Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Ms Bertha - 100 years of nurturing a family and a community

Published:Tuesday | February 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Miss Bertha surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren during the function held to mark her 100th birthday at the Nazareth All-Age School, Maidstone, Manchester.
Miss Bertha’s youngest daughter, Jane Powell, poses for a photo with her prior to the start of the function.
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Bertha Powell, who on Wednesday joined the exclusive centenarian club, was described as the mother of her historic Maidstone community located in Manchester.

So it was no surprise that a family affair last Saturday at the Nazareth All-Age School to celebrate her 100th birthday saw a large turnout from relatives and community members alike.

Miss Bertha, or Mary, as she is called by some in the community, was born on February 18, 1915, a year after the start of World War I, to a big family that included her 13 siblings - five of whom are still alive.

She gave birth to six children of her own, three boys, followed by three girls, who were all, except one, in attendance.

"She was a mother to the whole community. Even when she didn't have food to give them, she would give them a chicken and that would provide many other families with eggs and chickens," Jane Powell, her youngest daughter, told The Gleaner. "She was really selfless; she had six kids of her own and she adopted some and she raised some and would just bring home kids from all over the community."

Miss Bertha, who is said to have always been a woman of few words, did not speak during the function held in her honour, but bobbed to songs such as the Green Green Grass Of Home. There were glowing tributes from her children, grandchildren and friends.

GOOD WOMAN

"I remember when I was coming up, people used to say, 'Good people don't live long. Well, if 100 is not living long, I don't know what else to say, and she is certainly a good woman," her eldest son, Allan Powell, remarked to the gathering.

Paul Martin remembered the impact his grandmother had on so many in the community.

"It is said that it takes a community to raise a child, but then it also takes a strong person in that community to help guide that community and the children in that community," Martin said.

Sophia Martin-Brown, Miss Bertha's eldest granddaughter, was grateful for the attributes she inherited.

"Growing up with her (Miss Bertha) has taught me a lot, but most important is that family is first."

Fariziaina Powell, who is the fourth child and first daughter, remembered walking with her mother from Maidstone to Balaclava in the neighbouring parish of St Elizabeth to sell ground provisions.

"If it was my turn to go, she would wake me up from two o'clock in the morning and give me a little mint tea and two crackers. She would go to Balaclava Market and sit there in the sun and sold her little produce, and then we bought whatever we needed and walked all the way back to Maidstone," Fariziaina shared with The Gleaner.

"Since I have gotten big, I have driven from Maidstone several times and I can't reach Balaclava, so I wonder how Mom did it with us. But that was the only way to feed the family ... and it is because of her strong will to keep us going why she is alive today."

Miss Bertha, who to this day is said to have a glass of water at room temperature and a banana every morning, lived in Canada for 20 years with her second child, Boysie Powell. She would, however, return to Maidstone in 1987.

Maidstone was once a 349-acre coffee plantation before operations ceased following Emancipation in 1838. The Nazareth Moravian Church, which is located in the community and will be celebrating 180 years of existence on March 15, bought 341 acres of the estate and subdivided them into lots of one to 15 acres, establishing a free village for former enslaved Africans.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com