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Tributes for PLP stalwart Peniston

Principled: Rita Peniston

“A respected and caring mother not just to her own children, but to the whole Devonshire community.”

This was the poignant tribute paid last night to Rita Peniston by her family. Mrs Peniston, who was the first cousin of Dame Lois Browne-Evans and a loyal supporter of the Progressive Labour Party, passed away on Tuesday in Bermuda at the age of 73.

Her three children Shernette Wolffe, Vernalda Hudgen and Shannon Peniston led the tributes to a firm but kind-hearted woman who championed social justice and equality on the island.

“We did not realise the immense impact our mother had on the whole community,” Ms Wolffe said. “So many people from all walks of life have come out to support us since her passing and told us numerous stories about her.

“She was a very principled person and instilled in us a very strong work ethic. Values of honesty and integrity were at the top of her list. She had a very caring heart; she loved cooking and baking, and would often turn up at my work with all sorts of goodies.

“She was a mother not only to her children but also to all the children in the neighbourhoods where we lived. She had a wit about her and was firm and feisty. She left a real legacy.”

Ms Hudgen, who flew into Bermuda yesterday from Connecticut, told The Royal Gazette: “We always talked, sometimes four or five times a week, and we always talked about politics. She was always very into politics both in America and Bermuda.”

Mr Peniston added: “She always stood firm, and all my friends looked up to her as a mother. She was the mother they all wanted to have.”

Mrs Peniston grew up in Devonshire and attended the Berkeley Institute.

She followed in the footsteps of her Ming ancestors, becoming an accomplished baker. She also went on to work as a preschool teacher at Toddler’s Garden in Devonshire.

Tina Evans, Mrs Peniston’s niece, added: “My mother and her cousin, Rita, enjoyed a very close relationship. Rita was a frequent visitor to our home up until the time of my parents’ death.

“She was well versed and proud of our family history and would share our family connections with the younger generation. Rita was a no-nonsense woman who spoke her mind and did not hesitate to stand up for what she believed. She has been a significant matriarch to our entire family and will be sadly missed.”

In 1983, Mrs Peniston ran for the PLP in the Pembroke West constituency.

The party hailed her as a “dedicated member and supporter” in a statement, adding: “She was a steadfast supporter through thick and thin.

“A woman of principle, she was not one to hold her tongue, but she was one to ensure we stayed committed and true to our goals.

“She fought alongside the heroes of yesteryear in their quest for equal rights and social justice for all. And as many of her generation retired or passed on to glory, she could still be found at party functions and celebrations, supporting the PLP.

“The PLP family will truly miss Rita Peniston and we send our heartfelt condolences to her children, extended family, and friends. May they be comforted by their memories.”

Mrs Peniston had worked at the Arnold’s store on St John’s Road in Pembroke for the past 15 years and was well-known for her dazzling hats and smart outfits.

Frank Arnold described her as a “one-of-a-kind” and “well-loved” part of the Arnold’s team.

“She was an excellent employee and always well presented at work,” he said. “Just recently, she took to wearing hats while in the store; she would call me up and tell me that people loved her hats and her smart outfits.

“And they did; Rita was a real character. She was never shy in putting her opinions out there, and came across as a very down-to-earth person.

“She was well loved by all and will be greatly missed.”