by Oswald T. Brown (Freeport News, November 7, 2003)

At a ceremony held at the Grand Bahama Children’s Home on Tuesday, Beatrice Johnson, administrator of the home, described Lady Henrietta St. George as “our angel sent from heaven.” That celestial description of the wife of Grand Bahama Port Authority Chairman Edward St. George spoke volumes for the tremendous contributions Lady Henrietta has made to the Grand Bahama community.

Without much fanfare and generally eschewing publicity for the work that she has done in the community for more than two decades, this gracious lady has made it possible for thousands of young Bahamians to overcome obstacles placed in their lives that otherwise would have made their development in life a not-too-pleasant experience.

In the case of the Grand Bahama Children’s Home, which in the true sense of the word is an orphanage, there currently are 24 children who more likely than not will grow up without having to be concerned about the stigma that uncaring individuals attach to being an orphan. That’s primarily because Lady Henrietta, founder and chairperson of the home, insists and personally gets involved in seeing to it that the children grow up in as normal a setting as possible.

Tuesday’s ceremony at the home was an example of her relentless commitment to ensuring that this happens. The occasion was the presentation of certificates of achievement to 22 caregivers who had completed a 10-week course in parenting arranged for them by Lady Henrietta. Several of the caregivers fought back tears as they profusely thanked their benefactor for “making it possible” for them to take the course, which they said has enhanced their ability to care for “our children,” a personal reference used by them when referring to the children of the home.

And as noted by Lady Henrietta at the presentation ceremony, her “aim and object is always to provide a childhood for the children in the home that is as near to normal as possible, so the more the caregivers can behave like parents to the children, the better it is for them.”

Working in eight-hour shifts, the caregivers provide 24-hour supervision for the youngsters, who are housed in two residences in a sprawling complex on Tripp Lane that also includes an administration building and a trauma centre, where children are looked after who have been abused.

The children’s home is just one of the projects that Lady Henrietta has spearheaded or contributed to, financially and otherwise, substantially over the years.

As noted in a recent issue of “Power” magazine, published by Dr. Susan Wallace’s Access Ministry, among Lady Henrietta’s other outstanding accomplishments on the island of Grand Bahama was the establishment in 1986 of the Harmony House for teenage girls who had to be removed from their families for various reasons. This was a joint venture with the Salvation Army.

In 1988 she opened Discovery Nursery School to provide quality nursery school education, and this subsequently grew into Discovery Primary School, which opened in 1991 for 140 children.

The Power magazine article notes that during the 1980s, when the drug epidemic was more prevalent in The Bahamas, the number of residents in the Children’s Home became too big, and because of the concern Lady Henrietta and Mr. St. George had about families living in the slum area of the island, which had become a centre for drugs and crime, the decision was made to clear the slum area and re-house the families. Five duplexes were built for these families to move into, and although the foster program was not a great success, according to Power magazine, these houses are now used for residential care for teenage girls, teen mothers and teen boys.

Another of Lady Henrietta’s noted contributions to the community is her partnership with the Grand Bahama Port Authority and the Bahamas Government to build the Beacon School, a facility for children who are mentally challenged or have special needs. The school, which currently has 97 students, opened in 1997.

That she has been able to accomplish all that she has in helping the less fortunate, especially children, has a lot to do with her background and the fact that she is married to a man whose benevolence has also been well documented and demonstrated in the Grand Bahama community.

Born in England to the Duke and Duchess of Grafton, Lady Henrietta married Edward St. George and moved to Grand Bahama in 1980 and almost immediately became involved in the social causes she has supported over the years. Of considerable significance, of course, is the fact that her husband, along with Sir Jack Hayward, are the two principals owners of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, a company which has an excellent track record as a civic-minded corporate citizen.

Indeed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Cynthia “Mother” Pratt summed up the contributions to the community of this husband-and-wife team quite appropriately on Wednesday night at the candlelight vigil held in honour of the five Grand Bahama boys who were killed.

In reference to the fact that the vigil was sponsored by the Port Authority and held under Lady Henrietta’s patronage, the Deputy Prime Minister said, “When God placed Edward St. George and Lady Henrietta among us, it was no accident.”

Surely, there are a whole lot of Bahamians who would agree with that sentiment.

Oswald T. Brown has worked for newspapers in the United States, England and The Bahamas for some 40 years. He can be reached at androsboy@hotmail.com.