Tribute To Paula Stuart Lawter

August 18, 2016

[Written by lifelong friend, Joan K. Aspinall]

I met an author once who stated he always carried with him a large paper bag filled with diamonds.  Diamonds, I thought. How is that possible? Then he explained that every experience, every person he met in life was a diamond that shaped his life, that shaped his creativity making him a better writer.

I want to tell you the story of Paula Stuart Lawter and her collection of amazing diamonds.

Paula was with me from the beginning. When she placed her hand on my mother’s tummy to feel the child within, I kicked out. Our two mothers were friends—mine from America and Paula’s, a transplant from Liverpool, England, who moved to Bermuda with  6 sisters who eventually married and produced a total of sixteen first cousins..

Our two fathers served in British Army regiments in India. My father,of the Lancashire Fusiliers, saved photos of his regiment with camels, Khyber Pass, circa 1923. Paula’s father, a proud Scotsman, acted as witness at my parents’ marriage. When he and Paula’s mother Eva married, he was re-stationed in India for four years. Upon his return he met son Dennis, destined to become bagpiper to Governors of Bermuda, husband to Edith[Harris] and father of famous artist, Bruce Stuart.  Once Paula’s father returned to Bermuda, the family expanded to include Paula and Keith who made his fame as a successful racehorse jockey in U.S.

If Paula was eight yrs. old when I was born, she remembered things which I don’t. Like the time she decorated my three-year-old body in a Hawaiian hula outfit made from shredded brown paper bags that won first place in a costume parade. This paper bag ignited Paula’s interest in dress making.

In order to know Paula, you must know of her early years. Bermuda at that time was a hot, white paradise, like the brilliance of a clear-cut diamond sparkling in sunshine. The brilliance was intensified by many firmly packed roads of white limestone, pock marred by deep holes and trenches waiting to be filled with rainwater to drown cyclists, walkers, and horses. Roadside hedges exploded with brightly hued flowers. Emerald branches of  cedar trees carpeted hillsides and shaded gardens. Blue birds, red birds flew about in abundance.

Submerged in a floral world, in later years, Paula could never resist putting a flower behind her ear for a photograph. Many flowers, many locations, but always the same perky, mischievous smile gleams back from shiny celluloid.

We had no cars.  Transportation consisted of horse drawn carriages, bicycles, foot labour, or the railway which ran from one of the island to the other. Paula crisscrossed the streets of Hamilton, Paget, Devonshire, Pembroke shaping her life and her legs.

Boyhood friends told her she had the best looking legs in Bermuda. These same shapely legs propelled her into a love of dancing, where at the young age of 84 yrs., she could out-dance the hardiest. In this aspect, she was an island girl through and through. Dancing eyes, floral adornments, and dancing feet were her trademark.

When my parents entered the time-consuming restaurant business, Paula became my surrogate mother. She was the swimming teacher who never forgave me for accusing her of trying to drown me in the Princess Hotel pool, open to local children during the hotel’s closure in the War years. To this day, the suggesting offended her. All worked out okay, however, as I became a professional swimmer/ mermaid, so her efforts paid off.

Paula Stuart Lawter Bermuda 2016 (1)

One summer my parents opened a snack bar selling hot dogs and sodas in a concrete building on the shoreline of Elbow Beach. It was called The Barnacle. The landlord rented out  bathing cubicles, a hundred closet-sized rooms whose green doors lined up like regiment soldiers.

Cases of hot dogs, rolls, sodas, plus huge blocks of ice, had to be hauled out by carriage from Hamilton daily. It was an exciting time for Paula and I, especially when we were left in charge.

America had entered the War. Bermuda was a designated R & R stopover for troopships on the way to Europe. Hundreds of those American G.I.’s ate hot dogs served by Paula.

I remember the day when hundreds of young men, in the eyes of a child it could have been a thousand, covered the white sands of Elbow Beach. To share this image today with our new generation of  Bermudians is  impossible. I was the only kid on the beach, so while Paula served hot dogs, [ I abandoned her to have fun] I spent the afternoon diving off the shoulders of happy-go-lucky G.I.’s who faced a grim future. Later, I wondered how many remained behind in the soils of Europe.

