Although she was born in Bermuda on August 30, 1935, Ann Smith Gordon spent some years of her childhood in the U.S. “I was ill as a child,” she explains, “and my parents were told, ‘If you don’t get this child away, she’s going to die.’ So we went to stay with my mother’s sister in North Carolina. This was in 1943. They thought I was an asthmatic, but it turned out I was allergic to virtually every food on the face of the earth!”
When she was 10, the family returned to Bermuda to settle in Fairylands, Pembroke Parish. They first lived in the Anchorage Guest House on Pitt’s Bay Road. In 1947, they moved to Annfield, a house her parents bought on top of the hill opposite a house called Mount Vernon. There her father kept a chicken coop, so they always had fresh eggs. Her brother, Jimmy, had a dog, and she had a cat, which always went swimming with her.
Moving to a new neighbourhood can be a difficult transition for a child, but for her the adjustment was easy. “I loved living in Fairylands because of the friendships I had,” she says. “There was such a wonderful crowd of children, both boys and girls—Peter Cooper, Tommy Dickinson, John Carey, Vaughan Cooper, Ann Harnett. But sometimes we were naughty, very naughty.”
She remembers stealing flowers from Mayfair, a house belonging to Fernance Perry, and then selling them right in front of his door. “I always got away with everything!” She has a memory of feeling “vexed” with her mother. “I crossed the road and climbed a tree and then I guess I got tired and came back. My mother said, ‘Ann, are you speaking to me?’ I said, ‘No, I’m speaking to myself, but it’s about you!’”
In the summer they swam at a little beach in Fairylands they called the Point. “We’d go through the gate at Point Shares and over a little bridge. There was a walking path through to the beach. We’d often swim there and have picnics. And I’d also swim off a dock in Fairylands while my father fished. They were two lovely places. But one time we went in the water out at Mills Creek before the warehouses were there. It was mud, pure mud. We got in the mud waist high, clinging onto a mangrove tree. It was terrible, terrible. It didn’t smell very nice either. Another terrible thing we did, we children used to chase each other over the mangroves. Can you imagine the damage we did in our ignorance?”
There was also plenty of open space to explore, since houses were few. “Fields were all around. There were cows, and we’d chase those poor cows and torment them to death. And we could walk right through to the bottom of Cox’s Hill.”
One time a walk through the country got them in to trouble. “We were walking in the fields through a Portuguese lady’s property. She shouted something bad to us, and we shouted back in Portuguese something someone taught to us. We didn’t know what it meant!” When the woman reported them to the police, they learned it meant kiss my arse. “We did say it! But we were really innocent!”
She rode a horse named Bucky. Together with one of her best friends, Jennifer Freisenbruch, she rode all the way to Spanish Point. “There were virtually no cars then. I can remember when Cousin Frances Zuill bought her first car, and she took us for a drive to St. George’s. And you know the hill going up to the Government House gate? She made us get out of the car and walk and push the car in case the hill was too much of a strain for it. We were most put out!”
While living in the U.S., reading Enid Blyton adventure books motivated her to form a society called the Accomplishers. In Fairylands, she formed one called All Expeditions. Naturally, she was the leader. Naturally, they needed transport, including roller skates and highjacked horses and carriages. “The horse and carriages used to take the same route as they do today, down Pitt’s Bay Road and then they’d turn on Fairylands Road and go out by the old Fairylands Hotel. We’d see one coming and kind of lie in wait. We had to let it go past, then we’d chase it and then hang on the back. The horse would pull us all the way up the hill on Fairylands Road while we were on our roller skates. But if they [the drivers] caught us, they’d get very angry, and I don’t blame them.”
All the children had bicycles, which they pedalled to school. “Fairylands was wonderful for getting to school,” she explains. In her case, this meant riding to Bermuda High School for Girls (BHS). “We’d pedal in little gangs. If one of us had to go ahead for some reason, she’d leave a note in the dry stone wall on Pitt’s Bay Road.” Sometimes several children would ride one bicycle—one on the crossbar, one on the handlebars, one on the fender, one on the seat—and coast down the hill toward Westmeath. Bikes gave them freedom to explore the whole island. “We’d pedal to St. George’s and explore St. Catherine’s Fort before it was done up. That was really dangerous because the tunnels were so dark. And we’d look at the centipedes in a glass bottle in the window of a café opposite Coots Pond. Sometimes we’d ride to Tommy Dickinson’s father’s house in Somerset.”
One of her most memorable trips was a visit to Devil’s Hole. “The man who was running the place promised on his word that if I caught a fish I could take it home. Damned if I didn’t catch a fish! It was a 20-pound snapper. What I did was lasso it. I waited until the fish ran through the lasso, and I jumped in and got it on the dock. That was one of my first betrayals in life, because he wouldn’t let me keep it even though he gave his word.”
