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Enjoying life at 100 years young

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When Harold Smith turned 100 he took the milestone in stride.

“Why shouldn't I turn 100,” he shrugged. “I take care of myself and was brought up on good food. I ate a lot of fish.”

Of course, the Mount Hill, Pembroke man says all this with his beloved cigar close at hand.

Family legend has it that after recovering from colon cancer surgery five years ago, he asked the doctor if he should quit smoking.

The doctor said if it had got him this far, why stop now?

Mr Smith celebrated a century of living with a party at the Bermuda Industrial Union on February 21. In attendance were more than 100 of his closest friends and family including five children, 16 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

If he's not surprised by his age, other people often are, particularly because he seems very spry, mentally and physically. It's not a shock to anyone who knows him to see him outside painting his house, or attacking the grass in the yard with a weed whacker. Mr Smith regularly pedals from his home into Hamilton on his bike, which is painted pink.

His favourite colour, he also chose it years ago for two of his taxis — #T1273 and #T1137. His thought was that female visitors, especially, would find it appealing.

He upped his game after meeting Sugar Ray Robinson in the 1940s. The boxer was well known for having a pink Cadillac.

“Three of us went up to New York,” Mr Smith said. “We knew a Bermudian who was working at Sugar Ray's bar. I told him I owned a pink car, too. He took me outside to see his car. It was all pink, even the wheels. I fell in love with that. I came back and painted my car an even brighter pink.”

It remains his signature colour.

On the day he spoke with The Royal Gazette, the centenarian was wearing a pink hat, pink windbreaker and pink shirt.

He was born on Ord Road in Paget. His father, Richard Veal, drove a horse and carriage. He was a toddler when his mother, Caroline, died suddenly. He took on the family surname after he was adopted by Quincy Smith who, like his father, drove a horse and carriage.

His business interests extended to the land he farmed, property he owned in the Camp Hill and Riviera Estate area of Southampton, as well as a grocery store and bicycle shop.

While Mr Smith is grateful to his adopted father, his life with the family was by no means easy. He remembers, as a teenager, having to help burn lime, which would be used to paint roofs and walls.

“I had a roughing up,” he said. “There were so many things I had to do. With the horse and trolley, he would bring these big rocks and I had to mash them up to a certain size to fit in the limekiln.”

After the rocks were broken down, layers of rock and coal were built up in the kiln and a large cedar stump put inside for added fuel. And then the whole thing would be lit.

“She'd burn for about four or five days,” Mr Smith said. “After that, what was there had turned to lime.”

He learnt to cook as a young child and loved it. Eventually, he was tasked with making lunch every Sunday for the minister at the Vernon Temple AME Church in Southampton.

When he grew up, he found a job as a fry cook at Elbow Beach Hotel. After two years, he wanted to advance, but was told by the chef that black people could not hold higher ranking positions in the kitchen.

“I got so upset I called the police,” Mr Smith said. “Vernon Jackson came. He was a police officer. He came over and took me out in the front and talked to me for about an hour. He said, ‘Go back on your job and behave yourself'.”

He left the post a short time later. For two years, he worked for Clyde Baisden in a restaurant in St George's, but then left the business altogether.

Instead, he leased two taxis paying £10 a week for the privilege.

“I love people and I loved to drive people around,” Mr Smith said. “We had some wonderful days in the tour business. Sometimes locals didn't have any money to get home, so I'd take them home. I was very generous in that respect.”

Eventually, he grew tired of it and gave his taxis to his daughter and son-in-law Penny and Alvin Simmons. Then, when most people his age were stepping back to relax, he went into construction with friend Clifford Lambert.

“A lot of my buddies who drove taxis said ‘man, you're crazy to get out of taxis to do hard work',” he said. “I said it never killed nobody. I did masonry work with Clifford for ten years.”

Mr Smith has been married twice, first to Anita Burch and then to Marion Durham.

He has six children: William “Kiki” DeShield, Dawn Simmons, Penny “Twinkles” Simmons and Ronnie, Danny “Lance” and Brent Smith.

Looking back over his life he says he has always been incredibly lucky.

Lifestyle profiles the island's senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

Colourful character: at 100, Harold Smith still rides his pink pedal bike from home on Mount Hill into Hamilton (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Harold Smith still rides a pedal bike at 100 (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

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Published March 10, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated March 10, 2020 at 8:35 am)

Enjoying life at 100 years young

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