Elizabeth Kawaley Celebrates 100th Birthday

April 26, 2022

Elizabeth Musson Kawaley Bermuda April 2022 (1)[Written by Glenn Fubler]

Born on April 23, 1922, Elizabeth Musson Kawaley observed her 100th birthday this past Saturday, with her immediate family. This, after being released from KEMH on the Friday – following major surgery for a hip fracture. Of course, her family was betwixt and between themselves last week, given their mother’s health challenge at her advanced age, on the eve of the major milestone.

That said, on Sunday – following her birthday- Mrs Kawaley was able to enjoy the company of a small number of extended family members, celebrating her century of a life well-lived.

This centenarian had spent much of her early childhood living on Longbird Island an area, part of the grant to the U.S. Navy in 1941 – during World War II – which now undergirds the Airport. Mrs Kawaley captured aspects of that paradise by authoring a children’s book entitled The Island that Disappeared.

After completing Berkeley Institute, Elizabeth ‘Musson’, in the midst of WWII, began at Queen’s University, the only black girl on campus, at that time. However, she did develop a core of friends at the school, relationships that became life-long.

Upoun graduation, Elizabeth Musson returned to teach at her alma mater – Berkeley. A number of her former students fondly recall her as a ‘favourite teacher’.

Former Premier Alex Scott recalls: “ Although I did not excel in her subject, Miss Musson impressed me for her wonderful classroom presence and what was evidently a keen social conscience”.

Ellen Kate Horton – former P. S. for Education – explains that: “Mrs Kawaley was one of my favourite teachers and I had the pleasure to work with her as a colleague at Warwick Secondary, right up until her retirement in 1981”.

Leo Mills – former Assistant Cabinet Secretary – notes that “Mrs Kawaley was one of those teachers who exuded qualities of character par excellence”.

Elizabeth Musson Kawaley Bermuda April 2022 (2)

Soon after graduating Elizabeth Musson became involved in the Bermuda Union of Teachers and was elected in 1948 as the union’s second female President. This, only 4 years following women being granted the right to vote in Bermuda.

A woman in her late 20’s, helping to break a ‘glass ceiling’, exemplified the quiet courage of Elizabeth. This teacher demonstrated courage again in June 1959 when, like the vast majority of Bermudians, she was surprised to hear the ‘call’ for a Theatre Boycott. Not one to remain a ‘spectator’, Elizabeth quickly penned a ‘Letter to the Editor’ boldly signed ‘Elizabeth Kawaley’. That was the first ‘signed’ letter published encouraging support for that monumental movement. This, at a time when a large majority ‘kept their heads low’.

Unbeknownst to Mrs Kawaley – at the time – she also impacted the Boycott indirectly. Two friends from Queen’s were visiting her only weeks before the Boycott and they rented space at her neighbours’, Gerald and Izola Harvey. The secretive Progressive Group were in urgent need of a copier to produce flyers for the upcoming Boycott.

Izola Harvey explains; “Knowing the stellar character of Elizabeth Kawaley, I figured that her friends would assist the campaign by ‘quietly’ purchasing the copier and ‘so-said-so-done’.”

Those two Canadian teachers kept the secret, even from their life-long-friend -Elizabeth -for four decades.

In 1981, during Mrs Kawaley’s retirement year, the BUT – after substantial consideration – voted to take a historic step by supporting a one-day strike- on May 5th – in solidarity with BIU Government and Hospital workers.

There was reticence amongst some teachers regarding this decision, but when members gathered to march to Union Square, they were greatly inspired when a cadre of elder educators ‘led the way’. Front and centre Elizabeth Kawaley, the trail-blazing exemplar, promoting that act which proved a key ‘straw’ bringing peaceful resolution to an iconic crisis.

Elizabeth Musson Kawaley Bermuda April 2022 (3)

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  1. Well done says:

    An outstanding teacher who had very strong faith, love and fortitude. May God continue to bless her.