A tiler with a penchant for neatness
Robert Peets still remembers the first bathroom he tiled.
He was 17, and his father, mason Ernest Peets, an exacting teacher, came in, rubbed his hand over the tiles, then walked away offering no criticism or advice.
“From there I knew I could probably tile any bathroom in Bermuda,” Mr Peets said.
In the years since then the founder of Peets Tile Service Ltd has tiled thousands of floors across Bermuda.
“Seeing the finished product is what I love,” the 73-year-old said.
After Hurricane Fabian in September 2003, he was asked to retile half of the cottages at Elbow Beach Hotel that were damaged in the hurricane, and 43,000 sq ft at the LF Wade International Airport, submerged during the storm.
He grew up on Peet Point Lane in Smith's, the third of six children of Ernest and Emmeline Peets.
His parents were sticklers for cleanliness.
“My father always said a man is never fully dressed without a clean handkerchief,” Mr Peets remembered.
Even today he always keeps one in his pocket.
It was this penchant for neatness that first attracted the attention of his wife Paulette, who lived nearby.
They first caught a glimpse of each other through a window, when he was 13 and she 12. He was cycling by her house one day and stopped to talk to her landlord's son.
“While I was talking, I noticed the curtain move in the window,” he said.
He turned to look, but the lurker, Paulette, ducked away.
“Months later when I got to know her name, we became friends,” Mr Peets said.
He asked her why she'd fallen back from the window that day, and she said her mother had asked who she was looking at.
“She told her mother, she was looking at the guy she was going to marry,” Mr Peets said. “She hadn't even met me. I said, ‘Why did you choose me?' She said, ‘Because you were clean'.”
The couple were married on March 30, 1967. He was 22 and she was 21.
They had three children, Anthony, Andrea and Robert George II.
Mrs Peets worked as a fitness instructor at the Athletic Company, and loved to be active.
“Her ability to teach was amazing,” Mr Peets said.
But she had always had a dream to become a nurse, and was finally able to pursue it in her late 30s, going away to Georgia to study.
Then out of the blue, Mr Peets developed Crohn's disease at 39.
“Some people say that life begins at 40,” he said, “but my life felt like it was ending. It got so that I just couldn't function. It never stopped.”
In those days doctors were still learning about the disease, and even today there is no cure.
“Paulette had to leave her nursing programme 16 months into it to come home and nurse me,” he said.
“My wife helped me to cope. She was up at all hours of the night helping me come up with a remedy. A friend of mine gave me a book.
“One of the notes said you can't afford the luxury of a negative thought. You have to keep positive.”
That was advice that he took to heart.
“My mom used to say, ‘How are you today,'” he said. “I'd say ‘better than yesterday'.”
At work, he left the laying of tile to staff members and concentrated on handling the operation of the business. In his weakened state the tiles had become a lot for him to handle.
“When I started tiles were 6 x 6 inches,“ he said, “now they are 26 x 26 or larger.”
After a few months, he learnt that a side-effect of codeine is constipation, and asked the doctor to prescribe a low dose of it.
That helped to resolve his problem for about eight hours a day. Later, he made the difficult decision to go on prednisone, a drug commonly prescribed for inflammatory issues.
“It is the number one drug they use, but it has too many dangers,” Mr Peets said.
One of the side effects is that it robs the bones of blood.
“I have two false hips because of the drug, but that was a gamble I had to take,” he said.
To cope with the stress of Crohn's, Mr Peets built a koi fish pond next to his house off Collector's Hill in Smith's. He liked the fish so much he decided to extend the pond.
“Then, I had too many,” he said. “So I made a pond at the Bermuda Institute and put about 150 up there.” He still has about 80 of them, and is thinking of spawning them again.
He also grows strawberries.
A few years ago, Mrs Peets developed breast cancer, and it was Mr Peets's turn to nurse her, sparing no expense to make sure she was comfortable.
He remembered that even in the depths of her illness she would be excited to hear workout music playing.
“She died ten months ago, after 51 years of marriage,” he said.
Her voice is still on their answering machine.
Mr Peets has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
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