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Agatha Tugwell Blair, 100, knew how to care for others

100 not out

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer Staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 29, 2013    

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AFTER living through 100 new years, Agatha Tugwell Blair only has one wish for Jamaica for 2014 -- that the country will be a peaceful place to live in.

"I want to see everybody live loving, not like how they living now. They quarrel too much... too much crime and so," a relaxed, bright and well-dressed Blair said while relaxing in her living room at her Waltham Park home.

"Right now if a person even wants to explain something, it turns into a quarrel, so I would not like to see it continue this way. I would like to see them live peaceful, because people now are more intelligent than when we were growing up. Even to give a speech about one another, it turns out into a quarrel and I don't like that. I would like peace, peace. Because if we were more peaceful the country would be better," she said.

Blair was born on February 1, 1913 in the district of Flamstead, St James, to Ebenezer Tugwell and Elizabeth Jarrett. Because her father and mother were never married, Blair and her three siblings lived only with their mother, who took good care of them.

Blair's mother would ensure that the children went to church every Sunday, rain or shine.

"We had to go to church every Sunday you know," Blair recalled. "No Sunday couldn't pass and we don't go, whether we accepted it or not. I used to love that, because we spend all day in church. And after church we had to do something. No matter how you little, you had to have something to recite that talk about the Lord," she said.

But it was not all glitter for Blair and many other children at her church. She recalled that after church on Sundays, each child had to do a recitation or sing a children's song and if they did not do it well, when they got home their buttocks would pay the price.

"I had a uncle, him beat him children them when they go home and didn't do it properly. Yes man, if you didn't do it well you know what would happen," she said.

But despite her love for church, Blair said that she didn't want to get baptised when she was too young, because unlike children today, they did not believe in baptising and backsliding, as that would have been the ultimate sin.

"When I was young and do anything bad, boy ..." she said as her voice trailed off. "But these children now they have boyfriends and girlfriends, we couldn't do that. They baptise and still have boyfriend and girlfriends, we couldn't do that at all. So mi didn't want baptise too young. For to serve God you had to live a clean life. And when we were 14, 15, we never ready."

However, she confessed that she got baptised at age 18 but only to 'follow fashion'.

"But it was good. It was real. To tell you the truth, when we got baptise it was only to follow fashion," she laughed. "So mi baptise to follow fashion. But you have to realise what you are doing. You have to live a different life from the people of the world."

At age 15, Blair now had to care for her ailing mom, who died in her arms just after Blair fed her a glass of water. But, she confessed, she didn't 'bawl'.

"My mother died in my lap one Tuesday," she recalled. "But I remember when my mother died; we had enough money so we could take care of ourselves. So when my mother died I didn't have to bawl bawl for we did have money! And I had my uncles who worked around me," Blair said as she laughed out loudly.

"Her money was in the bank and whenever she wanted the money she would sign the slip and give it to me and I would go to Montego Bay and they would give me. I never had any problem to get the money from she signed the paper. And I could walk with the money go home. It's not like now, we never 'fraid that anyone would rob me. Nobody not troubling me. And I was about 14. It was plenty money man, pounds," she recalled.

Blair attended a private school at Sunderland, St James before moving on to Lottery Elementary School where she completed her studies at Book Six (now Grade 9).

Blair then moved from the small community of Flamstead to Montego Bay, seeking a better life and began doing what she does best - caring for others. Being the creative person that she was, Blair taught herself how to be a seamstress and began sewing for others from her home -- a skill all her daughters honed with degrees of proficiency.

In 1940 she moved to Kingston to advance herself. Soon after, she responded to the tug of God's spirit and was again baptised at Bethany Gospel Hall in Half-Way-Tree. This time she was not following anyone. She had fully made up her mind.

Later, she met and married Bertram Octavius Blair on July 2, 1944. He died 13 years ago.

"I used to visit Bethany Gospel Hall in Half-Way-Tree and that's where we met. Every night I went to church and he would be there. That's also why I used to go," she smiled. "Him used to come meet me every night when I was coming from church and we used to walk from Half-Way-Tree to Gallery Road (Waltham Park) where I used to live. And we used to hold hand and talk!" she said.

