Elaine Bonadie celebrates 100 years, despite the odds
November 4, 2016
Elaine Bonadie celebrates 100 years, despite the odds

When Elaine Bonadie underwent brain tumour removal in 1998, Canadian doctors estimated that she would not have a long time left to live.

Having celebrated her 100th birthday last Tuesday, Elaine has not only outlived that expectation, she has even outlived some of the doctors who handed down that diagnosis 18 years ago!{{more}}

Last Tuesday, November 1, family, friends and well-wishers gathered at Elaine’s residence at Government House road to celebrate the milestone event with a thanksgiving service and dinner, organized by her two children Joseph Burns Bonadie and Verona Jack.

Elaine seemed to enjoy the celebration, often singing along to hymns and readily accepting communion from Anglican Bishop of the Windward Islands Leopold Friday.

Born Agnes Elaine Cato in Belmont (Bequia) to James and Harriet Cato in 1916, Elaine’s date of birth is somewhat of a mystery.

Although she has always celebrated her birthday on November 1, baptismal records from the St Mary’s Anglican Church in Bequia show her date of birth as being “allegedly August 28, 1916”. However, seeing that she was baptized on December 24 that same year, it is still possible that this may have been an error.

Bonadie described his mother as a strict, but caring woman and emphasized that although he was “mortally afraid” of her as a child, she must be credited for him and his sister developing into successful adults, as their father died when they were both young.

“We had a good time together,” he recalled.

In sharing anecdotes about the centenarian, Bonadie reminisced about his mother moving back to St Vincent after spending several years living in Canada with her daughter. In particular, he said that his mother had brought back a plethora of medication with her that had been prescribed by doctors, following her brain surgery.

“One day, we went to the back for a little walk, and when we came back, I decided I would straighten up her pillow… When I lifted the pillow up, all the pills were underneath! From that day – 1999 – I never gave her any other pill at all,” said Bonadie.

For most of her working life, Elaine worked in the public service at the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) and was very dedicated to her job – something attested to by her former juniors Alma Dougan and Michael Findlay.

“She was a good mentor; she guided me a lot!” explained Dougan, who retired as Comptroller of the IRD.

In highlighting his mother’s dedication to the job, Bonadie shared an incident that happened decades ago when Trinidadian calypsonian ‘The Mighty Sparrow’ visited St Vincent to perform, but refused to pay the taxes that he owed to the Government.

“In those days, you couldn’t leave the country without an exit slip… Sparrow say he not paying, so he and Cummings (the former Comptroller of Inland Revenue) got into an altercation; he box Cummings down. But in throwing the box, my mother jump between and the cuff caught her on her glasses, broke the glasses and cut her on her face,” said Bonadie.

“The police came in, they arrested him and they charged him. When they went to court, she (Elaine) said: ‘I just want back my glasses!’… She was a very serious person with her job.”

Also in attendance at the birthday celebration was former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, who explained that the connection between his family and Elaine’s was a longstanding one, as she was born in his grandmother’s house.

In brief words, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves described the centenarian as an “extraordinary woman”, and noted that the Lord only grants 100 years of life to “very special” people. The Prime Minister also recalled that in his younger years, whenever he would meet Elaine in passing, she would tell him to “stop [his] foolishness and join the Labour Party”.

“She had more foresight than I had,” he chuckled.

Also present was Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne, who conveyed congratulations on behalf of himself and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and described Elaine as having come from a “distinguished” family that had made “significant contributions” to St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Elaine’s daughter, Verona Jack, rounded up the thanksgiving service with a glowing tribute to her mother, explaining that it is a “tremendous blessing” to see her mother live to be 100.

Elaine had six brothers, the most notable of whom are former Prime Minister of SVG Robert Milton Cato and former president of the Barbados senate Sir Arnott Cato.

She has nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren and is believed to be the oldest living past student of the St Vincent Girls’ High School.

SEARCHLIGHT wishes Elaine a happy 100th birthday, and may she live to see many more. (JSV)