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Five decades of warm welcomes

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Lawrence Burchall has spent 50 years working at Elbow Beach. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

It was 50 years ago today that Lawrence Burchall joined the staff at Elbow Beach. He was 18 years old, new to the hospitality industry and thrilled with his job as a bellman. Now the hotel’s bell captain, the senior citizen has no plans to quit and is still lifting luggage and running around the property as he did in the early days.

When did you join Elbow Beach? Had you worked in tourism before that?

I joined on January 21, 1965. I’d worked a year at Castle Harbour [now Rosewood Tucker’s Point]. I did motor engineering at [Bermuda] Technical Institute but never touched an engine except my own. I was asked to Castle Harbour to see about a job and I became a busboy and a waiter. And then an ex-employee asked if I wanted a job at Elbow. I lived in Hamilton and so it was closer to home and always full, so it was a good fit for me. I came here.

What did you do?

I came here as a bellman. I got to greet people, assist the coordination of luggage and delivery to and from the rooms. I’m always approached for information about the hotel, the Island.

Are you doing anything special to celebrate your 50 years? Did you ever think about retiring?

I didn’t realise it had been that long. I guess I wasn’t racing to do nothing. I never felt I worked much because I really enjoy what I do. Elbow’s a good property. I think one of the reasons why I stayed is it was owned by the richest man in England and a richer man bought it from him — so there was security. Cancer took my wife Millicent in 2004. So now it’s just me at home. It’s been a nice, comfortable life.

How old are you?

I’m 68.

You’re on your feet a good portion of the day. Where do you get your stamina from?

I often forget I am a senior citizen until I am reminded when I go to the bank and I have to go to the senior citizen’s help desk. I have always kept active, in my younger years I played soccer. In the early days we would put our guests in the small elevator and race the stairs to beat it up — to sometimes the fourth floor. The duties and responsibilities of my job today keep me active with a lot of walking about the property and lifting luggage. I am always on the go. I have never felt the need to buy a gym membership. You are only as old as you think you are. Partial influence, from the early days for stamina would be to just complete your tasks and do the job no matter what goes wrong. No limits.

Have a lot of movie stars come here? Did you get to meet any?

I’ve met [the late US actor] Tony Curtis. I don’t know if you recall when The Young and the Restless was here? They filmed here for about a month at one of the cottages down the hill and so I met them. In recent days a lot are sports stars — [NBA players] Charles Barkley, [David] West; there have been a lot of [New York] Giants footballers and we had Jeffrey Lurie, the guy who owns the Philadelphia Eagles. He came in for a wedding.

What about repeat visitors?

A lot of people do come back that were honeymooners or came for College Weeks. A lot send their moms and dads back as a thank-you for putting them through school.

Do they talk about any changes to Bermuda or the hotel?

I think some repeat visitors [are surprised] by the degree of entertainment compared to what it was when they were here before. In earlier days if you were here for seven days, you could go to seven different places and not see it all. Now you can see it all in a night or two.

Do first timers have a lot of misconceptions about the Island?

Some people come and are amazed they can’t rent a car.

What do you like most about your job?

One thing I enjoy about work is coordinating the flow. In Bermuda we have a flight pattern in a limited time frame so everyone arrives [around the same time]. You’ve got 100 rooms checking in and probably 100 going out so it’s really a hustle. [As well], some will stash their luggage here while they go off to the beach or wherever.

Do you ever get to travel to properties related to the hotel?

I got to go to a few places overseas. I remember myself, one bellman and a concierge [went to The Mark], a higher end hotel in New York. In New York a plane arrives every 59 seconds and takes off every 60 seconds and there are people from all parts of the world. It was always busy and there was seldom ever a grumble — and I was there maybe five days. Oprah was there and Bruce Springstein and a lot of really famous people during the week I was there. The thought was we could go and see a different level of service.

Elbow didn’t have a lot of sales hype because it was full, but the plan was to target the higher end and so they said we should go and see. It really was a good experience. [When the hotel was owned by Wyndham], they would give you five days anywhere. I would go to Jamaica.

I love Test cricket and would spend a week on the coast and then a week in the city and watch the game.

How has tourism in Bermuda changed over the years?

I think now it’s a lot easier for people to travel. In those earlier days, credit was at a low level. You needed money. Now, anybody can go anywhere in the world. I just came back from Florida. I leave here, go to a town house, punch in [a security code] and really don’t see any personnel. I don’t talk to a person. There’s something missing from the experience. People want that connection with a face.

Do you have children? Do they work in hospitality as well?

My oldest son Lawrence Jr works part-time here as duty manager. My daughter Lauren Burchall works in reservations and my other son Marvin was [handpicked by Endicott College for a hospitality scholarship]. He used to work in the Verandah Bar when it was here and he served Lynn Bak who coordinates Endicott’s School of International Education here. She was impressed with him. She said to me: “That young man’s got skills, he’s unbelievable.”

Months went by and she raved again and finally I said, “That’s my son”. She didn’t believe me. Eventually she found out I was telling the truth. She recommended him to [Endicott president Richard] Wylie as a candidate for Endicott. He met Marvin and agreed. [Because of the $34,000 annual scholarship offer he was written about] in Jet magazine, he was on Boston TV. He now works with MEF at Lido and at Gosling’s. I have another daughter Shamika Simmons who’s a fraud investigator for Clarien and my son Jonathan Tankard is musical director at Paget Primary and [started] PinkSand Entertainment.