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Former St David’s teacher ‘Auntie Helene’ dies at 89

A long-serving St David’s teacher and counsellor popularly known as “Auntie Helene” has died aged 89.

Helene Paynter, who taught for more than 30 years at St David’s Primary School, was also the daughter of the school’s founder, Hilton Richardson.

“She started teaching when she was young — I know that she was accepted into the Berkeley Institute but denied entry, and she went right into teaching,” recalled her daughter, Cindy O’Brien. “Teaching was in her blood. She was also an evangelist for a long time.”

Ms Paynter was “a strong disciplinarian” who ruled the classroom simply by fixing students with a piercing green stare for which she was famed across the Island, Ms O’Brien added.

Ms Paynter and her two sisters Bernice and Iris sang as the Richardson Sister Trio, but devoutly limited their performances to churches and the St George’s Chorale.

Devoted to St Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church, “Auntie Helene” was awarded the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in 2009 for her religious service.

Her maiden name, Minors, reflected her American Indian ancestry extending back to the slave Jacob Minors, Ms O’Brien said.

Ms Paynter’s funeral is set for 3pm tomorrow at St Luke, and her daughter hopes for a commemoration at the St David’s Powwow that night.

“Mom was very loving, well respected, and she loved to travel,” Ms O’Brien said, recalling her mother’s love of stiletto heels to compensate for her short stature.

A lifelong resident of Cove Valley Road, Ms Paynter fearlessly walked the steep hill roads of the area in high heels.

“Auntie Helene” spent the last three years of her life as a resident at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, following a debilitating stroke in 2010. She passed away on Saturday.

Remembered as a classic St David’s Islander, Ms Paynter showed her support for Somerset during Cup Match — a throwback to the days when there was friction between islanders and the St George’s team.

She was the widow of Albert “Bruce” Paynter, Sr.

Ms O’Brien said her mother had left a lasting impression on generations of Bermudians.

“All her students would say they trembled when that look came about. She also gave extra time to students who needed help doing better. Failure was not acceptable to her.”

She added: “But I don’t ever remember her licking any of us. Just that look was enough.”

St David's Primary School teacher Helene Paynter - 'Aunt Helene' to generations of former students - is pictured with family at her 86th birthday. Ms Paynter has died at the age of 89.

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Published June 21, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 21, 2013 at 12:31 am)

Former St David’s teacher ‘Auntie Helene’ dies at 89

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