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Special court tributes to former minister

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Close attention: family members of Ann Cartwright-DeCouto(Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A cherished book lifted from the rubble of the late Ann Cartwright DeCouto’s office was among the tributes shared at a Supreme Court special sitting held for her.

The veteran lawyer’s chambers at 79 Front Street was among the offices consumed in the epic blaze of July 21 — just weeks after the former Deputy Premier and minister died at the age of 71.

A wealth of anecdotes emerged at yesterday’s ceremony, recognising her character, her role as a founding figure of family law in Bermuda, and her public service.

Reflecting on her “big-sisterly warmth”, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley drew laughter as he recalled the fear she instilled as a formidable matrimonial lawyer.

“It’s a difficult time for all of us,” Trevor Moniz, the Attorney-General, told the room. “You realise how much you had when it’s gone.”

Mrs Cartwright DeCouto’s picture looked on, alongside Dame Lois Browne-Evans and Shirley Simmons, the other two pioneering female members of the Bermuda Bar — a trio dubbed “the Three Musketeers”.

Bermuda has grown accustomed to rancorous demonstrations, Mr Moniz noted, but his old colleague was marched upon and physically threatened when, as Minister of the Environment, she pushed forward the fish pot ban that ultimately brought Bermuda’s fish stocks back from ruin.

“She made good decisions, and stood by them,” he said.

Director of Public Prosecutions Larry Mussenden recalled her sharp wit on another occasion for which Mrs Cartwright DeCouto became infamous: her staunch opposition to the bid to bring the McDonald’s franchise to Bermuda.

Telling her in passing on the street that he wanted a hamburger, Mr Mussenden was treated to the reply: “You can get bloody homemade ones here in Bermuda.”

Karen Williams-Smith, the vice-president of the Bermuda Bar Council, told Mr Justice Kawaley that her old mentor and friend had “paved the way for all females in this profession — and also advanced the rights of women, who felt empowered”. Her colleague, Wendell Hollis, showed the courtroom the volume he had retrieved from the ruins of the fire he had watched bring down the building where Mrs Cartwright DeCouto set up her office in 1972.

Her name was still stamped inside its cover.

Impressively well versed in a wide range of law, Mr Hollis said she drew the line at only one area: international business.

Mrs Cartwright DeCouto was a force to be reckoned with in the 1995 Independence Referendum, he recalled: the ill-fated vote coincided with Hurricane Felix. The Government sought to postpone the referendum, he said, but the application for an order that it to go ahead was swiftly drafted by candlelight in Mrs Cartwright DeCouto’s kitchen.

Patricia Harvey hailed her as “a driving force behind pivotal legislation impacting family law and other areas”, while Georgia Marshall, another colleague who joined her firm after being Called to the Bar by her, saluted her work ethic and gift for teaching.

She was famously comfortable with keeping things as they had been, senator Marshall added, recalling having to push her into bringing fax machines into the office. “I have learnt much that I did not know,” Mr Justice Kawaley concluded.

“I will be comforted that her spirit clearly lives on in the Bermuda Bar, and in wider Bermuda.”

Special sitting: Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley and Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves(Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Paying respects: Larry Mussenden and Attorney-General Trevor Moniz(Photograph by Akil Simmons)