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Tributes to world-renowned opera singer

Jon Vickers

World-renowned opera singer Jon Vickers, who spent much of his life in Bermuda, has died at the age of 88.

The Canadian-born tenor, considered by many to be one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century, passed away in Canada on Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

Mr Vickers moved to Bermuda in 1973 with his Bermudian wife Henrietta and three of their five children, Kenny, Johnny and Wendy.

The family initially lived in Tucker’s Town and both boys went to Saltus Grammar School while Wendy attended Bermuda High School.

The father-of-five travelled across the globe in his professional capacity but Bermuda remained his home until 2009 when he returned to his native Canada.

His daughter-in-law, Jane Vickers, who married Kenny Vickers, described her father-in-law as a devoted family man who always put his children first.

“I met Kenny when I was just 15, so Jon was like a father figure to me growing up,” she said.

“They moved into Blue Horizons when they first got here so they could be close to the airport and Jon would spend as little time as possible travelling.

“His family meant everything to him. His children would go by boat to meet him when he arrived at the airport.

“Jon loved everything about Bermuda. He loved the people and the water. And he loved the privacy the Island and its people afforded him.” Mrs Vickers said her father-in-law was a “larger-than-life character”.

She added: “At Christmas time dozens of people and children from Christ’s Church would descend on the family house to sing hymns.

“Jon would play the piano and keep everyone entertained.

“He loved children and he loved spending time with his family.

“When he laughed you could hear it at the airport.”

Marjorie Pettit, the former Saltus music teacher, described Mr Vickers as a “delightful man” who would always come and watch his children in musical concerts.

“I initially got to know Jon through the Philosophical Society but I also knew his boys through Saltus.

“He would always come and support his children when they were involved in concerts. It was a little nerve racking for me to know that this giant of the opera scene was in the audience.

“Jon was a very kind man and always encouraging. In his professional life I’m sure he was very business-like, but in Bermuda he was always very down to earth and easy to speak with.

“He did not stand on his high stool. He understood the difference between the professional and amateur scenes.”

Mr Vickers was a stalwart of Christ Church in Warwick for several decades.

Former session’s clerk Danny Mannus said: “Jon was like a one-man choir in our 8pm evening service, when we did not have a choir.

“He was always approachable and very popular in church. He would give the most fantastic sermons.”

Mr Vickers was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 1926 and was the sixth of eight children.

In 1950 he was awarded a scholarship at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where he studied for five years.

He was invited to audition for London’s Royal Opera House in 1956, where he made his debut the following year. Mr Vickers’s career spanned three decades and saw him sing some of opera’s most challenging roles in the most celebrated locations.

Bermudian poet and lecturer Paul Maddern, a close family friend, paid tribute to Mr Vickers saying: “Jon Vickers’s great legacy will be his integrity.

“He recognised the urgent need for responsible guardianship of all that is worthwhile in the production and reception of art.

“Of all they accomplished together, I’m certain Jon and Hettie would rank their children’s intellectual inquisitiveness, strength and decency as their greatest achievements.”

A statement released by his family described Mr Vickers as a “deeply religious and private man”.

The statement added: “His family and dearest friends remember him for his ringing laughter, warmth, and generous spirit.

“A man of the land who was most at home on his farm, surrounded by nature and his family, he had an abiding search for the truths and essences of life.”

Mr Vickers was a recipient of many honours and awards and held seven honorary degrees, two Grammy awards and in 1969, was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Receiving the Molson Prize in 1976 and the Evening Standard Award in 1978, he was named to the Academy of Vocal Arts Hall of Fame for Great American Singers in 1985.