When they were in their teens, their bicycle escapades became more sophisticated. In 1950, she and her friends rode on the crossbars of their boyfriends’ bikes to follow the Talbot Brothers. “Saturday night, they played at The Reefs, Wednesday at Elbow Beach and Monday at the Princess. Sometimes we’d sit out in the Dickinsons’ boat and listen to the music. I started drinking at 15. We’d all drink vodka Collins, but one drink would last us all night. Imagine the hotel letting us sit at a table making one drink last the whole time!”
Some Saturdays they went to the Eagle’s Nest (now the Hamiltonian Hotel) to watch water polo, after which they danced the night away. In addition, there were dances on White’s Island. “And every year Hinson Cooper on Pitt’s Bay Road would have a Guy Fawkes party with firecrackers.”
Like many children of the era, she played alleys (marbles) and hopscotch. Sometimes she played skipping rope, sometimes ping-pong at the Dickinsons’ house. There was also the kissing game, spin the bottle. As she grew older, she loved tennis, although she was mostly self-taught. “There wasn’t much money in the family, so I had just 10 formal lessons.” There wasn’t money for a racquet, either. “My first racquet was a hand-me-down from Gray Robinson. His daughter Marianne was also one of my best friends. The racquet was wooden and heavy. It weighed a ton, believe me, because it was meant for a man.” But these impediments did not stop her from winning the under-16s at the tennis stadium or the last tennis tournament to be held at BHS. There was also a private tennis court in Fairylands belonging to Edmund Gibbons. “I used to play with David Gibbons and Graham. If one of their four didn’t turn up, they’d ask me to play.” Later she played at Coral Beach Club. One notable game was with movie star Montgomery Clift, who specifically asked her to play. She still has his signature in her autograph book.
Even hurricanes were an excuse for a good time. “My friend Charlie’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ives, used to rent Westmoreland for the summer, and we’d go there for hurricane parties.” Staying there was an excuse to visit the maze on the neighbouring Norwood property. “It was a fabulous maze. I knew how to get to the center, so we girls would rush to the middle, but the boys, who included Peter Cooper and John Carey, couldn’t catch us because they didn’t know how to get there!” Her family has another connection with the property. She is a direct descendent of Richard Norwood, who produced Bermuda’s first survey and who originally owned the property in the seventeenth century.
She has a vivid memory of Frank Watlington, who lived down the road from her family. “I remember him calling me. ‘Come and hear what I’ve just done.’ For the first time ever he had got a recording of a humpback whale singing. It was the first time in history a whale had been recorded. He was so excited! And I heard it that very day!”
Life wasn’t all play, however. When she was around 10, she worked at the Anchorage Guest House, where she and her family had first stayed upon their return to Bermuda. “We were hired to serve people breakfast. We’d get the orders all wrong! Then on Saturdays we worked at the Trade Development Board at the Hamilton Hotel [where City Hall is now] and licked stamps. They paid us.”
The pocket money they earned made treats such as Dusty Roads possible. “They were ice creams with chocolate sauce on top and some kind of powdery substance. We’d buy them at Medical Hall [on Reid Street in Hamilton] on the way back from school.” The Green Lantern on Serpentine Road was also a favourite stop. In those days, it was a shop as well as a restaurant. “One day on the way home from school, we went into the shop and gazed at the lipsticks and compacts on the counter.” But looking at them caused trouble. Later that night a police officer came to her home in the mistaken belief she had stolen a lipstick. “Where they got the idea I’d stolen one, I don’t know. We were looking at them because we knew we weren’t allowed to wear any makeup.”
For many years, of course, the name Ann Smith Gordon has been almost synonymous with P.A.L.S., so it is no surprise that she was always serious about nursing. Often she played nurse, and if her brother and cousin did not cooperate by submitting to her ministrations, they “couldn’t come into my hospital!” She used to dissect dead birds if she found them. She was also responsible for giving sex classes to all her friends when she was 12, after reading a book on obstetrics she had sneaked from a nurse.
From the age of eight, she had decided to go to nursing school in North Carolina, at the same hospital where her aunt had worked. “When I was in the States as a child, I was allowed to go there all the time. I became the hospital’s mascot with my own student uniform. They gave me a special Florence Nightingale lamp. I always knew I would go back. In those days, the BHS school year ran from January to December. The nursing school didn’t start until September. I went to the King Edward Hospital and begged them to give me something to do. And so I became the OR skivvy and the hospital’s first volunteer. They even gave me a uniform. Millie was the maid, and a gentleman named Pond an orderly—they were my bosses. We did all the dirty work. We did the sterilising and, my dear, we’d sharpen all the needles on a stone to get rid of the burrs on them! The poor patients!”
After all her years dedicated to nursing and to patient care, she remembers her happy, carefree childhood in Fairylands with humorous affection. “It was very quiet and safe, but sometimes we really were naughty then, now I come to think about it!”
Born August 30, 1935
As president and chief executive of P.A.L.S., Ann Smith Gordon (RN) has given years of dedicated service to this wonderful organisation that supports cancer patients by offering free home care and support. In 1986, she received the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour, and in 1996 received an MBE for her service to the community.