During his birthday call on January 8 from the President of Barbados, Her Excellency, The Most Honourable, Dame Sandra Mason, Her Excellency found out he was still driving and invited “Fitz” to State House. (BGIS)

The years belied his lithe appearance, but like a true centurion, he exited his trusted 1999 Toyota Corolla station wagon and made those steps to his destination, for what would be the visit of a lifetime. On January 18, 2022, President of Barbados, Her Excellency, The Most Honourable Dame Sandra Mason, welcomed Centenarian Fitzgerald Brereton BSM, JP, to State House.

Mr. Brereton had celebrated his 100th birthday, several days earlier, on January 8, and Her Excellency had paid him and his family then, a virtual visit via Zoom. 

It was during this virtual visit that she learned that Mr. Brereton was still driving, often taking persons to and from service at St Luke’s Anglican Church, in St George. 

Dame Sandra was pleasantly surprised and happy to hear that Mr. Brereton was still doing such kind deeds at his age and decided to invite him to State House to learn more of his experiences and to see him drive himself to State House.  This he did, and was at least 20 minutes early.

After checking in at security and observing the necessary COVID-19 protocols, the centenarian calmly drove up the drive-way, pulling up just outside the archway where he was met by the President’s Aide-de-Camp, Lieutenant (Coast Guard) Sena Price, who escorted him to the entrance of State House. Her Excellency was there to warmly welcome him and his daughter, Philippa, and his cousin, Desmond Sisnett.  

Centenarian Fitzgerald Brereton chats virtually with Her Excellency, Dame Sandra Mason on his birthday. (T. Barker/BGIS)

Mr. Brereton expressed a desire to use the stairs to reach the first floor, to which Dame Sandra graciously agreed, accompanying the party on the way up.

During the visit, Her Excellency was quick to point out that it was a first, as Mr. Brereton was the first Centenarian to be invited to State House, as part of republic celebrations. 

Fitz, as he is familiarly known, shared that he continues to drive, except at night, and he was looking forward to casting his ballot on Election Day, January 19, 2022. 

He confirmed that he had been voting from the time he was able to do so, noting that although 1937 had brought about significant transformation in Barbados, including universal suffrage, he admitted he would never want to see a repeat of rioting in this country. He added: “In the early days, people only heard that today was voting day, but they did not really know what it was.” 

Among other things, he noted that life in Barbados back in 1937 was “very hard”, including challenges with the health and education systems. 

Dame Sandra stated that she felt very strongly about the significant improvements over the years, especially within the education sector, and expressed disappointment that there were still some young people who could not read nor write because children of today “do not have to do the things that children all those years ago had to do”. 

Centenarian Fitzgerald Brereton, disembarks his vehicle at State House. Looking on is the President’s Aide-de-Camp, Lieutenant (Coast Guard) Sena Price. (T. Barker/BGIS)

The former pupil of St Luke’s Boys’ School explained that in his day, it was poverty that caused an absence from school.  “You would see them at school one day and then the next, they weren’t because they had to go into the plantation and work, sometimes for six cents a day.”

He added: “Today, you cannot take a child to put into the field to work…. but back then you had to because the conditions were so bad, to get financial help made it necessary to do so.” 

He noted that back then, the Church was responsible for the school system, and while nowadays, one would hear people within the Church say they would like to see persons more involved in the Church, as they were back then, Mr. Brereton highlighted that it would be challenging for that to be realised, as back then, there was “only” the Church. 

He stated that he would sometimes go to church three or four times a day, even at midnight because back then “there was nothing else but the Church, that is why I am in the Church (St. Luke’s Anglican Church) all of the time”.  

On Sunday, January 9, prior to his visit to State House, Mr. Brereton was elected to serve as Assistant Secretary in the Men’s Fellowship at St. Luke’s Anglican Church, after which he drove home, but not before offering two parishioners a ride to their homes. 

He returned later that evening to a Service of Thanksgiving, held in his honour and attended by his family, at which the current COVID-19 protocols were carefully observed. 

The visit to State House continued with Her Excellency hearing further details on what life was like for him as a boy, and how conditions have radically changed today, with significant improvements and opportunities now being available to everyone. 

Queried as to his thoughts on longevity by the President, recognising that his cousin and driving partner, Desmond Sisnett, now 91, is the son of the late super centenarian, James Sisnett, Fitz said that as people grew older they tended to stop moving, even socialising, and it affects their body. 

When told that he was a keen lover of ground provisions and not much meat, as he loves fish and the occasional pork chop, Dame Sandra proffered that genetics must play a role in his longevity, given the number of relatives who have reached 90 plus.  Fitz had 10 siblings, two of whom are still alive – Cynthia Ince, 96, and Enid Anderson, 92.

Mr. Brereton chats about back in the day with Her Excellency, Dame Sandra.  From left to right: Desmond Sisnett, Philippa Brereton, Fitzgerald Brereton, and Her Excellency, Dame Sandra Mason, President of Barbados. (T. Barker/BGIS)

In sharing some of his memories of travelling abroad to Canada, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and especially to Italy, the former electrician at Emtage Electrical, Barbados Foundry, which was later renamed Central Foundry Limited, and Mount Gay Limited, noted that he “never knocked about as he didn’t believe in loose living”.  

While thanking her Excellency for inviting him and his family to State House, Dame Sandra enquired if he had a cell phone and used WhatsApp, to which he enthusiastically responded in the affirmative.  His daughter noted that he had even asked for an upgrade, and had received a Samsung 7.

At the end of the visit, which lasted over an hour, Fitz, who remains in good health, accompanied by Dame Sandra, energetically descended the stairs, where he signed the Visitors’ book.  He wished her Excellency goodbye, and entered his vehicle to drive to his home in Ellerton, St George.

The father of nine, five girls and four boys, the oldest of whom is 78 and the youngest 57, was married on March 7, 1943, to the then Lilian Fields for 69 years, before she died two months shy of their 70th wedding anniversary.  Fitz is the grandfather of six (one deceased) and great-grandfather of two.

For more on centenarians, visit the Barbados Government Information Service website, Centenarians of Barbados.

ian.inniss@barbados.gov.bb & Troy Barker

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