The union produced four girls - Faudel Blair-Martin, now a minister of the gospel in the United States; Vilma Vivienne Blair, retired education officer, and Yvonne Blair-Amair pharmacist. The fourth died at the age of four. Blair also 'adopted' her stepson who now resides in the United States.

But Blair's love for children was of such that she took care of over 20 children, family and strangers alike, some of whom now reside overseas and would call her from time to time, or visit for her birthdays.

But while she loves children, Blair said that children these days do not act as children.

"In my days children used to act as children. They (adults) wouldn't let us do too much. They wouldn't let us act as big people as children now-a-days do. We had to sit down and listen big people. Nowadays these children sing and dance and behave like adults, they talk back and so, but we had to act as children. Even when you reach age eight and nine, all you very age you didn't know. Children now ... they can do anything. They can read their Bible and they can explain the passage that they read. We were not exposed at all. We couldn't do much things," the centenarian recalled. "But I like how these children now are. Because they know when they were born," she added.

Blair recalled the days when there was no refrigerator to store meat, despite her strong love for the product.

"I used to love meat when I was little and when I went to town I would buy a whole heap of it and when we go home I would string it over the fireside because we never had any fridge ... never know what name fridge. So we used to salt the meat and hang it over the fire. We used to corn it. Like chicken, we would kill and eat it same time. But any other meat we would hang over the fireside," she recalled.

Yvonne said that her mother had always had a genuine concern for people on a whole, to include the community, the church and neighbours.

"She is the only original resident on this road right now, and she was the one nurturing and nursing and sending others (elderly persons) dinner and breakfast and lunch when they were ailing and couldn't manage on their own. And this was when she was in her 80s and 90s. She would do it for the neighbours, whether it was behind the fence, over the fence, down the road - she never forgot any of them. And she would do this daily. She was that sort of a person," Yvonne said.

She said that the discipline that her mother was taught when she was a child was the same she has passed on to her girls and stepson.

"Although we grew up in this area, we never followed the trend that the area was going into. This area was never regarded as a ghetto when we were children and we had the ambition to move on," she said.

"What you will see happening, maybe from early when we were children, is that young people are not guided by norms nor by religion. We had to go to Sunday School, we were always in church, and you had that ambition to succeed. We went to school and we knew that even at primary school that you had to move on to high school and when you were in high school you knew you had to move onto university. So that was the kind of guidance and leadership she gave to us. We never accepted just going along and not succeeding. All three of us went to university," Yvonne said.

She said that one of the outstanding features of her mother is that she is always there for other people.

"She cannot say no. She was always there reaching out to people. She would see the need and fill that need."

Vilma, who was described by her sister as the mother, the doctor, the soulmate to Blair, said that she regards her mother as the mother of all mothers.

"Hence my commitment to provide a 'motherly' service to her during these last years," Vilma said. "She actually grew us in a very, very godly way. Church and Christ were part of our lives and we are all baptised, all because of her influence," Vilma said.

"She has impacted so many other lives, whether it is encouraging other people to go through marriage rather than just living together, or just encouraging them to go through the right living. She has cared for so many and has given of herself to so many that I am committed to giving of myself to her. She is really a wonderful mother to have."

Blair has been involved in various areas of service and has worked tirelessly for the expansion of the ministry at her church Bethel Gospel Assembly, where she is a member.

One of Blair's favourite scripture passages is Psalm 27, verses 4 and 5: "One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.

"For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me."

While the centenarian is now unable to walk around, her children explained that up to six weeks ago she was still doing so. However, her feet have since become weak, preventing independent movements. She still watches the news and is very aware of what is happening around her. Her hearing and sight are still very good.

Blair admits that giving is a part of her life.

"God provide, so we give it away," she said. "They come beg mi soup a evening time 'cause they don't have anybody to cook for them. Yes man, we give them dinner every evening. We have a drawer that we buy snack and put in and when they come we just give them. Every evening they come and come beg. They hungry, and then I don't like to see people hungry, for when they hungry they will go tief and mi don't like people tief. So mi give them," the centenarian said.

"People say mi kind, so maybe that's why mi live so long. But mi don't know, so people tell mi. But God is a good God, God is good to us," she added.

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