Patrina O’Connor-Paynter was just named International Woman of the Year, but chances are, you won’t find the award framed on her wall.
The 47-year-old charity boss was “honoured” to receive the accolade and describes how she “immediately started to cry” when she found out, not seeing herself as deserving. It was much the same when she got a Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in 2016 for her work in the community. A colleague recently found that certificate hidden away in her office and chided her to get better at singing her own praises.
Instead, O’Connor-Paynter focuses on other people—whether she is running Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda or emceeing a big event. When asked what motivates her, she thinks for a minute and then replies simply: “I always like to look at the positive side of things and I like to bring joy to people’s lives.” That’s a trait ingrained in her at a young age from watching her female elders. Both her grandmothers—Granny Johnson and Granny Taylor—”looked out for other people” whatever the struggles they themselves were dealing with. Her mother, Patricia O’Connor, is just the same. “They never let on what they were going through,” she says. “They wanted to just do for others, and they realised that we are all going through stuff.”
O’Connor-Paynter grew up in the church and joined her mom on stage singing gospel for the first time aged just seven or eight. “I wasn’t afraid,” she recalls. “I was never afraid to be in front of a crowd.” After that, the mother-and-daughter act performed all over the island, an activity she loved and which immersed her in Bermuda’s thriving music scene, which brought its own challenges. Schoolmates—she attended Gilbert Institute and the Berkeley Institute—pegged her as a “goody two shoes” church girl and she struggled to fit in. But her deep faith in God endured and she had the benefit of family support, especially from her mom, who was a para educator. “She let me be me,” she says. “Sometimes I did stifle myself when I really wanted to fit in and be like everybody else. As I got older, I became unapologetic…and realised we are called to do something in life, and we should follow that calling.”
That calling has led her in multiple directions since she majored in communications at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She started out at Bermuda Broadcasting Company doing marketing and appearing on screen, but she is perhaps most famous as “Power Girl Trina,” the upbeat voice of a Power 95 radio show that ran for almost 15 years until 2017. Her work as an MC and motivational speaker who exudes energy and positivity means she remains a high-profile public figure. She has thousands of followers on Instagram, as does her beloved dog Chewy. But her full-time charity job and extracurricular philanthropic work, such as fundraising recently for a new playground at Pig’s Field in Pembroke, take up most of her time.
As managing director of BBBS, O’Connor-Paynter takes seriously the challenge of pairing youngsters with mentors and ensuring they are exposed to as many opportunities as possible, whatever their interests and ambitions. It’s clear she feels a deep connection with the youngsters whom the charity helps: “I find that there are a lot of young people that are like me, that have been stifled and feel alone and feel alienated and so it’s crazy because now I work in a mentoring organisation and I’m able to be who I am here and be able to reach other young people that might be going through those same type of challenges.” She loves the adrenaline of hosting an unscripted live event but says she is really happiest reading a book at her Pembroke home, which she shares with husband Quincy and son Jaquari Paynter. Still, that desire for a quiet life doesn’t often pan out.
“I get involved in a lot,” she admits. “I feel if I have the time and the energy and the capacity, then why not. It starts with each of us. Each of us has a part to play.”