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A tricolour island in the sun

A tricolour island in the sun

The University’s decision to award an honorary degree to former Bermuda premier Dame Pamela Gordon Banks this spring underscores ties between Queen’s and “the Jewel of the Atlantic” that go back more than a century.

In the winter of 1902, Kingston lawyer Robert Vashon Rogers, BA 1861, LLD 1895, took a holiday in Bermuda. He liked what he found there.

The Gulf Stream-warmed British island colony was “so near to the hurly-burly of nerve-straining Gotham,” Rogers reported to the readers of the Queen’s Quarterly, “and yet it is a very haven of rest for body and mind.” Rogers, a Queen’s trustee, thus helped to initiate what has become more than a century of “body and mind” friendship between “the Old Strand” and “the Jewel of the Atlantic.”

Dame Pamela Gordon BanksDame Pamela Gordon Banks

This year, that friendship deepened when at the Spring Convocation for this year’s Executive MBA class, the University bestowed an honorary doctorate on Dame Pamela Gordon Banks, NMBA’98. The former leader of the United Bermuda Party (UBP) and Bermuda’s first female and youngest-ever premier, served from March 1997 to November 1998.

Today, Gordon applies her formidable charisma to the cause of women’s equality in society, while Bermuda ­enjoys one of the world’s highest standards of living. “Choose to minimize your regrets,” she urged the Class of 2013. “Choose to create a legacy of honour and integrity that will make your family proud for generations to come.”

Over the years, many Bermudians have looked to Queen’s to help build such legacies. Gordon’s predecessor as UBP premier also was a Queen’s grad: Dr. David Saul, Arts’68, a finance and insurance expert and underwater exploration enthusiast, who served as UBP premier from 1995 to 1997. The Progressive Labour Party (PLP), born out of agitation by Banks’ father, Dr. E.F. Gordon, also boasted Queen’s alumni: Leonard “Freddie” Wade, Arts’65, sat as a dogged Leader of the Opposition for years. Bermuda’s international airport now bears Wade’s name. When the PLP finally claimed power in 1998, Terry Lister, Com’76, took on several roles, including the crucial education portfolio.

Queen’s has provided more than political smarts in Bermuda. Among the grads who dot the map of Bermudian achievement: children’s rights advocate Sheelagh Cooper, Arts’72; journalist/historian Rose Jones, Artsci’87; physician-politician (and longtime University Council member) Dr. Paul De La Chevotière, BA’60, MD’70; and one-time Bermuda College President George Cook, Arts’59. They and other achievers have been superb ambassadors because hundreds of Bermudians have found their way to Queen’s over the decades.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Queen’s Extension ran a summer school in Bermuda, sending professors south to deliver their learning in situ. Some Bermudians came north to study. In 1966-67, for ­instance, Bermudians formed the second largest (tied with British students) contingent of foreign students at Queen’s; only Americans outnumbered them. Bermudian students excelled here, winning Rhodes Scholarships and taking to the playing fields.

However, many of those who completed their studies at home couldn’t travel so far for Convocation, and so in the early 1980s, the idea was floated of holding a special convocation in Bermuda. The Senate was reluctant to set such a precedent, but then-Chancellor Agnes Benidickson, BA’41, LLD’79, hosted well-attended dinners in Bermuda to honour the new grads and ­further cement ties with older ones. For one night a year, the island’s colourful Gombey dancers found themselves challenged by an oil thigh kick line. Today, 214 Bermudian names appear on the Queen’s list of living graduates – not bad for a little mid-Atlantic island.

Many at Queen’s have in turn been seduced by Bermuda and its charms. General Motors mogul Sam McLaughlin – a generous Queen’s benefactor in the 1950s – wintered there. The Agnes Etherington Art Centre has recently featured the art of McLaughlin’s daughter Isabel, who frequently painted in Bermuda. Principal John Deutsch, BCom’35, LLD’74, advised Bermuda on its government machinery and found in Bermuda escape from the pressures of Richardson Hall.

Both sides in this relationship have benefited. Bermuda has helped Queen’s find a place in the sun, and Queen’s has given Bermudians a place in the groves of academe. Long may the friendship flourish.

Prof. Duncan McDowall, Arts’72, MA’74, is Queen’s University Historian. He has lived in Bermuda, has visited there many times, and is the author of Another World: Bermuda and the Rise of Modern Tourism (Macmillan Caribbean, 1999). He is currently writing Volume III of the University’s official history, due for publication in 2016.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2013-3 cover]