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Women of Valor

Integrity, kindness, and character mark the lives of Constance Hall & Elizabeth Forbes.

By Dr. Charlene Kozy

Since early civilization, great people have been honored with statues or by having buildings, highways, bridges, and the like named for them. Often they have been elected officials who stood out in their period; Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are examples in American history. Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt were self-made, wealthy Americans who gave generously to people less fortunate — they are honored through the Carnegie Libraries and Vanderbilt University.
Middle Caicos women Constance Hall and Elizabeth Forbes may not hold the kind of greatness that gets a building named for them or a statue erected, yet theirs was a constant way of life that included integrity, kindness, and character that was remarkable in magnitude. Their greatness comes from their generosity to the less fortunate in their community and is comparable to the aforementioned presidents and philanthropists.

Constance Hall's home in Bambarra, Middle Caicos, still stands today.

Constance Hall’s home in Bambarra, Middle Caicos, still stands today.

I met Constance Hall, Elizabeth Forbes, and their families in the late 1970s and continued to visit them until their deaths. I was in Middle Caicos studying a part of their history that was not pleasant for them to remember. It was when the American Loyalists received land grants on the Caicos Islands and brought their slaves to attempt to re-establish plantations that had been lost in the Revolutionary War in the United States.
The ladies befriended me even though I was of another race and unearthing memories of a time that was difficult for their ancestors. While teaching at Cumberland University, I brought students to Middle Caicos to study the Loyalist ruins. Ernest and Elizabeth Forbes opened their home to us, agreeing to share a bathroom with dozens of students, and giving them immeasurable rewards in life lessons.
Constance and Emmanuel Hall owned the “Store,” an island gathering place in Bambarra where the students walked for sodas and snacks after a day’s work in their studies. Constance welcomed them and rarely let them pay for a soda. Sometimes she prepared an island dish for them to taste and enjoy. Cultural activities filled Saturday nights with music and dominoes. Their son, TCI Speaker of the House Robert Hall came and gave a history lesson on the Islands. These were experiences that cannot be bought.
I have often pondered how these extraordinary experiences could have happened to me, my college students, and even my granddaughters. The answer is obvious. The women I call “great” made it so. If nations could learn from their example, many problems would be solved. Who they were is important. Their lives and personalities are strong examples of the true definition of “greatness.”

Constance Elizabeth Hall nee Green

Constance Hall, as photographed by Siri White.

Constance Hall, as photographed by Siri White.

On February 15, 1923, Margaret and Frank Green welcomed their third child into the world, Constance Elizabeth. Born on former Loyalist John Ferguson’s plantation bounded by the sea on the northerly part of Middle Caicos, Constance’s childhood was changed when a hurricane destroyed their family home. Her father died when she was only five years old.
Constance moved to North Caicos where she lived with her maternal grandparents, Mary and David Phillips. Education was not a priority for them, but at age eleven she moved back to Middle Caicos where she started school and continued until age fourteen when she left to help her mother.
She was a lovely young lady with many suitors but found her Romeo in the dashing Emmanuel Hall! On June 8, 1943 Emmanuel and Constance married. Six children were born of this union: Wealthy, Christopher, Alice, Robert, Branford, and Avon. Constance accepted both Emmanuel Jr. and Patrice, children of Emmanuel’s, into her heart and home.
Truly the matriarch of the Hall family, Constance farmed, burnt coal for sale, washed sisal, and operated the store while Emmanuel was off sailing — either harvesting conch on the Caicos Bank or attending legislative council meetings on Grand Turk, as representative for Middle Caicos. With this responsibility, she always provided loving care for her children. She could be heard praying night after night for Emmanuel and her family. She taught her children to fear God, to “do unto others as you would have them do to you,” and was a faithful member of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Middle Caicos.
The door of her house was open to all (even to a stranger and college students!) One of her favorite Bible verses was Ephesians 4:32: “ . . . and ye be kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
A story I recall her telling concerned Hurricane Donna’s destruction to Middle Caicos. Constance stored water and baked bread knowing a storm was coming. She recalled that many of the citizens didn’t prepare and she sheltered them all in her home, putting children under the beds where the adults slept. During difficult times for members of the community, she could be heard saying, “Child, take this lil dust of sugar to your mother for me.” No one desiring food ever left her home hungry. Her greatest heartache was in 1994 when Emmanuel, her husband of 50 years, died in his sleep. She was a pillar of strength for her family.
Constance accepted my reason for being on Middle Caicos and took me to the ruins of the Ferguson plantation, her family’s home. She helped me find other plantations of the era I was studying. Always, when I left, she gave me a remembrance: a cool drink for travel or a broom “to sweep the floor or whip the children!” They are handy today for either job! I felt that I belonged on Middle Caicos.
With all her generosity, Constance believed in work. Some refugees were in Conch Bar begging. Her remark was to “let them get a job and work and not sit and beg on the street.” With this drive to know God and her work ethic, her children describe her as, “simply the best.” She was more than a housewife; she was a domestic engineer and “knew how to make ends meet when there were no ends to be met.”
Constance left Bambarra on June 25, 2012 to live with her daughter, Wealthy, on Grand Turk and died January 5, 2014. Her final years were spent with Wealthy and near her son Robert Hall listening to her favorite radio programs: the news every morning and the special from Reverend Reuben Hall, the Anglican Church Service, and Rock of Jesus Ministry with Bishop Brian Cox.

