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Tributes for icon of Bermuda’s West Indian community

Tributes: The late Hazel Christopher has been hailed as a giant icon in Bermuda’s West Indian community.

Tributes poured in yesterday following the death of Hazel Christopher, a woman hailed as a giant icon in Bermuda’s West Indian community.The lifelong seamstress who spent ten hours a day, six days a week at her Court Street business, In-Between Boutique, suffered a heart attack last Friday.A massive home going service and wake to celebrate her life, that will see Court Street blocked off, will take place on Saturday.Ms Christopher had just returned home with her nine-year-old grandson Riley when she died. Riley had recently returned from a six-week trip to Dublin, Ireland.His mother, Roxanne Christopher said she is comforted by the fact that Riley, “the light of her mother’s life” was the last one she saw before she passed away.When contacted by The Royal Gazette, Ms Christopher said both she and her brother Colin were grappling with the fact that they no longer have parents.“Our father passed away in 1985, I just cannot wrap my head around this, it is really difficult. My son was very close to my mother, who was my ultimate best friend, we all lived together,” she said.“Riley told me his nana put food in the microwave and collapsed. He tried to revive her, she came around and even got up before she collapsed again.“At that point he called 911 but he couldn’t articulate the address and so he ran next door with the phone to get a neighbour to speak to the operator.“He was hysterical but he understands now that his nana is gone and I know this has really affected him,” said Ms Christopher.Hailed as a “champion for the underdog”, Hazel Christopher started out at Calypso as a seamstress in 1968 and opened her own business in 1974.“Although I’m her only biological daughter she was a mother, a sister, a best friend to so many. Our family has never been just about our family, she was always there for people who needed a home, people with problems whether they were Bermudian or non-Bermudian.“Her business was not just a traditional business, it was the go to place for celebration, pain, turmoil and support,” said Ms Christopher.It was in that store where the West Indian Association (Bermuda) was founded. Co-founder Shurnett Caines described Ms Christopher, as a “giant of a woman who gave her heart and soul to the West Indian and Bermudian community”.“She was always on the front line specifically for the Jamaican community. If anything went wrong within the Jamaican society, the two people that were usually called to give a helping hand were Mrs Christopher or myself,” she said.“We, along with the late John Evans, husband of the late Dame Lois Browne-Evans and a few others started the West Indian Association in her shop and my home in 1976.“She was a champion for the underdog and would be greatly missed and she has left a void in our community,” said Ms Caines.“On behalf of myself and my family, and Mrs Dana Smith, ‘Lady Dana’ who called from America, we extend our deepest condolences.”Dana Smith was a Jamaican beautician based in Bermuda who was well-known for her hair weaving and lotions. Her daughter is now co-owner of JA’NAUZI’s on King Street.West Indian Association President, Susan Moore-Williams cited a long list of people whose lives were touched by Ms Christopher.“We remember with immense gratitude that she and a small group of other courageous West Indians of like mind like former Chief Justice and current Justice of the Bermuda Court of Appeal, Austin Ward, who took the bold step to form the Association.“It was formed in the pursuit of justice for a Jamaican woman married to a Bermudian and resident in Bermuda who was denied the right to enrol her children in the Bermudian school system, at a time when the general public sentiment about West Indians was that they were ‘jump ups’ and therefore not entitled to the same rights as Bermudians.“This case, which became commonly known as the Fisher case [Ministry of Home Affairs & Another v Fisher, 1979] which was fought all the way to the Privy Council, has become a landmark case in this jurisdiction.“Ms Christopher’s legacy was not only as a trailblazer but also as an independent and successful business woman in this island. Her name is one that resonates not only in our history but in that of Bermuda,” said Ms Moore-Williams.Honorary Consul of Jamaica to Bermuda Winston Laylor, who is currently abroad was “shocked” when he heard of the passing. “Perhaps, this will be one of my greatest regrets in life — the inability of my part to attend the blissful sending off of my friend to the land of paradise.“I have tried everything heavenly possible to get an early flight to attend this ceremony — but to no avail,” said Mr Laylor.His tribute to be read at the funeral said: “Ms Christopher imparted to us the strength to cope with every earthbound struggle and care. She added depth and significance to every challenge we faced.Jamaican Association President Traddie Simpson has called for members to wear “one or a combination of all three” of Ms Christoper’s favourite colours — black, green or gold.“This is a very sad and difficult time for the family and the community at large, but if we pull together we can get through it,” he said.JAB members will also serve as honorary pallbearers and Court Street will be blocked off between Dundonald and Victoria Street from 5pm to 10pm. The wake will be held at the BIU building if it rains.Ms Christopher plans to keep her mother’s store open to honour her many years of service.“It is only fitting for us to celebrate her life on Court Street, to me that store will always be her place of business, it really hasn’t sunk in yet that she is gone forever,” she said.