Mrs. Florence Coleby…Pioneering Secretary
By Force Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Rolle
As the Royal Bahamas Defence Force continues to embrace the past during its 40th Anniversary yearlong celebrations, the organization lauds a quiet and unassuming lady from Wemyss Bight, South Eleuthera.
Florence Louise Coleby entered this world in 1946 and has dedicated 45 years of her life to public service, with 37 of those years working with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
After graduating from the Wemyss Bight All-Age School, she spent 2 years working as a stamp clerk at the local Post Office. She secured her future by attending night classes to develop her secretarial skills. Following this, she was employed at the Ministry of Works, where she served as a secretary for 8 years. It was in 1979, that she saw an opportunity which would impact her career and life.
“While working with the Ministry of Works, I saw an advertisement for a secretary with the Ministry of Defence,” said Mrs. Coleby. “I wanted to expand my knowledge, so I saw the opportunity to elevate my position in the public service. I knew the Defence Force needed assistance with reading and typing reports. I had the confidence that I was qualified for the position,” she recounted.
Surely enough, after an interview with the first Commander Defence Force, Commodore William Swinley, Mrs. Coleby was hired in August 1979. Throughout her career, she has seen six Command Changes beginning with Commodore Swinley, and ending with Commander Defence Force, Commodore Roderick Bowe at the helm in 2011. She is thrilled to know that she has lived to see the Royal Bahamas evolve into the “Best Little Navy in the Region”.
This ambitious and successful mother of 3 young men and 9 grandchildren has served as secretary for numerous Captains Coral Harbour. They included Captain Derek Matthews, Senior Commander Amos Rolle, Commander David B. King and Captain Allen Snell. Her duties and responsibilities eventually allowed her to be transferred to the Typing Pool, where she became a mainstay and model of proficiency for other Defence Force administrative writers who were worked closely with her.
Finding herself in a classified area of the force, Mrs. Coleby is grateful to see the growth and maturity of the force since its existence.
“My most memorable aspect of serving with the Defence Force is when I saw the first entry of women join”, said Mrs. Coleby. “I was in my glory when I witnessed this, because Mrs. Deloris Pratt and I were the only 2 females on the base. We had other secretaries, but they were stationed at the Headquarters building on Thompson Boulevard. I was thrilled because I knew right then that they would be assisting with the secretarial duties, which was a relief”.
Ironically, Joan Patrice Thompson, a member of the first female entry is the younger sister of Mrs. Coleby. Both of these siblings served as secretaries. Thompson was assigned to the Operations Department.
Coleby attributes several former Royal Naval Officers who were on loan, as great influences during her early years working with the Defence Force.
“Persons like Captain Matthews and Lieutenant Donald Seaman taught me a lot of things as it pertains to becoming familiarized with the filing structure of the Royal Navy. They ensured I knew how it was done”.
One of the highlights of Mrs. Coleby secretarial career came in 1980. “When (HMBS) FLAMINGO went down, I was called to go to the Post Office building to type the interviews during the inquiry”, said Mrs. Coleby. “I accompanied Captain Matthews, and there were persons from the Police Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs among others, on the interview board. I was the only typist there while they interviewed the survivors of HMBS FLAMINGO as well as residents from Ragged Island.”
Florence Coleby retired on April 18, 2011 with a lavish luncheon at the Defence Force Base, during which she was presented with gifts and tokens of appreciation from family, friends and co-workers. Also, in attendance was Commodore (Retired) Leon Smith. She is grateful for her years of service, and encourages current serving members to seize the opportunities afforded to them.
“Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way”, said Mrs. Coleby. “Looking back, it brings me a spirit-filled feeling to know that I have accomplished something, and I can move on. It is a feeling of fulfilment to know that you were a part of a great organization” she muses.
Mrs. Coleby is spending her twilight years baking cakes, which she learnt while attending a culinary course at the College of The Bahamas. However, taking care of her grandchildren is something she cherishes the most. Before the present pandemic, she took a delight in catching a jitney and carrying them to spend a day at the shopping mall. According to her, these small things and quality time spent are the joys of life.
As a result of spending most of her years at the Defence Force Base, Mrs. Coleby said that this experience has caused her to become more observant and cognizant of her surroundings. Although she may not have done the theory or practical course in Field Craft, she is however, well versed in the training.
She still however, leaves behind one regret, “Someday, I’m hoping to see a female at the helm”.
Until then Mrs. Coleby, we shout a humongous Thank you from a grateful Force. May the road you travel continue to meet your path, and may the sun forever shine on your face. We appreciate you.