MARIGOT–Scores of well-wishers celebrated Yvette Fleming-Hodge’s 100th birthday on Wednesday during a day-long tribute to honour her remarkable longevity and fortitude.
Her residence in Bellevue was the scene of comings and goings most of the day in what was essentially a quiet, private family affair with invited guests.
SOS Radio covered the morning activities live from the house, interviewing people who knew her best or who were former employees of hers. Archive photos of her life were projected on a television screen.
President of the Territorial Council Aline Hanson, Vice-President Rosette Gumbs-Lake and church leaders were among the many relatives at the house in the morning when a Mass was held. A small choir of four to six persons from French Quarter and Marigot dressed in traditional costume sang songs following the Mass.
Fleming-Hodge was bright and alert as she acknowledged the many warm greetings.
“Faith in God. Without faith you get nowhere,” she confided to The Daily Heraldwhen asked the secret to her longevity. “And proper education,” she added.
Hanson said when she returned from studying she remembered Yvette Fleming-Hodge as a hard-working, astute business woman, arriving at her office on the dot at eight in the morning and leaving late at night.
“She helped people buy lots to build homes in Concordia and provided jobs for St. Martiners,” Hanson related. “She had a variety of businesses, among them selling cars and a gasoline station at Grand Case Airport. She donated land for the hospital and also for the new library and Territorial Archives.
“She is someone very popular with St. Martiners for her loving and caring nature. Hers is a very large family if you put the Beauperthuys and Flemings together. She’s had a wonderful life and her memory is still good. Not many of us at that age will get to converse and have the memory recall that she has.”
One of Yvette Fleming’s original employees present was Emmanuel Alton, who used to ferry cement and construction materials back and forth to the wharf and met the people coming off the seaplane from St. Croix.
A highlight of the morning was the unveiling of a giant banner in her honour on the Bellevue roundabout as well as a portrait of her as a young woman, with an inscription. Although she was not present for the ceremony, her immediate family were there to witness the honour organised by the District Five community council.
Short speeches were given by Vice-President Ramona Connor, District Five and Six representatives Paul Whit and Georges Richardson, and Ras Touza Jah Bash of the “We Agree with Culture” market gardens in Bellevue.
The St. Martin Song was sung by Emilienne Wade, formerly deputy mayor in the Commune era.
Georges Richardson evoked laughter when talking of the great lady’s qualities, saying “a little bit had rubbed off onto her son, Louis-Constant Fleming.”
Ras Touza Jah Bash described Yvette Fleming-Hodge symbolically “as a tree whose many branches reached into the yards of every one of us.”
“She is loving and caring, especially to me,” he said. “As a man of the earth I can testify: every time I had a garden it was given to me by her. She is a human being living on earth, but an angel declared in heaven.”
Ramona Connor said Yvette Fleming had “built” St. Martin and “built a great part of the economy.”
Paul Whit said the proposal for the banner and its design had been approved by the family. A compact disc celebrating Yvette Fleming-Hodge’s life was presented to Louis-Constant Fleming and flowers to her daughter, Anne Fleming-Brooke, widow of Senator Edward W. Brooke.
In thanking everyone, Louis-Constant Fleming said he was “extremely proud,” noting such a major milestone did not come around very often.
“If our mother reached 100 it is because of her determination and the fact that she did not leave anything to chance,” he said. “Everything had to be done by her and she had to be in control. She made the decisions. And that was in 1949 when a woman at the head of a business was very rare or non-existent. She was in a man’s world where the objective was to eliminate her, business-wise. But she succeeded.”
He said his mother had been born in French Quarter, but had lived in Bellevue since 1937.
“St. James in particular was basically adopted by her. She always had a special relationship with the people of St. James. My mother often said to me that the biggest problem St. Martin people have is that they are their own worst enemies. ‘Always try to help them,’ she told me.
“We are very happy to make a tribute to her today and hope she will be with us for many more years. She never talks about death. In her mind she is eternal. Death is not an option for her and she will tell you that if she is not there everything will cease.”
Activities at the house continued in the evening with music by the Jolly Boys and visits by Dutch-side elected officials and prominent personalities
Source: The Daily Herald Island pays special tribute to Yvette Fleming-Hodge