Life on Tessi’s highway
Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. That is the theme of the newly published autobiography by elder statesman Dr Clarence (Tessi) Terceira.
His book ‘Tessi's Highway' is in bookstores now and details his journey from a farm boy in the rural Bermuda of the 1930s to dentist to senior political figure.
“The idea for the book actually evolved rather than was planned,” said Dr Terceira. “Having taken an interest in the first Portuguese to come to Bermuda in the 19th century, I felt that it would have been great if my ancestors from the Azores had left some form of biography. Then I realised that my own grandchildren would know nothing of my family and its history if I didn't leave them some written document.”
He started writing stories for his family in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His daughter-in-law read what he had written and urged him to get his work published in some form, because it revealed so much about Bermuda's history.
“I was then encouraged by the rest of the family,” he said. “It was initially not written specifically for children, as they were, but the adults they would become. Thus, the book was born.”
Dr Terceira was born in 1927 and grew up in Somerset. His father, August Terceira ran a farm and brought many Portuguese to Bermuda to work for him. Dr Terceira has spent many years researching Portuguese immigration to Bermuda. His maternal grandfather, Antonio Marshall, was born in St George's, Azores, but immigrated to Bermuda via New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1878. He brought over a bride from New Bedford in 1882, Frances Anjos de Brazil.
“The story has been handed down that when they were courting he indicated to Miss Brazil that he owned an estate in Bermuda,” Dr Terceira wrote. “If that is so, imagine her surprise on arriving here to find he was a stable boy.”
Dr Terceira was one of three siblings. His parents urged them to study hard in school. Dr Terceira attended Sandys Grammar School and did well in mathematics, among other subjects. In 1939 he won a scholarship that allowed him to attend a private school, a privilege available to very few Portuguese Bermudians at that time. He chose Saltus Grammar School where he was one of only five students of Portuguese heritage at that time. From an early age he decided that life on the farm was not for him, and he wanted to be a dentist instead. He did very well at the school and became head boy, excelling in sports as well as academics.
He went on to study at Mount Allison University in Canada and qualified as a dentist in 1953 when he graduated from St. Andrews University, Scotland. Dr. Terceira practised as a dentist for more than 30 years in the City of Hamilton.
Even while a teenager at Saltus he aware of the racial injustices in Bermuda, and was deeply interested in the idea of Universal Suffrage, something that did not exist in Bermuda when he was growing up. In the book he recalled not being able to vote in the 1954 general election, because at the age of 26, he did not own enough in property or real estate. He became involved with fellow Bermudians who were working to reform the Island's political and social infrastructure including Arnold Frances, Dr Clarence James and Hilton Hill, among others.
“What we had in common was a conviction that Bermuda had to change and rid itself of the archaic beliefs and systems which still prevailed,” he wrote.
The book recalls his involvement with the birth of the United Bermuda Party (UBP) in 1964, and his work as treasurer, party chairman and, later, as a Cabinet Minister, holding the portfolios for Education, Health and Works and Engineering at various times. During his tenure at the Works Ministry, he was responsible for the development of the entrance to Hamilton at Crow Lane, Paget into the closest thing Bermuda has to a highway. The development was popularly known as ‘Tessi's Highway' at the time construction was taking place, providing Dr Terceira's memoirs with their title. But the title of the newly released book has a double meaning, also referring to his own life's journey.
Dr Terceira said the hardest parts of the book to write involved his political career.
“Particularly those sections which concerned the leadership problems we had during 1977 under Premier Jack Sharpe,” he said. “This was mainly because I was made the chairman of the UBP with instructions to try and resolve the situation. Different factions within the party were giving conflicting information and leaks to the news media. It was a very difficult time for me in my political career.”
Dr Terceira said he learned a great deal about himself through the writing of ‘Tessi's Highway.'
“I still wonder even now how I got so involved in so many different projects in such a variety of subjects,” he said. “I have marvelled at the drive I had; to do what I have accomplished.”
He wanted readers to see that one person can make a difference in the world, if they try hard enough.
“That is the subject that I spoke to students about, when I was the Minister of Education, and they were going off to University for the first time,” he said. “Also, I want them to see my efforts at integration of the races. This, I think they will find, runs through the book, but there are other themes in the book as well. I want to caution people not to be ‘mere puppets on a string'. You have to stand up for what you feel passionate about.”
Tessi's Highway is available at the Bermuda Bookstore, The Book Mart at Brown and Company in the City of Hamilton and The Book Cellar in St George's.