Eulogy for Bertha Mary Astle, Nee Hoy
Sunrise: December 18, 1926 Sunset: October 9, 2013
Our beloved Mom, Bertha Mary Astle was known by many names, Cheech, Berts, Bertita, Tia Berts, Maita, all suggesting a small stature, but if you knew her, you would know that her heart and spirit were those of a giant. A true woman of faith, Bertha graced the lives of all the members of her family, church and community.
Bertita was born at sea on her father’s sailboat, the Viking, off the island of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize eighty-six years ago. Her parents, William John Hoy and Lucilla Arguelles left their home in a remote part of the island of Ambergris Caye called Bacalar Chico and headed out for Belize City, where Bertha’s grandmother, Maria de Jesus Azcorra, who was to be the midwife, had gone to assist in the birthing of another family member. While en route in front of Felipe Paz’s house on San Pedro, they were becalmed and Bertita uttered her first cry. Her father delivered her, dunked her in the sea, washed her off carefully in salt water and took her into San Pedro town where a Jesuit priest who had come to say the Christmas Mass that year baptized her. Her father then pulled up his sails and headed back home to Bacalar Chico.
Bertha’s first memories are of a beautiful island, Bacalar Chico owned by her grandfather, William John Knightly Hoy, replete with coconut trees and abundant wildlife, including deer, peacocks, bees and birds. There was also abundant sea life that yielded lobster, shrimp, and all kinds of fish. In other words, a paradise, similar to where we believe she is today.
She remembers sitting in the rafters of their home listening to her brothers and sisters being home schooled by their parents and memorizing, always memorizing and learning many different subjects, including poetry. Their little family and that of the late Fr. Carlos Franco, her first cousin enjoyed putting on plays and competitions for each other every weekend. As a small child, she had memorized all the stanzas of Longfellow’s “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” among many other poems. She loved to quote, “It was the schooner Hesperus, that sailed the wintry sea; and the skipper had taken his little daughter, to bear him company...”
She moved to Belize City at age seven so that she and her siblings could go to a “proper” school. She remembers being moved from Kindergarten to Std. I all in a matter of four days flat, a testament to the excellent home schooling she had received from her parents. Bertha graduated from St. Catherine’s Academy in 1943.
Bertha met Carlton (Bill) Vance Tewes, the son of Belize’s foremost shipwright, Stacie Louis Tewes and Olive Wood of the Bay Islands and Belize. She “made the first move” at a basketball game when she asked him if he had any “ranch romances” he could lend her (she had heard his parents had a big library of books). Bill surprised her the next day when he dropped by unannounced with five ranch romances under his arm. The rest is history. They fell in love, married and in five years, Bertha had four children, Michael, Shelley, Ronald and Robert. Her husband, Bill had a tragic car accident in San Francisco, CA in 1956. Her father also passed away this same year and Bertita and her four young children moved back in with her Mother. She went to work as a secretary at Nords and then was offered a job at the International Cooperation Administration (ICA, later renamed USAID) as a secretary and librarian.
In 1965 she married Edwin P. Astle, Director of ICA in Belize and then moved to Tegucigalpa Honduras, where Eddie served as the first Peace Corps Director to Honduras. After Eddie retired from the US government, he went back to work as Director of Operations for the International Executive Service Corps (IESC) in several Central American countries. While he was director of the business side of things, Bertha operated as part of the team, helping volunteers’ wives to feel comfortable in their new surroundings while their husbands had fun as consultants to businesses of all kinds.
As Eddie’s “Director of Events” Bertha enjoyed entertaining from the most humble of persons to Ministers, Ambassadors and even Presidents. All the while, she never lost sight of her family and looked for opportunities to help them advance on a personal and spiritual level.
After Eddie retired a second time they moved back to her childhood home on Ambergris Caye and they both had the time of their lives. The following are snapshot recollections of Bertita’s life that come to mind of their life in San Pedro and later in Sunrise, FL:
- praying in the resurrection light every morning on the beach
- studying for and becoming a Lay Minister with her husband Eddie in Belize City
- hosting countless priests and nuns at their home
- climbing up a 40 foot tower on the beach where Eddie kept his wind charger and made electricity from the wind (he loved to say that God never sent him a bill). To get to the top, you had to pass through a little trap door to reach the prayer room in the sky
- designing a massage table on her verandah blocked off with a low, grated wall for privacy to allow the sea breeze to flow through, and music, always music, along with the sound of the sea lapping at the seashore
- calling on the masseuse for anyone needing a good Swedish back massage
- going for an early morning swim, a midday swim, an early or late afternoon swim
- sipping hot chocolate in the morning and tea every afternoon on the verandah as a rule
- opening her home to nieces, nephews and friends,
- reveling in love by just holding hands with husband, children, grandchildren or great grandchildren
- reading a good book, religious or romantic
- remembering ancestors, as a good matriarch of the family does
- taking guests out for a little “look see” or snorkel at the reef in the glass bottomed boat
- caressing her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in the hammock while putting them to sleep
- taking Holy Communion to the Sick and expecting that the family members she visits will light a little candle and reverently receive the Lord in their home and into their hearts- giving advice when asked and always looking for and seeing the deeper and better side of people
- listening to gospel songs
- praying with her charismatic group
- chatting with friends
- laughing with gusto at the things kids do
- giving generously of her time, treasure and talent to church, family, friends and neighbors
- lighting the port and starboard lights in the house every evening
- having good talks while curled up in the bay window benches looking out to sea
- lighting bonfires on the beach for the kids, roasting marshmallows and telling stories
- sailing to Caye Caulker on the Rum Punch
- cruising to Belize in our speed boat, the Xtabai
-lying in a hammock both on our verandah and in a cabana on the pier in front of our house at the beach
- praying the Rosary
- preparing children to receive their First Holy Communion and Confirmation
- treating the kids to ice cream after First Communion classes
- living life to the fullest-praying again as the sun goes down in the west
- trusting in the Lord
In the latter years of their retirement, our beloved Eddie was stricken with Alzheimer’s and we loved him all the more for six years. After he passed away Bertita moved in with her daughter and they lived together for a number of years before we found out that Bertita also had the same disease. She never felt sorry for herself; instead, she bore it all with great dignity and courage. We thank God for our Mom, and are left with the assurance that just about everyone who had the privilege to call her family, friend or patient has been left a better person for having known her and shared their lives with her. We will miss her, but know that she is resting in peace and praying for us now from above.
We leave you with one of Mom’s favorite sayings taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.”
“Jiro jai ju” (an endearment in the Guarani language of Paraguay that she and Eddie used to say to each other); we love you, Mom, and may the good Lord bless and keep you in the palm of His hand. We pray that the Blessed Mother will wrap you in her mantle and keep you safe until we meet again.
Your loving children, Mike, Shelley, Ron, Rob