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Happy 90th to a woman who made a difference

Some 80 people gathered to surprise Izola Harvey on the occasion of her 90th birthday on December 14.

This wonderful affair not only highlighted the significance of the milestone she reached, but the importance of the contribution she has made to Bermuda in concert with others; not the least being her husband of almost 60 years, Gerald Harvey.

Izola, while small of stature, is big of heart and character. Gerald and Izola were members of the Progressive Group, the secret committee of some 20 residents that played that pivotal role in removing formal segregation from the Island. She brought her humility, courage and ingenuity to that campaign. In Bermuda, at a time when it seemed all but impossible to move forward, the Progressive Group was able to initiate and coordinate by stealth, a movement that peacefully transformed our Island.

It was Izola who figured a way for the group to secretly obtain a copying machine; a vital tool for the campaign. She and Gerald had been accommodating tourists at their home for a number of years; covering their mortgage. Her neighbour, Betty Kawaley, had two visiting former classmates from Canada staying at the Harvey home. In light of that connection, Izola went out on a limb and the two Canadians agreed to purchase a machine which allowed the Progressive Group to produce hundreds of posters to publicise the Theatre Boycott in June, 1959.

The campaign was carefully co-ordinated. Teams of two started posting flyers on electric poles across the Island, precisely at 10.30pm on a Thursday. The person due to help Stan Ratteray in the West End didn't show up. Stan called Gerald for assistance, but he had just returned from minor surgery at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. In light of the circumstances, Izola insisted on helping Stan even though she was five months pregnant at the time. The rest is history.

Izola understood that being a team member includes a sense of independence, and she went over and beyond. That quality was something that she apparently gleaned from her family and her ‘village'. The youngest of eight, Izola dreamed of becoming a nurse but circumstances curtailed that goal. She eventually became a seamstress; a vocation she shared with Rosa Parks whose circumstances forestalled her dream of being a teacher. The two also shared the qualities of courage and humility.

These qualities Izola also shared with other members of the Progressive Group including her husband. Gerald had his own taxi and under that cover, was the only member of the Progressive Group who circulated flyers in the midst of that tense Boycott period when everyone wanted to know ‘Who's behind this?'.

Their two daughters describe their parents as being “joined at the heart”. It is obvious that their qualities of character positively impacted family life. That sense of independence saw Gerald purchase one of the earliest taxi permits. Their entrepreneurial spirit led them to accommodate tourists. It helped their family budget but also, inadvertently, helped the Boycott campaign. They have raised two wonderful daughters; Donna Harvey-Maybury who has served as an senior HR executive at the two major banks; Lisa Harvey-Swan is a senior vice-president and director of HR, Bermuda at Ace.

Izola's example shows how humility accesses courage to be able to make a difference in our world.

Milestone birthday: some 80 people helped Izola Harvey, pictured with her husband Gerald, to celebrate turning 90 on December 14. The couple were members of the Progressive Group, which helped to remove formal segregation from the Island (Photograph supplied)

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Published December 23, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 22, 2015 at 9:48 pm)

Happy 90th to a woman who made a difference

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