Ottiwell Simmons was a husband, Father, Union President and Member of Parliament; but the path that led him there was not easy. He was born in the Village, North Village in Government gate to be exact the son of Olaf and Audrey Simmons. He had five brothers and one sister. Ottiwell was given the nickname ‘Ottie’ in his infancy, and it stuck with him throughout his life.
He had an interesting and enjoyable childhood and proudly followed the older village boys. He was a typical youngster but never a believer in doing anything dishonest, because of the strict upbringing of his parents and other older members of the community. All the young boys and girls of the Village readily knew if they did anything wrong it was instantly reported to their parents and woe be tide the results of their actions. He was raised around such persons as Roosevelt Brown who was instrumental in helping with the fight of universal franchise, Eldridge Smith, Reginald ‘Tuddy’ Wilson, William Wilson Jr., Burnell Wilson, Dilton White and John Swan just a few of the Government gate guys as he would refer to them that came out of the Village. He was an avid sportsman and took great delight in learning to participate in Cricket, football, tennis and swimming. His first memories of table tennis and billiards were at Wilson’s Recreational Club. He labeled as classic swimmers and top athletic jumpers Calvin ‘Cal’ and Dilton’Dick” White ,Burnell Wilson and his brother Basil Simmons. Their abilities he said far surpassed any of the opposite race who had the opportunity to be trained at the then Langton Pool (The old Eagel’s Nest Hotel)and were sent to the Olympics. It was here as he reached adolescence that he began to understand the differences in treatment of the races of people in Bermuda. This very well could have been the seed of responsibility that began to grow in this young Ottie, who realized the need for social and political change in this country.
His early education was at the North Village Band Room school which was built by members of the North Village Community and of which his father became one of their bandsmen. He attended Mrs. Louisa’s Simmons Nursery, and Central School. ‘Victor Scott’. He studied for one term at Skinner’s school after being unsuccessful at getting into the Berkeley Institute, even though his grades were of very high standard. That’s a whole other story for lots of the young villages and Bermudians in general at the time. At age 15, he worked as a plumber’s helper but realized he wanted more than this out of life. He worked at several jobs, Hotel waiter, Taxi Driver, before going on to Technical Institute and doing night studies to advance himself.
In 1952 , Ottie married and started a family, but this did not hinder his quest for advancement.
He joined the Union in 1958. At age 36, with the help of Mr. Jim Chandler, he was encouraged to further his studies at Oxford University’s Ruskin College in Social Studies. He studied for three months at Fi. Flb Trade Union, received a diploma, and upon returning to Bermuda, became the first full-time organizer of the Bermuda Industrial Union and bought a defunct union up to some 7000 members over a period of a few years. He was elected the President of the Union in 1974. Dedicating oneself to this form of work surely took time from his private life. To Ottiewell Simmons, the accomplishments of seeing a job completed was extremely rewarding. He stood for no form of racism, he was a gentleman committed to involvement, and he showed this not only in his daily work but also in his political career, and most of all his church. Raised up in the A.M.E. Sunday School as a boy Ottie enjoyed music and studied the saxophone. He was a member of the North Village Band, the Cubs and 2nd. Hamilton Boys Brigade.
He never classed himself as a devout christian ,but prayer and church worship are a definite part of his life. He talked much about the powerful families in the Village and respect for parents and friends alike, such that no one became an enemy. Young boys had their under the light talks with the older men and were told in layman’s terms about politics, Dr. Gordon’s movement, V-Day, and how to be a man in every way and be confident in whatever they did in life. The Village people were Community oriented, and they displayed this to the best of their ability.
Ottie became a member of the Progressive Labour Party and served as a member of the Legislative Council, from 1974-78, in 1978 running in the constituency of Pembroke East he was elected as a member of Parliament. He soon had as his running mate the young Nelson Bascome and they became a formidable pair. There have been times when he was criticized for his work in the Union but he turned the other cheek and soldered on. He was a born leader and one could always see him up front in any march for any dispute. One saw him in the struggle at the Belco. Strike in 1965; the hotel strike in 1973; The island wide labour strike in 1981, In 1991 the Hotel Employers of Bermuda industry-wide collective agreement. In 1992 the Transportation Strike. In 1992 the Trade Disputes Act and negotiations, and many more. The path he travelled as a leader with many of his colleagues was not easy. There was no easy street to the success he achieved. Is it any wonder that in December of 1996 he was honoured with a Testimonial Banquet, with glowing tributes of his accomplishments. He truly paved the way and no-one if any could really walk in his shoes.
After forty years it was past time for Ottie to live for Ottie. He accepted the haunting possibility that change for his people will be an ongoing struggle. The fight must not cease! our past determined it! Our future needs it! our racial pride demands it! He has been honoured and hailed for his leadership by many other organizations. He was commended for his vision in Establishing the ‘Island Co-op’ in Cox’s hill Pembroke. He acquired a Union Gas Station, The first Union Street Headquarters at the South East Corner of Union and Dundonald Streets and the present Union Headquarters included with this the Liberty Theatre and small shopping areas this is a living testimony to his leadership. He will soon have a building named in his honour, great! but that will not show the character, integrity and flair of this man. Ottiwell the boy enjoyed life in the village. Ottiwell the man returns once in a while to renew old acquaintances. His Hobbies: Reading, writing, fishing, gardening, tennis. He authored the book ‘Woman of Labour’ on the life of Dr. Barbara Ball.
Credits: won a tennis double Championship with Al. ‘Pop” Smith, the late Donald Lottimore and Al Smith were his partners. Awarded a cedar plaque for contributions to Society by young Progressives in 1974. Honoured membership, National Conference of Black Mayors, Atlanta Georgia, the first to be honoured outside of America,this put him in the company of such persons as the Rev. Jessie Jackson and other leading figures. Honoured by the Leopards club on their seventh anniversary February 2019 and by Dale Butler with a ‘Triumph of the Spirit’ award in February 2019. Ottie was no super man just an ordinary person fighting for the justice of his people. He did this selflessly and with dignity. He laid a path for many to follow and the hope that those that follow will continue to do it with pride, honesty and dignity.
This Article was written by the good people at The Bermuda Heritage Museum