Many knew her as Lady Arnold’s.
Many knew her as Ms Peniston.
Many knew her as Aunt Rita.
I knew her as Cousin Rita.
More specifically, double Cousin Rita, as she would remind everyone that we were double cousins of the Charles/Famous clan. She always took great joy in reminding people that I was named after her father, my late great Uncle Thomas Charles.
Like most of Bermuda, I am still trying to come to grips with the fact that we will never hear the voice of Cousin Rita again. It simply is beyond comprehension for anyone who knew her.
Growing up there are plenty of persons that you are related to. Some with the same last surname, some with a different surname. Some living in the same house, some living in different houses.
Yet, through it all, they are your relatives sharing biological and social DNA.
So it was with cousin Rita and about half of Bermuda.
With her mom, Aunt Pearl being of the Ming and Woolridge clan and her dad Uncle Tom being a product of the Charles and Famous Clan, Cousin Rita was literally cousin to half of born Bermudians from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life.
Growing up in the Charles/Famous clan we are constantly inundated with the oral history of our family and all who are our kin folk. As importantly, we were constantly schooled on the importance of working together as not just a family but as a community.
Leading that charge on multiple fronts was Cousin Rita.
On any given day, at any given moment, she could be found giving someone a piece of Bermudian history, family history or simply giving someone a piece of her mind.
As one of the background architects of both the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) and the Bermuda Industrial Union, she was a fountain of both knowledge and discipline when it came to matters of the political, social and economic upliftment of her fellow Bermudians.
Side by side with most, if not all of the women in our family, she helped to ensure that women in Bermuda took their rightful place in these organizations.
Working in many capacities, she was one of the driving forces of making Devonshire North a PLP stronghold held by the late PLP icons L. Frederick Wade and Dame Lois Browne Evans, who was her first cousin/sister.
Cousin Rita spent countless hours preaching to most of us that it is our duty to pick up the baton and get involved in politics. In reflection, I don’t think there was any option for us not to be involved in one way or another.
Counted among her family members who took up the mantle of political service are the following persons: Premier David Burt, Dame Lois Browne Evans, former United Bermuda Party MP CV Jim Woolridge and Quinton Edness, PLP MP Kim Wilson, Senator Jason Hayward, and Senator Nandi Outerbridge.
Ever the mentor, Aunt Rita used to regularly summon me to her office at the checkout counter at Arnold’s to, as she liked to say: “Make sure you stay on the right track!”
With her daughter Ms Shernette Wolffe as the Clerk to the Legislature, Cousin Rita’s legacy of “Making sure you stay on the right track”, can be felt weekly in the House of Assembly, in that we can take comfort that her voice will always be with us.
- Ms Rita Peniston passed away on Tuesday, March 28, 2017, at the age of 73. She was the first cousin of the late Dame Lois Browne Evans, who was a loyal supporter of the Progressive Labour Party. Widely known as a champion of social justice and equality in Bermuda, Ms Peniston grew up in Devonshire and attended The Berkeley Institute. She is survived by her three children, Shernette Wolffe, the Clerk to the Legislature of the House of Assembly, Vernalda Hudgen and Shannon Peniston, in addition to countless relatives and friends.
- Thomas Christopher Famous MP, is a columnist who concentrates on speaking on social and political issues. As a worker in the technical field, he has a passion for Technical Education for young Bermudians. With strong Caribbean roots, one of his goals is to see more knowledge of West Indian connections and history being written and spoken about more frequently. On July 18th, 2017, he defeated former Deputy Premier and Finance Minister ET Bob Richards in the constituency of Devonshire. The final count was 513 to 419 in what would be a landslide 24-12 PLP victory. He can be reached via email at email@example.com and on WhatsApp at 599-0901.
- Photos: Courtesy of Ms Shernette Wolffe