Special Features
July 4, 2008
Audrey Hazell-Gomes – The first Carnival Queen

by J. Soso-Vincent

To the unsuspecting person, Audrey Hazell-Gomes is a seemingly ordinary woman. At age 78, she is now retired, an active member of the Anglican Church and has a passion for gardening and other horticultural pursuits.{{more}}

However, there is one aspect of Audrey’s life that prevents her from languishing in the realm of ‘ordinary’ and, instead, has elevated her into that of ‘outstanding’ – firmly placing her in the chapters of Vincentian history books. Audrey was the first woman to win the coveted title of Miss St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Then called the Carnival Queen, Audrey took part in the pageant in 1951, at the Lyric Cinema Hall, along with many of her close friends. There were approximately 14 participants, described by close friend Molly Arthur as “…the prettiest girls of the day… of all colours and ethnic backgrounds,” he affirmed.

A Carnival committee (led by Vin and Nellie Sprott) then hosted the pageant, and Audrey, a keen netball player, had been put forward to compete by her netball club, Rival Blues. Audrey had never been much of a Carnival person, and still isn’t. However, the prospect of taking part in the inaugural pageant had been exciting. She recalled how shocked she had been when she was crowned the winner.

Judged in the categories of Interview, Sports Wear and Evening Wear/ Appearance, she had gone into the pageant with no expectations. “I was surprised to place first because there were some nice-looking ladies!” In terms of preparation for the event, Audrey related that today’s competition involves a lot more rigorous training. “The only thing we had to prepare was the cocktail dress (evening wear),” she recalled. She also remarked that the prizes today are a lot more significant than what she received. Along with the accolade of being the very first Miss SVG, Audrey received EC$50 and three months free hairdressing from Sylvia Wilson’s hair salon.

Having only been 20 years old at the time of her participation, Audrey admitted that the decades have somewhat diminished her recollection of the experience. However, what she clearly remembers is that despite enjoying it, one pageant was quite enough for her – she had no desire to take part in any others. “That was enough for me!” she chuckled.

A past student of the Intermediate High School, Audrey had been working at Barclays Bank when she took part in the pageant. Three years after her historic win, she got married and emigrated to Woodbrook, Trinidad. As there was also a Barclays Bank there, it had been easy for Audrey to get a transfer – one less thing to worry about, having had to adjust to her new surroundings. Nine months into her employment at the Bank, she gave birth to her first son, Ian, then promptly stopped working for six years to raise him.

This, however, did not permanently stop her pursuit of a career in Banking. Following her break in employment, Audrey went back into banking, and, over the decades, worked at several banks throughout Trinidad and Tobago. During this time, she completed several courses at the University of the West Indies, all the while steadily moving up in rank within the banks she worked at. The birth of her second son, Nigel, found Audrey and her young family living in Petit Valley, where they had purchased a house shortly after migrating to Woodbrook, located on the outskirts of Port of Spain. Petit Valley served as their locale for the best part of 40 years. After years of hard work and dedication, Audrey finally ended her working career in February 1987 – retiring as a Branch Manager at the National Commercial Bank.

Separated from her husband for approximately 20 years, Audrey still lives a busy and fulfilling life. Having recently moved back to Woodbrook, she spends the majority of her time doing voluntary work for her Church, as well as other organizations. Moreover, she is an avid gardener – taking great pleasure in anything even remotely horticultural-based. A well-seasoned traveler, this charming woman has extensively visited destinations such as Australia, the Scandinavian countries, Europe, North & South America and, of course, the Caribbean. More recently, she experienced a delightful cruise through the Panama Canal and enjoyed herself immensely. “I had a great time! It’s something I always wanted to learn about,” she enthused. One would imagine that such a lively and active woman would have a great deal of traveling years left in her.

The middle child of three siblings, Audrey was born in 1930 to Grafton and Edith Hazell. Her sister currently resides in Barbados, whilst her brother sadly passed away a few years ago. Audrey divides her time between Trinidad and Bequia because of her sons. “I’m torn between Bequia and Trinidad because I have one son there and one son here,” she lamented. Ian Gomes, the elder, has followed in his mother’s footsteps – working in the Audit Department of the Republic Bank, Trinidad. He too, has two sons with whom Audrey relishes spending time. Meanwhile her youngest son, Nigel Gomes, now resides in Bequia and manages the Salty Dog Sports Bar & Restaurant. Despite not visiting the mainland very often, Audrey is a regular visitor to Bequia, having spent Christmas 2007 there.

The older generation very much remembers Audrey’s triumph. In fact, in 1991 she was invited back for Vincy Carnival and made an appearance on stage at the Miss SVG pageant. Good friend Tracy Connell can recall her appearance vividly. “When she came back, people were still very much in awe of her. People were overwhelmed with her! She still has that quiet dignity…” Connell described her as a “…very lovely person.” He can also recall her participation in the pageant; even remembering what hairdo she had been sporting. “Audrey looked splendid on stage. She carried it off like a real, true queen!” he gushed.

Audrey may not believe that participating in the pageant was anything of great significance, on her part, but this independent, Suzuki Swift jeep-driving grandmother has certainly made her contribution to Vincentian history.