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Laura celebrates centenary with family

Laura Gaiton turns 100 today (Photograph supplied)

Laura Gaiton never thought she would live to see 100. She will celebrate the milestone today, with about 80 family and friends at Calvary Gospel Church in Southampton.

“The biggest change I’ve seen in my life is the school system in Bermuda,” said Mrs Gaiton, who found work as a maid after primary school. “When I was a child you had to leave school at 13, unless your family had the money to pay for further education. Everyone can go further now in their education. That’s something.”

Transport is another big change. When she was growing up, everyone got around by horse and carriage.

“That was just fine with me,” she said. “Carriages were safe.”

When the trains came to Bermuda in 1931 she thought transportation had reached its zenith. She was amazed and a little fearful when cars were introduced and then planes and large cruise ships.

She never learnt to drive herself, preferring to get around by bus.

“I thought there would be a lot of accidents with the cars,” she said.

“Another change has been the way we communicate. For the most part it was just word of mouth when I was little, and then came the radio. Everyone listened to the radio at one time.”

It was how she learnt, in 1939, of the start of the Second World War.

The global conflict brought many changes to Bermuda. One that left her “very fearful” was having to put thick curtains across the windows at night so no light showed through.

“This was a safety concern as it meant everything was dark outside, but we were afraid if we didn’t do it the Germans might find us and bomb us,” she said.

Mrs Gaiton grew up near Harrington Sound in Smith’s. Her father, Stevenson Richardson, worked in hospitality. Her mother, Flora Hayward Tuzo, was a devout Pentecostal who carried a sign wherever she went, which said: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

In her late teens, Mrs Gaiton rebelled against her strict religious upbringing. She started drinking and hanging out with friends, but never gave up on church.

“You name it and I have been there and done that,” she said. “I’ve been really sick in my life; I’ve been an alcoholic — God always had his eye on me. So did Satan but God won. God is always the winner. Praise God that I’m here.”

When she was 45, a service at Revival Assembly on Ewing Street in Hamilton changed her life.

“I went there to have a ball,” she said. “I went to socialise. I certainly never intended to get saved.”

Halfway through, she found herself walking down the aisle in response to the minister’s call.

“I just got tired of drinking,” she said. “The next day when I woke up everything looked different. Everything looked greener and brighter.”

She devoted herself to the church and became a Sunday School teacher and a missionary, spreading the word in Jamaica and other places.

In her 50s, she went to North Carolina to take a course in theology.

Along the way, she had four sons: Charles, who died in a cycle accident in 1973; twins Bernard and Clinard, and Harold, an evangelist in New Jersey who died from cancer in 1997.

“She loved taking us fishing off the rocks when we were children,” said Clinard. “If it bit her line, we ate it.”

His mother particularly loved catching Sailors Choice, and making shark hash, he said. Whenever he takes her out, she’s “always disappointed” not to find the latter on the menu.

He described the centenarian as a “walking Bible”. “Her long-term memory is still very good,” Clinard said. “She knows the Bible inside and out.”

Everyone called her “Mother Gaiton” at the Church of God of Prophecy on Curving Avenue, where she was known for her singing.

“Whenever they needed a strong voice they handed the microphone to her,” Clinard said.

She is not able to attend church as much any more, but her church family often visits her.

Mrs Gaiton said: “I always loved to sing. I can remember when I was a little girl, people putting me on a table to sing for them.”

She was living on her own in Pembroke but last year moved to Lorraine Rest Home in Warwick after a life-threatening battle with pneumonia.

She is thrilled that there is a weekly music programme there.

“She knows all the words to all the songs,” Clinard said.

Dwayne Simons, the New Church of God pastor, will sing a solo in her honour at Calvary Gospel Church today; family members have flown in for the occasion.

A talk about the events of 1918, the year she was born, is also planned.

Her son Bernard, who lives in the United States, has flown in for the party. Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, will also attend.

Mrs Gaiton is hoping all her ten grandchildren and ten great grandchildren will be there. “I’m really happy they’re all coming,” she said.