Smiling, bubbly, full of life
When I returned to Bermuda in 1967, I was invited to a nurses meeting at the home of one of our most senior nurses, Rena Smith. Because of the racial segregation that prevailed on this little island, there were two separate nurses’ associations. Our meetings were held in the homes of the older nurses. I was working as a district nurse and was invited to join them at Mrs Smith home in Paget.
Suddenly another nurse arrived, slightly late and wearing the most fashionable red, stiletto-heeled shoes with handbag to match. This was my introduction to Cynthia Thomas-Stovell. She was smiling and bubbly, and added a whole new dimension to that meeting. I liked her immediately and we remain friends up until today.
In 1968, I was permanently stationed as the district nurse for Smith’s Parish. Cynthia was a working mother who lived in Town Hill with her husband, Quinton, and two of the cutest boys I had ever seen. Often we travelled together, attending nurses meetings throughout the island and attempting to correct the ills that existed in our careers.
Today, we are both retired with stories to tell and for this reason I have chosen my friend, Cynthia, as the nurse for this month.
She received her early education from The Central School and at the age of 11 she sailed on The Lady Nelson with her grandmother to spend six months in St Kitts. She was fortunate on the voyage, as she befriended another girl her age to play with. During the voyage, a terrifying storm arose and everyone was ordered to remain in their cabins. Cynthia’s grandmother decided to leave them briefly in search of food and drink. During her absence, the curious girls decided to investigate the commotion going on above deck. It was an experience she never forgot. The winds were vicious and waves crashed over the deck, making it impossible to find their way back to the cabin. Her furious grandmother found them soaking wet and huddled among the ropes.
Living conditions in St Kitts were quite different compared with her life in Bermuda, but she enjoyed the experience even though there was a frightening earthquake while they were there. As soon as she returned to Bermuda, she began her high school studies at Howard Academy. She completed her education there and was invited back as a teacher. She found this uncomfortable, as the students were not much younger than she was, so she resigned and went to work as a waitress at Stuart Ingham’s Restaurant on Victoria Street, next to St Paul AME Church.
This was not a pleasant experience and cemented her decision to study nursing. Fortunately, the health department was just across the street from her job, so she went to see Simon Fraser, the Chief Medical Officer. He recommended she study nursing in England. In 1959, she left Bermuda to begin her training at St Giles Hospital in London. In those days, travelling alone to England was far more complicated for a young woman. She flew to America, where she stayed with a relative until she boarded a ship to sail to Southampton, England. From there, she took the train to London where she was met by staff from St Giles Hospital. She spent three years there completing her general State Registered Nurse training.
Before returning home, Cynthia and a German friend decided to spend several weeks hitchhiking through Europe. She didn’t want to worry her parents and simply avoided telling them of her travel plans. They visited Stuttgart in Germany, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Tuscany and later took the train to Rome. They visited many small towns including Viterbo, an ancient city surrounded by medieval walls built during the 11th and 12th centuries. Often they slept in trucks and washed up in horse troughs, as they were too late to get into hostels.
Cynthia returned to Bermuda in June 1963 and by September she married the love of her life — Quinton Stovell. She had hoped to work in the health department but there were no vacancies. She did not apply to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital as her friend Barbara “Lovey” Wade had been employed as the first Black nurse but it had been a very unpleasant time for Barbara. They demanded Lovey have obstetrical training and off she went, on their recommendation, to Canada to complete this necessary requirement. When she returned, Lovey was sent to work on a male surgical ward and never assigned to maternity. This offended Cynthia and she vowed never to apply for work at KEMH. Instead, she decided to apply to St Brendan’s — known now as Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute. She remained there until Dr Fraser contacted her about a position at the health department.
Cynthia worked within the health department as a school nurse for the East End Primary School, Francis Patton Primary, Central (Victor Scott) and Purvis Primary School. She also worked in the school clinic, the dental department and the police clinic. In the late 1960s, she accepted the position as the supervisor of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic. However, before moving into this position she was sent to The London Hospital, where she studied for eight months.
In the 1980s, she attended courses on STDs at the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre in Federation Park, Trinidad.
Cynthia was heavily involved in the Bermuda Registered Nurses Association and in 1975 was one of the organisers of the testimonial dinner given for nurse Sylvia Richardson, for whom a senior care facility has been named. In 1986, she was named Nurse of the Year by the BRNA.
After 34 years of dedicated service to healthcare, Cynthia Stovell retired
On ten occasions she travelled to Mozambique with Joan Simmons as a healthcare missionary in a clinic previously run by a Dutch organisation. Each day began with prayer. People would walk for miles to get there and often long lines were awaiting their arrival. She saw patients with coughs, colds and many minor ailments.
It took two to three days of travel from Bermuda to get to Mozambique. They flew from Bermuda to London then Johannesburg and on to Mozambique. Eventually, there was a more direct route.
Church has always played an important and vital role in Cynthia’s life. As a child, she attended St Monica’s Mission with her parents and as a teenager sang in the choir. In later years, she became a member of St Paul AME Church, where she has served faithfully as a steward, choir member, and as a Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teacher.
In recent months, my friend has experienced health challenges that might have dampened the spirits of most, but she remains joyous, crediting this to her faith in God, sincere friends and devoted children.
• Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, writer and historian