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Pam pays tribute to a mentor

At 16, Pam Jones had an attitude that was obvious to everyone at the job she had been assigned through a high school day release programme.

She might have continued that way for ever were it not for Sheila Burrows.

The 84-year-old, who was then the supervisor of Government's Social Insurance Department, took the time to sit down and talk with the teenager. Mrs Jones never forgot it.

“I knew something was behind the attitude,” said Mrs Burrows. “Everyone else said, ‘I don't know how you can deal with that young lady.' I said, ‘she will be all right'.”

Instead of complaining when Mrs Jones refused to do routine tasks such as filing, Mrs Burrows encouraged her to think about her future.

Although appreciative of the advice, when the programme ended, Mrs Jones did not stay in touch.

“Then, just before Covid-19, someone in the grocery store tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you remember me?',” Mrs Burrows said. “I looked at her and I said, ‘Of course I remember you!'.”

The two had a joyful reunion, and have been getting together now that Bermuda is opening back up.

At 56 years old, Mrs Jones can laugh about the rough patch she was going through, but 40 years ago she felt very alone.

“I felt like I never had someone to listen to me and go beyond my attitude,” she said. “I never had someone sit down and ask, ‘What is going on with you?'. I never had that even in high school, or any of my classes. No one ever pulled me aside and said, ‘What's going on?'.”

She said Mrs Burrows made her feel “like [she] mattered”.

Eager to pay tribute, she decided to share her story with The Royal Gazette.

“That is what is missing with a lot of kids. If they don't have that in their family life or with their friends, that is where a lot of people get lost,” she said.

After graduating from Warwick Secondary School, Mrs Jones went to Toronto, Canada, where she received diplomas in business administration and computer business applications.

She now specialises in internet marketing and helps people set up online businesses.

Mrs Burrows, whose late husband, Reginald Burrows, was a Progressive Labour Party MP and senator, has two daughters and a grandson.

On meeting the teenage Mrs Jones, she was able to identify with her.

“I came from a family of schoolteachers, but growing up I did not want to be an educator myself,” she said. “I didn't know what I wanted to do. I couldn't find myself. You took an exam to go to Berkeley.

“You had to go to Berkeley. That is where all my family went.

“I failed the exam the first time, so I did not want to go, but they made me.”

She was similarly sent to Wilberforce University in Ohio, because other family members had gone there.

Because of personal challenges, she ended up leaving six months before she completed her English degree.

She finished it at the University of Maryland, which offered programmes at Kindley Field, the US Air Force Base in St David's at the time.

She held various jobs until she retired in 2010. Along the way, she always tried to encourage the young people she met.

“I always had an interest in sitting down to talk,” said Mrs Burrows. “My girls said I was always very inquisitive.”

She sits on the Department of Corrections' Treatment of Offenders Board which hears complaints from prison inmates and holds hearings on offences committed by them.

The board goes to Westgate Correctional Facility the first Wednesday of the month and to the Co-Ed Facility every third Wednesday of the month.

“The youngsters come before us,” Mrs Burrows said. “From the other board members I always get ‘Mrs Burrows, don't let your heart bleed. He didn't come here for helping a lady across the street'.”

But, as she did with Mrs Jones, she will often sit down with young people and try to get them to think about their future.

It's the type of encouragement that is needed, Mrs Jones said. “It first starts with the home and parents and giving them the right guidance,” she said. “So many kids are lost. I don't think it is just because kids have one parent that they should be lost. I don't agree with that.

“As long as that single parent gives the right guidance and encouragement, the child should be fine.

“Then we can talk about where are you going and what are you going to do next.”

Mrs Burrows said a lot of children simply aren't aware of what opportunities are out there.

“I was talking to a group of young people who did not know that there was a scholarship website,” she said. “There were so many scholarships that weren't used.”

A reconnection: Pam Jones, left, reunited with the woman who reached her during her troubled teenaged years, Sheila Burrows, who says she saw through the defiance (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published July 09, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 09, 2020 at 12:42 pm)

Pam pays tribute to a mentor

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