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Being blind isn’t easy, but it’s not the end

Taking strength: today, with the help of the Bermuda Society for the Blind, Esme Williams is regaining her independence and spending time with her family

Esme Williams’s life was going great until tragedy struck.

She’d just started a new job and was loving every minute.

And then she lost her eyesight.

A rare disease struck one eye, and then the other, taking away most of her vision.

The 72-year-old had to quit her concierge job at Grotto Bay Beach Resort. Worse, she couldn’t drive, she couldn’t read and she couldn’t cook.

“I would go to bed and it would be dark and hazy and I would wake up and it would be the same way,” she said.

“There were days when I thought, ‘Why get out of bed?’”

Friends such as Helene Stephenson and LaVerne Furbert helped her through the hard times.

“Every Sunday, for the last year, LaVerne has made a meal for me,” said Ms Williams.

“She always gives me big portions so that covers more than one meal. I appreciate that so much.

“Helene was one of the teachers when I was principal at Victor Scott Primary. She has really been an encourager. She would read scriptures with me. She would say, ‘OK, you can feel sorry for yourself for five minutes, then come out of it’.”

Ms Williams took her friend’s advice. She believes God made her blind for a reason, that she still has something to give.

In March, she took part in protests against Government’s plans for immigration reform.

“I was there every day,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe that Government was going to push this through without consulting people first.

“The only day I wasn’t there was the day protesters were going to march through Hamilton. I knew I couldn’t handle that.”

She also protested against Government’s plan to revamp the airport.

“I didn’t want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren saying years later, ‘Nana, how come you just let that go through?’,” she said. “I didn’t want them saying, ‘How come you didn’t do anything about that?’ You have to fight for what is right.”

She is Hamilton Parish born and bred, but moved to Sacramento, California with her family when she was 11.

She became a teacher there, and in the 1970s worked as an adviser, helping with school desegregation.

At the time, minority students were being bused to schools in white neighbourhoods in an effort to improve education for them.

“Desegregation involved moving physical bodies from one place to another, but for something like that to work there has to be a heart change,” said Ms Williams.

“It was quite a difficult situation. People on both sides didn’t like it. People asked why black students had to be bused to white communities, why couldn’t white students be bused to black communities. It was a very uneasy time. We had to talk with the parents and help them to understand.”

After that period she turned down a job as principal in the suburbs, because it was too cushy.

“I said this is not where my heart is,” she said.

“I need to have a school in the lower socio-economic area. We didn’t have many principals interested in those communities.”

She was eventually given a struggling school to work with, and turned it around, raising its standardised scores by 50 per cent.

But in 1984, after 30 years living in California, she yearned for home.

“I used to come back to Bermuda in the summers,” she said. “I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in California. I loved the water here, and had a deep appreciation for Bermuda.”

Moving back was a bit of a shock.

“At that time it was two steps forward and three steps back,” she said.

“The school I’d left in California was a brand-new, modern facility, so I had to get accustomed to the resources, classrooms and school buildings in Bermuda.”

Her first job was a counsellor at the now defunct Prospect Secondary School for Girls.

“I loved it,” she said. “I still see those girls today. They are professionals now. They see me on the street, even now with the loss of my eyesight they are there to help me.”

Later, she was principal at Southampton Glebe Primary School [now Dalton E. Tucker] and Victor Scott Primary School.

She loved both positions.

“The parents were wonderful,” she said.

“They wanted the best for their children, no matter what was happening at home or in the community. They wanted their children to achieve.

“The young man who was just killed, Patrick Dill, was our deputy head boy at Victor Scott. He was just a wonderful person, and his father was our PTA president for three years. I spoke at Patrick’s funeral. It was such a shock.”

For six years she worked with the charity Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda, as its executive director.

Today, with the help of the Bermuda Society for the Blind, she is regaining her independence.

She is heavily involved in the North Shore Church of God and is grateful for the encouragement she’s received from there.

“I believe that maybe one day God might restore my sight,” she said. “And if he doesn’t, I’m OK with that.”

She loves spending time with her two sons, Mark and Anthony Williams, five grandchildren and three great-grandsons.

“I am very proud of them,” she said.

Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com. Have on hand the senior’s full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them.