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Howes remembered as an inspiration to us all

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Television personality and musician Jean Howes is being remembered as a dedicated, charitable, loving woman who lived her life to the fullest, despite being blind for most of her life.

Mrs Howes, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year, passed away on Monday evening.

Renowned for her entertainment and educational shows, she was determined not to be hindered by her blindness caused when she was struck in the eye with a stone at the age of just 9.

She championed local musical talent and co-hosted the popular TV Christmas show with legendary Bermuda musician Gene Steede for some 20 years following her retirement.

She was also a founding member of the Beacon Club in 1954 which was later to become the Bermuda Society for the Blind and travelled the island educating children about the danger of throwing stones.

Her only son Terry Southern said his mother, who died just a few hours before the birth of her fifth great-grandchild Kenji, was a strong yet giving person. “She was a lovely mother — strict but patient.

“She wrote a book of poems. I had a son named Aaron — he died about 40 years ago from cystic fibrosis. One of the poems is called A Letter To Aaron because they loved each other so much. She made about $8,000 from the sales but gave every single dollar away to charity.

“She was a very giving person. She would go to the hospital to sing until she was getting so old I had to tell her to slow down.

“She had to be independent being blind. She would learn things by the hard knocks and would always have to know how to do something herself.”

Michael Dunkley, the Premier, also paid tribute yesterday, saying: “She dedicated a great deal of her time to charitable work and despite being blind she had an independent spirit, led a full life and was an inspiration to us all.”

The Progressive Labour Party added: “We thank Ms Howes for her dedication to our community, and we extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends during this most difficult time.”

Mrs Howes moved from Nova Scotia to Bermuda at the age of two with her parents and four siblings but temporarily studied in Canada at a special school for children with sight loss.

Returning to Bermuda, she took up a full-time job in the pricing department at Medical Hall where she remained for 35 years.

She went on to become a talented musician, playing the piano, the accordion, the mouth organ and guitar. Along with her band she played at venues across Bermuda and also played at residential care homes and the hospital.

In December 1993, she was awarded the Queen's Certificate in the New Year's honours list for her contribution to the island's charities and the community.

She later worked for Fernance Perry, former owner of the Bermuda Broadcasting Corporation, answering the phones at Mayfair Limited until her retirement when she took up his offer to start a music show. It was there that Ms Howes's iconic holiday television show Jean and Gene's Christmas was born.

Her co-star Gene Steede described her as one of his best friends.

“She is a big, big miss,” he said. “She was a wonderful, charitable person. She loved everybody and she never turned anybody down. It breaks me up just to think about it.

“It was easy to work with her because she was very talented. It was her show but she just made me feel a part of it. I liked to keep her laughing. She loved to laugh. She was one of my best friends. Musically you could do anything you liked — her favourite was country music. She was Bermuda's Gene Autry,” he laughed.

Mrs Howes's love for country music was such that she would often call up radio personality David Lopes, who plays the genre often on his morning show.

He recalled: “She would call me on the David Lopes Morning Show on Inspire FM and she sure was an inspiration! She did a Bermuda version of This Land is Your Land and she did a song called If You Could See the World Through The Eyes of a Child.

“She was always up — there was never a time that I ever spoke to her despite her being blind and her setbacks that she wasn't positive.”

Darlene Ming was the producer for her TV Christmas special and described Mrs Howes as being “in touch with the community”.

“She had a real skill when it came to keeping her finger on the pulse of any type of new, unknown talent. Come October, when we were ready for production, she would come with a group signed, sealed and delivered. She was a wonderful person. She always tells the story about her mother who insisted that she should never pity herself because of her blindness.

“Her other senses were sharper; she was very intuitive and her memorisation was extraordinary — she didn't use a telephone directory. It was all in her head.”

Mrs Howes was the first blind resident to have a guide dog and taught Braille to people with visual impairments. She was a great advocate for the blind in Bermuda and in 2012 author Ellen Kelly wrote a book called Through My Eyes inspired by her life.

President of the board of the Bermuda Society for the Blind, Amanda Marshall said: “She was the most famous blind person in Bermuda and was therefore an advocate, mentor and spokesperson.

“Jean really believed that being blind didn't matter and that you should live life to the fullest — she showed everyone how to do that. From our point of view she was the spirit that we hope everyone with vision loss in the community would embody.”

Her friend Ronnie Lopes described her as “a wonderful, giving person”. “She would call me up out of the blue and say ‘hey bie, I need you to play the drums for me on such-and-such a day — I'll see you when you get there — it was not ‘can you do it?' [Laughs]. And when I got there she was so gracious and nice — so thrilled and happy. You couldn't tell her ‘no' when she asked you something and you know why? Because she would never refuse anyone.

“She made you feel so important, like you were larger than life. She was the one who was my hero, she just didn't know it.”

Mrs Howes lived at Westmeath residential home for 13 months and in the last month her health started to deteriorate. She was married twice, first to Lorraine George Southern and then to George Howes.

She leaves behind her son Terry, three grandchildren — Julie, Kelly and Cecilia — and five great-grandchildren, Jamie, Aaron, Charlie, Kayla and Kenji.

Her funeral will be held at the Cathedral of The Most Holy Trinity and will be open to all.

Jean Howes, with fellow entertainer Gene Steede (File photograph)

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Published August 16, 2016 at 10:40 am (Updated August 17, 2016 at 9:44 am)

Howes remembered as an inspiration to us all

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