War years brought something into Bermuda that it never had—an influx of good-looking young men: an invasion that sealed 16 yr. old Paula’s fate. She met Doug Lawter, age nineteen, Air Force CPL from Virginia. It was love at first sight. On Doug’s part at least. He had never met Paula but said to a friend that he was going to marry that girl spinning around on the dance floor. Her shapely legs had snagged him.

At age sixteen, when Paula’s dancing feet and handsome, blue-eyed Doug Lawter’s attentions materialized, time spent with her tag-along eight-yr. old companion came to an end. Paula had entered the adult world.

Paula and Doug were married in Bermuda on May 20, 1950 when she turned eighteen. They traveled the world, had two beautiful girls. They re-appeared in Bermuda after Doug retired, eventually settling in South Boston.

If ever there was a love story of a modern day Romeo and Juliet, it was theirs. Love bonded them where even death could not break this bond. There’s no need to detail personal tragedies —only that she lost husband, daughter, and granddaughter tragically and at early ages. Remarkably, this tiny, smiling lady had strength of character few are able to find when faced with demoralizing situations of stress and grief. She never showed pain or suffering and was able to say to people she knew: I Love You. Nothing tainted or diminished the love Paula had within her. It radiated from her pores, from her smile.

On the humorous side, Paula was a consummate fashion freak, matching shoes, to earrings, to bags, to sweaters and rhinestones. She’d never go to the grocery store without earrings and became openly stressed if she mistook black slacks as being navy. She wore tinker-bell shoes through snow and ice puddles, and once asked a man sitting besides her on a plane from Raleigh to New York if this was his first visit to Bermuda.

Paula Stuart Lawter Bermuda 2016 (2)

Sadly, when Paula returned to Bermuda, her newly planned life shattered. She fought to survive not only for herself but to care for two elderly aunts, her mother’s sisters, as well as attend to needs of an estranged, terminally-ill second husband connected to an oxygen tank.

To cope with these strangling obligations, she took on two jobs – working all day in a gift shop, and then riding her bike some thirteen miles to cashier at Swizzle Inn. At midnight, camouflaging herself as a man in a rain suit to avoid attention, she started the bike ride home, until a taxi driver said the rain suit didn’t work. Her high heels betrayed her. Twelve-hour-plus work days continued for years. Stamina – Strength – Determination – this little body with her shining blue eyes and pixie face is a giant in the laurels of humankind.

Paula shares with all of us a multitude of her cherished diamonds.

Loyalty – Fierce devotion to childhood friends, her family, her Bermudian roots.

Commitment – never wavering in her duty towards family, friends, and work place.

Compassion – heart felt concern over trials and tribulations of others.

Bravery – maintaining strength of character through times of incredible hardship and sorrow.

Forgiving – never letting despair, bitterness over life’s tragedies destroy the sacredness and complexity of her inner soul.

Unbiased – seeing good in everyone and everything [which can be a bad trait when dealing with someone’s ill intentions]

Generosity boundless giving of her resources and time to others.

However, the greatest, of course, is Love. Wonderful, unhampered, boundless love shown to all creatures, large and small [especially cats]. She ended each phone call with the words I Love You to the listener on the other end. How many of us ever remember to say these words and that frequently?

If you can perform these diamonds in remembrance of Paula, if you can constantly say to those around you I Love You — Kindness and Love will follow you the rest of the days of your life.

[Not in written tribute, but spoken to a U.S. audience I did not know: “Imagine, if everyone in THIS country could say to each other “I love you” irregardless of race, colour, nationality – what a wonderful country it would be.”]

She leaves her legacy of LOVE with: daughter Kathy and her husband, Harry Talley; grandson, Bryan Talley and great grand-daughter, Gracie, for they, too, radiate LOVE as did Paula, my beautiful, ever-smiling Bermudian Pixie.

In Bermuda, she leaves sister-in-law Edith Stuart and family.

Bermudian Joan K.Aspinall is well- known author/illustrator of many books in Bermuda

Category: All, Tributes