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‘Mr Amazing Man’ defies the odds

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Living life to the full: despite several serious health challenges, Kenny Fray considers himself blessed (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Doctors removed a tumour from Kenny Fray’s mouth and gave him five years to live. Nine years later he is still here, defying the odds.

“I think I’m blessed,” he said. “I’m not complaining about anything.”

His late wife, Brenda, was the first to notice the visible lump under his tongue.

“Early one morning, she said go look in the bathroom mirror,” said Mr Fray, who immediately suspected cancer.

Terrified, his wife called the doctor even though it was barely 7am. Within two days he was having surgery at Lahey Hospital & Medical Centre in Boston.

Twelve weeks of chemotherapy and radiation followed. Although it all went well, doctors feared the stage-four tumour would eventually come back.

“Before the surgery, they gave me a pen and paper and said I would need that to ask any questions afterward,” Mr Fray said.

“They didn’t think I’d be able to talk much for a while. They had to remove a piece of my tongue.”

He surprised everyone by chatting up a storm not long after coming out of the operating room.

“They called me ‘Mr Amazing Man’,” the 74-year-old said. “The nurses were joking that they’d have to put me back to sleep after my wife and grandson left, because I was talking their ears off.”

Throughout it all, Mrs Fray was by his side.

They met at a cricket match at St David’s Cricket Club when Mr Fray was playing for Southampton Rangers.

“Her cousin and I were both batsmen on the same team, and he introduced us,” he said, recalling how annoyed his future wife appeared when he gave her “the look”.

“She cut her eyes at me,” Mr Fray laughed. “She thought I was being fresh.”

Despite that, he continued sending glances her way throughout the game. Afterward they talked and became friends.

“We were together ever since,” he said.

They married on September 12, 1987.

Tragedy struck in 2011 when Mrs Fray died suddenly, three days after knee surgery.

According to Mr Fray, staff at King Edward VII Hospital forgot to give her a prescription for blood thinners, commonly prescribed after knee or hip surgery to prevent clots.

“I bought her a house in Atlanta,” he said. “That was going to be our retirement home, but it was never to be.

“I don’t complain about it. It was God’s way. He sent her up there to make my bed up. She was a beautiful lady and stayed by my side through thick and thin.”

Although brokenhearted, he said he chose not to sue the hospital, but instead sat down and talked with staff to make sure it did not happen to someone else.

“They apologised,” he said. “My wife was a very kind person. She wouldn’t have wanted [a lawsuit] and it wouldn’t have brought her back.”

For years, Mrs Fray had lovingly tended a large pot of flowers outside their St George’s home. After her death, Mr Fray turned it into a memorial, complete with her photo next to it.

When the flower pot disappeared last month, he was devastated.

“That was almost worse than losing my wife,” he said.

“It weighed 80lbs empty, so it took effort to take it. We put a letter in the paper, but it still hasn’t been returned. That really hurt.”

Cleaning his house, cooking and gardening keep him busy. He also loves helping others — driving his three sisters to appointments, mowing lawns and cooking cod fish and potatoes for his brother William “Big Red” Fray every Sunday morning.

He does it all with one hand.

He lost the use of his left arm when he was 53, after a stroke.

What he struggles with are little things, like buttoning his shirt. His neighbour, Cheryl Gadette, keeps an eye on him.

“She is really good to me,” he said. “Sometimes my mouth will hurt me and I’ll get up at 2am — I don’t take any pain medication, I don’t want to become an addict. To get my mind off it, I’ll clean the house. She’ll see the light on and come over to see what’s going on. I’m really grateful to her.”

Ms Gadette was just as complimentary.

“He is always positive,” she said. “You never hear him complain. The other day he made a gate for his steps by cutting in half an old crib side. He did all of this with one arm.”

Mr Fray thought his stroke, in 1997, meant the end of his career as a bus mechanic.

“As I got better, I was just crying, wanting to go back to work,” he said. “I couldn’t stand sitting at home doing nothing.”

After meeting with then director of Public Transport Herman Basden, and his doctor, he was allowed to work half-days.

“I’m so grateful to Mr Basden,” he said.

At first doing mechanical work one-handed was challenging. Always a resourceful person, Mr Fray figured out some tricks to cope.

“When I had to tighten a nut,” he said, “I’d take a spanner and jam it with something. Then I’d take something else and hit the spanner until it was tightened.”

He eventually retired in 2006, after 43 years on the job.

He was the second generation in his family to have a long career with buses. His father, Edward Albert Fray, was Bermuda’s first black bus driver in 1943. He continued with the job for 36 years, getting his son hired as a mechanic at 19.

In the early days, Mr Fray learnt from his colleagues but, after a few years, he and other mechanics were given training at the Bermuda Technical Institute.

“They didn’t just teach me mechanics,” he said of his co-workers. “They taught me about life. They said, ‘Respect, listen and don’t think you know it all. Pay attention!’ That was a valuable lesson to me, even up to today, when I am able to do a little bit of everything.”

Mr Fray has six children, Kenneth Fray Jr, Kennita Ray, Stacey Fray, Tanya Durham, Eric Durham and Lorretta Fox, and 13 grandchildren.

“And I love each and every one of them,” he said.

Kenny Fray (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Kenny Fray (Photograph by Akil Simmons)