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Jeweller and war veteran dies at 78

Sayeed Ramadan, father of Shadow Health Minister Kim Wilson, was described as philosophical and deeply spiritual by his daughter

Businessman and jeweller Sayeed Ramadan, a war veteran and the father of Progressive Labour Party MP and Shadow Health Minister Kim Wilson, has died at the age of 78.

A tireless advocate for entrepreneurship and self sufficiency, Mr Ramadan prided himself on creating his own business, and never hesitated to speak out on racial justice.

In letters to this newspaper, he spoke out about “his beliefs in racial reconciliation, the need for black empowerment, and an acknowledgment of the benefits enjoyed by Europeans due to their white privilege”, his daughter said.

He was also a Progressive Labour Party stalwart, coming from a family background steeped in politics and the labour movement.

The party offered condolences yesterday.

“We hope the family and friends of Mr Ramadan will be comforted by their memories as they navigate through this difficult time,” a statement read.

Mr Ramadan, formerly Woodrow Eugene Wilson, was the fourth of seven children born to Robert Austin Wilson and Dorothy Kathleen Wilson. He grew up on North Shore, Devonshire, later attending Central School, now Victor Scott Primary.

His father, a carpenter, had been instrumental in founding the Bermuda Workers Association, a precursor to the Bermuda Industrial Union that was founded 74 years ago today.

“It was hard to be born into the family of the late Robert Austin Wilson and not be shaped in some way by politics and the need to help improve the lots of others,” Ms Wilson recalled.

“My grandfather instilled this into his children and my father did likewise for his children.”

Reluctant to follow in his father’s trade, keen to travel and seek a life of adventure in the army, Mr Ramadan was determined instead to join the US Army.

He enlisted in 1958 at the age of 22 and was posted to Germany.

During a home visit, Mr Ramadan married Dawn Barclay in 1961, and the couple had twin daughters, Kay and Kim, at Mr Ramadan’s new post in Panama.

As well as serving in the military police, Mr Ramadan saw action as the leader of a platoon.

He attained the rank of Sergeant and served in Vietnam, acquiring battle tales that included a bout of malaria and barely escaping with his life from a minefield. He was honourably discharged in 1967.

Making jewellery became a passion after he was hired to polish jewellery in 1957, and many Bermudians still recall Mr Ramadan’s store and its radio slogan of “a jeweller in the jewellery business”.

He was schooled in New York, specialising in gold, and determined to work for himself, ultimately producing his own designs of rings, bracelets, brooches and pendants — including the pieces “One God” and Word in the Bird’, popular with locals and visitors.

Wilson Jewellery Repairs, which opened on Court Street in 1969 and was later called the Bermuda Jewellery Centre, was burned down during Bermuda’s riots of the 1970s.

Mr Ramadan sold his business, moved to New York, and returned to the Island in 1985, opening Personalised Jewellery to finance his children’s education.

Describing her father as philosophical and deeply spiritual, Ms Wilson recalled showing up to work in his store one day dressed in a sun dress and flip flops, and being scolded to dress appropriately.

A tireless PLP advocate, he would later serve as his daughter’s confidant and advisor, through posts such as Attorney General.

After selling his jewellery business, Mr Ramadan became a familiar sight around the Island, selling clothing imported from Africa. He also served on the Bermuda Business Organisation.

According to his family, he proved key in promoting the market around Warwick’s landmark rubber tree. The site, a former burial ground for slaves, was for Mr Ramadan a symbol of slave descendants overcoming their past through economic freedom and self reliance.

With his health faltering, Mr Ramadan moved in with his daughter Kim. He attended the rubber tree market for the last time on December 20.

“My father believed deeply in the need for persons, especially those from the African diaspora, to be self-reliant,” Ms Wilson said yesterday.

“He stressed the importance for persons of African descent to work hard together in order to become self-reliant and empower ourselves, because by doing so you could better combat racism and oppression.”

In a 2007 letter to this newspaper, Mr Ramadan wrote that the black population needed “to get out of this ‘go along in order to get along’ mentality, and white people need to get out of that white skin is superior mindset”.

Ms Wilson said her father believed “do not be concerned with what people say about you; just do what you know is right — and do it for God, not for man”.