Grethel Elizabeth Forbes nee Hall

Elizabeth and Ernest Forbes (at left), with author and her granddaughter Aubree.

Elizabeth and Ernest Forbes (at left), with author and her granddaughter Aubree.

Born in Bambarra, Middle Caicos on December 19th, 1934, Grethel (Elizabeth) was the fourth of nine children. Affectionately known as “Tita” and “Sister Forbes,” she grew up on the islands of Middle and South Caicos.
Elizabeth finished her formal education at the age of sixteen but was a student for life. Her knowledge of the Bible was extraordinary and never failed to teach any one that would listen (including college students). Her early experience at age nineteen, of being “born again” was a mystery in her community. Although she suffered a bit of persecution, she held firm to her convictions.
On January 3, 1960 she married Ernest Forbes of Bambarra and they were blessed with eight children: Ianthe George (now deceased), Ulma Walkin, Ernest Forbes Jr., Heartlyn Forbes, Beverly Laporte, Cynthia Forbes, Dellarie Forbes, and Darin Bain. With the exception of Ernest, Jr. who is an evangelist and property manager on Middle Caicos, all have built successful careers in finance-related fields off Middle Caicos. Their welfare and success in life was a prime objective for Elizabeth.
As an adult and mother, Elizabeth continued her devotion to God and worship. Formerly a member of the Bethlehem Baptist Church of Bambarra she served on various boards and auxiliaries. Later she held membership in the Middle Caicos Lighthouse Church where she served as song leader, Sunday School teacher, church secretary, treasurer, and sometimes preacher. Always available for advice and counsel — a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on — Elizabeth became known widely and respected as a great woman of God.
Elizabeth did not ignore and neglect the need for leaders in civic affairs. The Turks & Caicos Islands Government employed her as secretary for the Middle Caicos District Board in the late 1960s and mid 1970s, and she later worked in the local work program. She served as a relief teacher at the Bambarra All Age Primary School.
Her work outside her home did not interfere with her homemaking talents. She was known for her culinary skills and often opened her home to travelers and missionaries, serving them hot meals. Her bread was one-of-a-kind! Her patience in her kitchen with the “cook of the day” during the field schools cannot be described as anything but motherly understanding laced with divine intervention!
Notes from my granddaughter Colleen’s diary further describe Elizabeth’s nature:

“We just arrived on Middle Caicos in a tiny village of Bambarra. I am sitting in Ernest and Elizabeth’s living room and Miss Elizabeth is preparing supper . . . I’ve been told to make myself at home, which is surprisingly easy to do in a place so foreign. Something about Elizabeth is so welcoming.”
“The dinner was delicious. I loved every bite. For entertainment, Elizabeth played The Passion of Christ for me and my sister Aubree.”

In 2014, Aubree returned to Turks & Caicos for her honeymoon and treasures her time spent on Middle Caicos.
Elizabeth, a skilled seamstress, enjoyed designing and sewing clothes for her family and the children and ladies of the community. I enjoy and cherish a hat she made for me when my hat was deemed “too masculine and dirty to wear!”
Elizabeth always thought of her neighbors. If any object such as a cooler was no longer needed for fieldwork, she suggested it be given to someone that did not have a refrigerator and could surely use it. She taught college students how to serve others, and they began looking for objects that could be re-used.
Elizabeth’s family came first. Pride was shown in all the portraits in her living room and her devotion for “Ernie” was displayed daily. Every portrait held a story of who they were, what they had done with their lives, and where they live now. The dining table accommodated all their family.
College students felt privileged to eat with her and Ernie, pray, share a bathroom (they learned about conserving water), and visit. Television was not available in the 1980s but films were. Elizabeth was careful of the viewing and her favorite was “The Sound of Music.”
The works of her hands were truly blessed, but her greatest contribution was her love of God and how it flowed through everything she did, whether attending to the sick, counseling college students, or lending a helping hand. A quote simply sums Elizabeth’s life: “She had a heart of gold from which many were enriched.” Elizabeth died February 8, 2011 at the age of seventy-six.
Among the awards Elizabeth received during her life were those from the TCI Tourist Board, Church of God of Prophecy Women’s Ministry, and T & C Baptist Women’s Missionary Band, as well, she was an Abundant Life Ministries International Mother’s Day Honoree.

Epilogue
My perspective comes as a stranger from another country and race seeking knowledge about a new world. These women gave me, my students, and my granddaughters much more than “knowledge.” We saw love, compassion, and goodness and gained a sense of belonging that is rare. To paraphrase the words of John F. Kennedy spoken to the German people, “I am a Turks & Caicos Islander.”



2 Comments

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Carol & Sandy Stewart
Oct 4, 2015 17:03

A delightful article – most inspiring!!

charlene kozy
Oct 10, 2015 19:21

Thank you for your thoughts on the article.

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