family friends Margaret Giloth and DeeDee Bannister shared an account from 2020 at her funeral service, describing Mrs Kast as “fiercely independent” but grateful for the help and support of her friends.

They added: “She exudes life and purpose and an irrepressible spirit.”

• Frances Nora Kast was born on April 6, 1923. She died on June 7, 2024, aged 101

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Published June 21, 2024 at 7:57 am (Updated June 21, 2024 at 2:45 pm)

Nora Kast (1923-2024): ‘Grande Dame of Southampton Parish’

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