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A life devoted to family

So much to be thankful for: Alice Bean, who says healthy farm living and lots of hard work are explanations for her long life (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Alice Bean is a bit shy and never liked surprises much.

But some are better than others.

Last month she was blown away when her granddaughter, Michela Outerbridge, surprised her with a lunch at Bella Vista Bar and Grill in Southampton.

Many of her six children, 17 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren turned up for the special meal.

“I thought we were just going to my granddaughter’s house,” Mrs Bean said.

It was a particularly joyous occasion, because only six weeks before her family feared they would lose her.

In July, she developed life-threatening pneumonia and spent almost a month in hospital.

Doctors told her family to gather and prepare for the worst.

At her bedside, Ms Outerbridge urged her to get better so she could celebrate her birthday on August 9.

Although she doesn’t remember much about her illness now, she obviously took the advice to heart. She rallied.

“Until I had pneumonia, I never had a sick day in my life other than childbirth,” she said. “I had the occasional toothache but that was it.”

She credits her long life to healthy farm living and lots of hard work. She grew up in the Hog Bay area of Sandys.

“It was very quiet in those days,” she said.

Her father, Ambrose Harvey, farmed and worked in Dockyard and her mother, Evelina, was a dressmaker before developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Mrs Bean went to Southampton Glebe School.

“My mother insisted I stay,” she said. “She had been a monitress when she went to school and she wanted me to finish.”

She left school at 16 and took care of her ailing mother and then found work as a housekeeper.

“I worked at one house and looked after the children,” she said. “I also had to wash clothes and clean the house.

“And I mean clean the house! We had to do windows and everything else that had to be done. We used a washboard to clean the clothes. There were no machines. Young people today have no idea what hard work is.”

At 21, she married Archibald Leon Sinclair Bean. They kept a farm and also farmed for other people.

“They called him ‘Snooks’,” she said. “Not many people knew him by his real name. Before we married, he was a store clerk and I used to see him when I went into the grocery store.”

They were happily married for 42 years and six months before he died on April 26, 1985.

“We never had an argument,” she said. “The secret to a happy marriage is keeping your mouth shut.”

The couple had three children, Nelda Smith, Derek and Milton and thought they were “done”.

Eight years later, along came babies four, five and six: Reginald, Randy and LaVonne.

“I was happy when they came along,” she said. “Young people today might think it was hard work raising six children, but I didn’t.”

Aside from “a bit of gardening”, she never had many hobbies. She was always too busy working and raising a family.

“I used to like going on outings, but when the children came, that ended,” she said. “My first three were 18 months apart.”

When her children were school age she went back to work. Later in life she worked as a chambermaid and occasional waitress at Lantana, and then Cambridge Beaches.

After her retirement, she still wasn’t ready to rest so she volunteered with the Bermuda Red Cross, driving senior citizens around.

“I did that for a couple of years,” she said.

She has also enjoyed time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“I took care of all of them at some point or other,” Mrs Bean said proudly.

As for any concerns about her near-death experience this summer, her view is that she’s had a good life and raised a family.

“I don’t worry about it,” she said.