Bernice Eneas joins elite centenarian group
Published: Sep 14, 2013
Bernice Ivy Eneas has joined an elite group of people who are known as centenarians, as she celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday.
Bernice was born in 1913 in Nassau to Joseph Austin and Beatrice Eneas during a time when the world was on the eve of its first war; George V was king of England; and Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president of the United States. It was a time when Bahamians were migrating in large numbers to South Florida in search of work.
Eneas grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida. When her family returned to The Bahamas, they made their home on Augusta Street. In 1963, they moved to Queen’s Park off Farrington Road.
She was educated at Roberts Day School, T.A. Thompson School, Morley Albury School and Western Senior School. She says she wanted to go away to school when other young women in the country were going, but she could not go because her parents were ailing. Instead she busied herself with a career of work, political and charitable activities.
She was a hardworking woman from the day she completed school.
“I worked for what I have. God must’ve planned to spare my life to see 100,” said Eneas.
She learned to sew at the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild and worked as a maid in Lyford Cay and at the Pilot House.
As opportunities opened in the country for black people, Eneas took advantage of occupations to improve her station. She joined the Ulric Mortimer Insurance Company as an insurance agent. Her last job before retirement was telephone/switchboard operator and tea lady at the Bank of Montreal (currently Bank of The Bahamas).
She was a fiery political activist of the 1950s and 1960s and an unsung suffragette of the decades-long fight for women to have the right to vote. She was an active member of the Elks in 1952 when that organization prepared the petition to the House of Assembly demanding that women in The Bahamas be given the right to vote. From her position in the group, she galvanized Bahamian women to push their own cause.
“I was older and more mature than the younger suffragettes, and I knew how to be more diplomatic and discreet in getting things done,” she said.
When the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was formed in 1953, Eneas joined that same year and became a founding member of the Women’s Branch of the party. She worked to build the PLP.
“I walked through jooks to get people to vote PLP. I campaigned for women to join the women’s branch of the PLP. I sold fritters and fish. I demonstrated on Bay Street with Pindling. When the Mace was thrown out of the window, I was right there downtown,” she said. She is stalwart councillor of the Progressive Liberal Party.
In 1962, she and thousands of Bahamian women voted for the first time. “That was our day. We partied all that week. The white man couldn’t take all from the colored people. [If he did] where would we have been today?” At 100 years of age, she is still concerned about the political wellbeing of her country. “I hope everything works alright with my government … leave it in the hands of the Lord and He will work it out.”
Eneas devoted many hours of her busy life to seeing after the sick and helping those in need.
“That’s what was in me. I used to spend my lunch hour at Princess Margaret Hospital combing the children’s hair and helping the nurses. That’s how I spent my hour. Afterward, I went back to work.”
She served in many charitable organizations, including the Purple Cross, the Good Friends Guild, and the Bahamas Red Cross. Her decorated service in the Elks is legendary. For more than seven decades she has been a member of Curfew Temple No. 816 where she was elevated to the Euterpie Johnson Past Daughter Rulers Council.
Eneas attended St. Mary’s Anglican Church for many years until the priest, Fr. Holmes, told members that he no longer wanted to see any of them who lived over-the-hill (over Nassau Street). He told them to go and build up Holy Spirit Anglican Church on Howard Street in Chippingham.
In obedience to her priest, Eneas joined Holy Spirit Church. She helped to found the women’s group (ACW), and went on to distinguish herself as a faithful and exemplary member.
One day, Eneas heard a sermon by a preacher from the Gospel Hall church.
“I think it was Tom Roberts … he was the first to open my eyes to the kingdom when he said, ‘Suppose you close your eyes tonight, where do you think you would go?’ I pondered this [question] for weeks. Then one Sunday at Holy Spirit Church, Fr. Johnson spoke from the same text and he asked that same question. From those two confirming sermons, I couldn’t sleep that night. I changed that night. I told the Lord to have His way with me. The things I used to do, the Lord took from me. When you make up your mind and make a change for the Lord, He will work out things for you, no matter how deep the hold.”
After a century of living
Eneas has three living children, Vanrea Woodside, Persis Bullard and Myrtis Lockhart-Vasquez. She has numerous grandchildren, great-grand children and great-great grandchildren.
The centenarian’s lone son, Anthony Davis, passed away while attending a church service a few years ago.
“He took communion, sat down and never got up again,” she said. “The only thing I want now is to be loved… nothing like when people love you.”
For much of her life, the independent Eneas, a civic-minded Bahamian woman always on the go — from work to Lodge and to the church. Her outstanding and faithful service has been recognized countless times.
A few years ago, Eneas was hospitalized for the first time in her life when she suffered a stroke that has curtailed her mobility. These days she spends most of her time in quiet introspection.
“I don’t go a morning now without repeating Psalm 23 – thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
A special service will be held in honor of Eneas’ 100th birthday on Sunday, September 15 at Holy Spirit Anglican Church on Howard Street in Chippingham.