The woman with the GOLDEN HEART!
Nassau, Bahamas – Sheila M. Culmer was named this year’s recipient of the Lady Sassoon Golden Heart Award at the 49th Annual Heart Ball, held at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort held on February 16th. Mrs. Culmer is a most fitting recipient as she has spent most of her life giving to others.
Chairman of the Sir Victor Sassoon (Bahamas) Heart Foundation, Mr. R.E. Barnes announced the winner to a packed ballroom while noting that the Golden Heart Award is the oldest non-governmental award of its type, a public award that acknowledges a person who gives of themselves selflessly, for the betterment of their community. Mrs. Culmer became the forty-fifth awardee of the Golden Heart Award, which was started in 1968.
Mrs. Culmer says that she would be remiss if she did not express her love, gratitude and appreciation to her family for their support, encouragement and assistance. She thanked her children who did not seem to mind her sharing her time, talents and love with other children. “My children are my biggest fans”, she said.
In presenting the Golden Heart Award to Mrs. Culmer, Heart Foundation Chairman R.E. Barnes said, “It is abundantly clear that she has always been a person who sees the challenge in front of her and works her utmost to try and rectify the wrong before her. She is a doer with a golden heart and we are all so much better for her efforts”.
In her acceptance speech, Mrs. Culmer indicated that she was lost for words. However, she told the crowd that philosophy in life is to. “ never look down at anyone unless you are stooping down to pick them up”. She went on to say that she hopes that legislation would be considered for persons with disabilities.
Sheila M. Culmer was born in Calabash Bay Andros to Gerald Dean and Sylvia Watkins Nee Moxey. She came to Nassau as a young child and attended school. While at Government High School, she excelled in her studies and also participated in Girl Guides. She became a member of 3rd Bahamas Girl Guides Association. After graduating from The Government High School she had hoped to attend university in the United States, wanting to become a pediatrician or mortician, but fate had another direction for her. Neither of her two intended career paths proved to be the direction she took.
Bouncing back from a big disappointment – unable to pursue higher education abroad, she accepted a student teaching post at Western Junior School. Her students consisted mainly of those students that other teachers did not want in their classes. She accepted the challenge and trusting the Almighty God she met and exceeded the expectations. During this time, Samuel (Sammy) Culmer came in to her life and he later became her husband, and the father of their five children – Donillo, Vanta, Tami, Samantha and Asheka. She is the proud grandparent of four.
In 1971 she had the privilege to represent The Bahamas Girl Guides Association at the 1st International Girl Guide Symposium in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
In 1967, Mrs. Culmer graduated from the Bahamas Teachers College. She taught at Sayles and William Phipps Primary School and volunteered at the Ranfurly Home for Children. Dr. Corolyn Hanna recognized that Sheila had a special ability for working with children with learning disabilities, as well as the disadvantaged. Consequently, Dr. Hanna recommended that Sheila be sent to complete the Special Education Course offered in Jamaica (University of the West Indies). Upon her return, she was seconded to Stapledon School for the Mentally Retarded. Overtime, this would become her lifelong goal, to assist the mentally and physically challenged amongst us. This resulted in her attending Cambridge Institute of Education, in Cambridge England, for an Advance Diploma. She also attended the University of Miami for her Bachelor of Science Degree.
While a teacher at the Stapledon School for the Mentally Retarded she fought for her students to help them achieve their goals in life. She was a teacher at Stapledon from 1971 to 1979. Afterwards, she became principal of the school until 1996.There she advocated for and achieved free education for the mentally retarded at the school. She noted how her friend Rosalie Knowles helped to shape her career and encouraged her to specialize in special education.
Mrs. Culmer is an advocate and trailblazer for many. Mrs. Culmer worked with Mr. William Hawkins to help form the first Special Olympics in Nassau. She was inspired by Sandy Manning, who had worked on Special Olympics in Grand Bahama. Mrs. Culmer became the first National Director for Special Olympics in the Bahamas. In 1989 she organized and helped to host the First Caribbean Regional Track and Field Games for persons who were classified as mentally retarded. The Bahamas was the first Caribbean country to host these regional track and field games with attendees from seventeen countries.
Mrs. Culmer chaired the Conference Committee to address legislation for the Disabled. In 1996 she chaired the Bahamas National Conference on Disability. She was the chief advocate and proponent for persons with disabilities to participate in the Bahamas Games. She also organized and secured parties, especially at Christmas time for the disabled and underprivileged.
Sheila Culmer continued her advocacy and was instrumental in obtaining the present Bahamas National Council for Disability headquarters from the Bahamas Government. She invited, then US Ambassador, John Rood to partner with the Bahamas National Council for Disability (BNCD). He was able to get US Marines to assist with repair to the Headquarters. In subsequent years, assistance for the upkeep of the building was provided by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Knights of Columbus and St. Augustine’s College Anchor Club.
In 2007 she presented and organized a 2 day Motivational and Educational Seminar with Master Motivator Dion Jordan of the United States. She also founded the Central Pilot Club of Nassau. Around this time she decided to formally retire from her chosen profession. However it did not mean that she stopped working for those less fortunate. In 2009 she co-chaired and partnered with Adventure Unlimited Bahamas to present ‘Blind Challenge’, which involved a blind man navigating Nassau Harbour.
Her involvement in assisting the mentally and physically challenged does not end there. Sheila Culmer is a founding member of the Bahamas Association of School Administrators and the Bahamas Alliance of Black School Educators; she also served as an Executive Member of the Primary Principals Association. She has also been a member of the Disabled Person’s Organization, the Bahamas National Children’s Committee, the Bahamas National Council for Social Development and is a Bahamas Girl Guides Association Council member. She is the current President of the Bahamas National Council for Disability (BNCD).
As President of BNCD, Mrs. Culmer chaired the conference on ‘Pursuing our Abilities Despite our Disabilities and organized the Disability March and Rally at Rawson Square with the BNCD. She also helped to organize the BNCD Awareness Disability Week in 2011 with noted international speaker Toni Eames. Also in 2012, she organized the Disability in Motion Conference, with many International Speakers.
Internationally, Mrs. Culmer has been involved with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, The National Alliance of Black School Educators, the Council for Exceptional Children, The Council for Administrators of Special Educators and also the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH).