Class act: From left, Senator Vince Ingham and Dame Jennifer Smith of the PLP with former Berkeley Institute classmates and friends, the OBA’s Jeanne Atherden — who will take on Sen Ingham in the Pembroke West constituency — and Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Class act: From left, Senator Vince Ingham and Dame Jennifer Smith of the PLP with former Berkeley Institute classmates and friends, the OBA’s Jeanne Atherden — who will take on Sen Ingham in the Pembroke West constituency — and Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27: They may be divided along party lines — but they all share a tie that binds.

Four of the Berkeley Institute’s Class of ’65 went on to prominence in politics, although on different sides. And this week they stepped back in time to revisit the school that helped shape their characters.

Former PLP Premier Dame Jennifer went into politics after studying art in the US, while businessman Bob Richards is one of the OBA’s big hitters.

Former Belco chief Vince Ingham sits in Senate for the PLP and will take on former classmate Jeanne Atherden, an ex-Senator and OBA deputy chairman, in the Pembroke West constituency at the next General Election.

 

Old school pals ready for election tussle

Berkeley Institute’s Class of ’65 produced a Premier, MPs and Senators – and despite political differences, they’re still friends

 

The Berkeley Institute Class of ’65 may be wearing different political colours these days — but they all remember when they wore green and gold.

Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith, shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards, PLP Senator Vince Ingham and ex-Senator and OBA candidate Jeanne Atherden all graduated from the same class in 1965.

And — as General Election fever heats up — Sen Ingham and Ms Atherden are preparing to face each other in the battle for the Pembroke West seat.

None of them saw a future in politics when they left school nearly 50 years ago — although Mr Richards, as the son of the man soon to become UBP Premier Sir Edward Richards, was the only one of the four thought likely to end up in politics.

Dame Jennifer, a former journalist who led the PLP to victory for the first time in 1998, told us: “There were several generations of Berkeley graduates who were very distinguished – Dame Lois Browne-Evans for one. All I was trying to do was be an artist — I hadn’t even considered writing then.”

Mr Richards, who runs Bermuda Asset Management, laughed: “I swore I’d never be two things — a lawyer or a politician. I don’t know what went wrong.”

Ms Atherden, a Chartered Accountant, said although the four argued a lot as youngsters, they didn’t talk about politics.

She said: “We used to talk about who was going to get the prize for maths or whatever — we were very competitive, but we had good fun. We were very argumentative too – then and now.”

Ex-Belco chief Mr Ingham, only appointed to the Senate recently, said: “I haven’t been down this road — I’m the novice.”

Girls of summer: The girls of the Berkeley Institute 1965 class photographed for the Bermuda Sun in advance of the annual Queen’s Birthday Ball in June that year. Front row, from left: Ruth Charles, Lynn Postlewaite, Jennifer Smith (circled), Judith Burcher, Marie Wainwright, Ann Tucker and Peggy-Ann Powell. Centre are Beverly Hunt, Patricia Marsh, Wenda Raynor, Gwendolyn Goring, Meredith Ebbin, Jeanne Atherden [then Adderley] (circled), Eunice Robinson and Carol Butterfield. Back row: Cleopatra Rayner and Wendy Williams. *Bermuda Sun archive photo


Now, 47 years later, Dame Jennifer and Mr Richards face each other across the floor of the House of Assembly — with the other two aiming for a place on their respective sides of the chamber.

Both Dame Jennifer and Mr Richards — who are cousins as well as former classmates — erupted into laughter when asked if their shared past meant they went easy on each other.

Mr Richards said: “When you go into the chamber, you go in for battle.” But Dame Jennifer added: “It’s nothing personal.”

Outside the original school, at the foot of Berkeley Road facing St John’s Road, the years fell away as all four put political differences aside and reminisced about their shared schooldays.

Mr Ingham and Dame Jennifer revealed they were school prom dates in their leaving year.

Dame Jennifer said: “My boyfriend was a year younger, so he couldn’t go. Vince’s girlfriend couldn’t go either, so we went together because we were friends.”

Mr Ingham said: “And I was probably the best date she had in her life.”

Dame Jennifer burst out laughing before correcting him: “No, I was probably the best date you’ve ever had in your life!”

Mr Richards looked wistfully across the road at what is now a BELCo tank farm, built on the old school playing fields, and recalled playing football and sports days.

All four attended the school when it was selective, attracting the brightest of young black people when the island still suffered under segregation.

Their class also included Meredith Ebbin, who went on to become a distinguished journalist and Bermuda Sun Deputy Editor.

 

Dame Jennifer said that then-principal WS Furbert told his pupils every day at assembly that they were the best — and to never to give up on their goals.

She added “It prepares you for the knocks later on in life.”

The school is now part of the mainstream Government education system — but the list of rules on display, including no chewing gum in school and a ban on sneakers when in uniform — pay testament to the pride teachers still aim to instill in the kids in their care.

Berkeley Institute principal Michelle Simmons, who also went to the school, said she was a few years behind the Class of ’65 and remembered being in awe of the older pupils.

She added: “They were stars.”

Ms Simmons said: “It just says so much about what education can mean to young people. You never realise who you’re sitting next to in your class or how lives will develop.

“The key to development for the future is to seize every opportunity at school, to prepare yourself for the opportunities that come your way — that’s what these four have done.”