Eighty years of service
In the 1930s Lady Mary Olive Cubitt and Governor Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Astley Cubitt were known for their high fashion and beautiful chestnut horses.
However it was their compassion for the Bermuda community that won them the hearts of her people.
Sir Thomas was posted to the Island in 1931 — Lady Cubitt was immediately shocked by the poverty she found, particularly among the elderly and children.
A year later she started Lady Cubitt Compassionate with the aim to alleviate poverty, especially by helping older people and neglected and needy children.
The Cubitts have long since died, but their legacy lives on with LCCA. A photo of Lady Cubitt hangs on the wall at the charity’s Bermudiana Road offices in her memory.
Lady Cubitt was born in 1878 in Eastbourne, England. She was a widow when she married Sir Thomas Cubitt in 1920 who was then working in Eastern India. In 1931 he was knighted and the couple was sent to Bermuda.
“When she came to Bermuda she saw the need for elderly people to get assistance because they were struggling to make ends meet,” said LCCA executive director Veronica Harvey. “She got together with a group of friends and started the association.
“That was 80 years ago and we are still facing the same challenges. Her focus was children and the elderly and we have maintained that focus throughout our history.”
LCCA was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1945. As a result of this in particular, it became the only “approved society” under the Protection of Children’s Act, 1943 and received government grants for use in this regard.
By 1956 LCCA had 82 children under its care, five of whom were placed for adoption. Government assumed all responsibility in this regard in 1970.
An early chairman of LCCA was a local friend of Lady Cubitt, Ethel Gosling. Her daughter, Nea Willits, recently found an old scrap book of LCCA newspaper cuttings from the 1950s and 1960s and gifted it to the charity.
“This was a wonderful gift, because many of the early LCCA records burned in the Bermudiana [hotel] fire in 1958,” said Ms Harvey.
Sir Thomas Cubitt died in 1939.
“I was only a child,” said Mrs Willits, who is in her 80s. “They used to have wonderful garden parties for children at Government House.
“I can remember the Governor had an aide de camp who was English. He used to roll on the ground wrestling with the little boys. We all had great fun. They were all very hospitable.”
Mrs Willits’ mother was born in Philadelphia but had a Bermudian father, Norman Jones. In her youth she sang opera at the Savoy Opera House in Philadelphia.
She met Edmund Gosling while visiting cousins in Bermuda and later married him in 1915. She became chairman of LCCA in its early days and was involved through most of her life, long after the Cubitts left the Island before the Second World War.
The cuttings in her album revealed that in the 1950s and 1960s LCCA held many different fundraisers to raise money for children and the elderly — spring charity balls, golf tournaments and even tennis matches.
They also ran a thrift shop called The Women’s Exchange located on Washington Lane in Hamilton. The store was known for its cheerful red door.
“People at home could make pot holders or jams or jelly or knit baby things to sell in The Women’s Exchange,” said Mrs Willits. “It was kind of a cottage industry for people who needed to make a little money but couldn’t go out to work because of babies, or other things. They sold handmade things.”
The Women’s Exchange has long been closed down. Over the years many governors’ wives have followed the example of Lady Cubitt and have also supported the organisation. This includes Lady Diana Gozney, wife of the current governor, Sir Richard.
In more recent years LCCA has focused on its overseas medical programme, and has helped to pay for the treatment of hundreds of Bermudians.
Dessie Waldron, who worked at the LCCA office 20 years ago, recalled that in the late 1980s, overseas hospitals would acknowledge the requests of LCCA because they guaranteed full payment. Major medical only guaranteed 80 percent.
“I don’t think the organisation has changed much,” she said. “The volume at that time as far as patients were concerned was very heavy, especially with cardiology patients.”
With today’s skyrocketing medical costs, many people are in need of assistance today — LCCA helps with the medical treatment of about 110 people each year.
The charity suffered last year after its budget was cut in half by a reduced Government contribution, but continues to do its best for the community.
LCCA also fundraisers to provide general assistance to the community for special projects, and emergency needs such as family food vouchers or elderly assistance with utility bills. They often receive referrals from other local charities.
Denise Astwood, on the LCCA Committee of Management, has helped with some of these general assistance projects, such as when the LCCA helped to underwrite a pilot programme for a Seniors Day Care Rehabilitation Clinic at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
“As opposed to the seniors being in the hospital for any rehabilitative treatment, they can go home and come back days for treatment, and then return home afterward,” said Mrs Astwood.
They also helped to launch Fast Forward, a programme being used in several local middle schools.
Fast Forward uses special computer programmes and games to help struggling students improve their reading and comprehension skills. These general assistance projects are supported by funds raised entirely by the LCCA, not by a government grant.
Mrs Astwood said one of the nice things about the organisation was that there was no hard and fast rule about who they helped.
“We will listen to anyone and we will judge each case on its own merits,” she said. “We won’t help in perpetuity because we can’t but we will try and help people over a difficult patch.”
Applications for the overseas medical programme have to first be approved by Government’s Chief Medical Officer.
Half of the projected costs must be paid for upfront. Ms Harvey said it was important for people receiving assistance from the medical treatment programme to remember that the money they received was a loan.
“Most people try,” she said. “The programme itself is designed to help those who are in need. Not always are they able to pay a whole lot in terms of paying it back.
“Most people do try. There are some people who don’t bother to try and they are capable of paying it back. It is important that people do make the effort because that is the only way we can continue to help people to go overseas, by people continuing to repay funds, which are a loan to them.”
“I am very excited about this anniversary,” said added. “Eighty years is a long time for a charity. I don’t think there are many charities in Bermuda that are older than us.”
A luncheon will be held May 1 in the Harbourview Ballroom at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess at 12pm.
The guest speaker will be Michael Ashton, infectious disease specialist and hospital epidemiologist. Tickets, $65, available by calling 292-1132, and must be purchased by April 24.