Madeline Joell: Bermuda’s Golden Girl

Cover Girl: Madeline Joell featured in Bermuda Business Magazine

Gliding through the breezeway of Port Royal Golf Club on the west end of Bermuda, I saw Madeline for the first time.  Of course I didn’t know her name then but she was the kind of person whose presence and beauty escaped no one.  Tall, willowy, and athletic, the bright buttercup yellow of her flowing silk business dress accented coal blue-black skin.

“Hi, I’m Madeline Joell.  You must be playing in the tournament.  I don’t believe we’ve met.”  She offered a handshake with the strong hands and arms indicative of a top golfer.  She was a native Bermudian, yet had the accent of the island’s Motherland, fluid, yet crisply British.  A former Miss Bermuda, Madeline had competed in the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants back in the late 70’s, and her poise was flawless.  She had also been a ballet dancer until she had grown too tall, too muscular, for the male dancers to lift her.

“I’ve lived here all my life and played golf with every good woman player around, and I know I’ve never seen you before,” she noted.  I introduced myself.

She was correct.   It was my first foray into island paradise golf.  During the previous winter I’d been travel-brochure cruising.  Pictures of lazy-limbed palm trees waving toward azure waters gave temporary solace to the dreariness of yet another Detroit December.  With minimal arm twisting, my trip to the Bermuda Stroke Play Championship run by the Bermuda Golf Association was set for June 1988.

‘Tis not an easy thing to head for untried foreign land, alone.  But with some help from the Bermuda Department of Tourism and their marvelous and complete tour booklet, I found a neat little family-owned boardinghouse motel painted cerulean blue that would have been strangely out of place anywhere else but here.    My travel agent, when people had such service representatives back in the olden days, had searched the usual methods and the best she could come up with was almost $300 per night.   At the last minute I convinced Sue, my restaurant manager, to take some much needed R&R and come along on the trip.  She decided some serious beach time was in order.     At $50 per night, our digs were perfect for what we needed.   For me, the stunning Southampton Princess, now part of the Fairmont family of luxury resorts, was right next door.  With its fabled Par-3 golf course, it was perfect for sneaking on to do a little bit of practice putting and chipping in the evening.   And Sue, though not a golfer, could enjoy the fabled pink sand shorelines of Bermuda simply by crossing South Shore road…..very carefully.   On the taxi ride from the airport, our driver diverted to other roads because a fatal moped accident involving tourists had shut down our route.  Sadly, I soon learned this was a common happening.   When we arrived at the motel, Viv, our proprietor, offered to drive us to the store to buy groceries for our efficiency.   Because of his reasonable rates, I could almost afford to buy some of Bermuda’s sticker-shock $5.99 fresh cantaloupes and $5 milk.  It doesn’t seem so expensive now.  Viv also suggested a  lift to Port Royal G.C. so I wouldn’t have to haul my golf clubs on the back of the two-person moped I intended to rent the next day, that is, if I wanted my own mode of transportation on the island.  Bermuda has a very strict policy on car ownership: one family, one car.  No rentals.   So off I went with Viv.  And that was when I saw the most beautiful practice range, ever.  It wasn’t the range itself, which was normal with grass, teeing areas, and chopped up turf.  Nope, it was what lay beyond all the golf balls at the far end of the downward sloping property:  the Atlantic Ocean.  The sun was setting through a maze of cumulus clouds.  I watched the sunset for awhile and then made my way toward the adjacent clubhouse…..through its breezeway.

“Well Janina, let’s have a look here…”    Madeline checked the tee sheet posted on the club bulletin board and found our names listed. “I do believe we’re playing together on the first day of Stroke Play.  Won’t that just be superb?”  Madeline had a way of making even the simplest phrase sound elegant.   We chatted a bit more, and when she heard that my proprietor dropped me off and was waiting for a phone call to pick me up, she offered to drive me back to Viv’s place, which she knew by sight.  After all, Bermuda is a small island about 21 miles long and 2 miles across at its widest point.  The houses have names and everyone knows everyone, almost like the penultimate small town.  I accepted, enthralled with the friendliness of the island I had set foot on only a few hours before.

As it happened, all three days of the championship Madeline and I were paired together, initiating what was to become a friendship that would extend for years.  That week, Madeline played host and tour guide and drove me everywhere, which was quite handy considering Bermuda does not allow non-residents to rent or drive cars on the island, hence my moped rental.  At the end of my visit, she had already invited me to return in the fall as her guest and partner in the Bermuda Four-Ball Championship.  For those unaware of what a Four-Ball is, think ‘Ryder Cup’, partners, and pressure.  Add in a mix of pre and post-tournament social events and cocktail parties along with a Men’s Division so we could find some ‘pigeons’ to bet with during practice rounds, and you have the perfect week of fun in the sun.

Over 10 years, Mady and I played in many more tournaments, moved into bigger and better homes, met with great success in our respective careers and businesses, and led adventurous lives that few folks are lucky enough to experience.  She took me along to New Zealand as her caddie when the World Amateur was played in Christchurch in 1990.  I remember the 36 hour succession of flights on cramped planes when I, in the middle seat, got not one wink of sleep and Mady snoozed the whole time, which of course she would deny.   The Committee had changed the rules that year and I wasn’t allowed to caddy, but it was still 3 weeks in a place most Americans never get to visit.    Back in Bermuda, she began to let me drive her car – on the left or ‘wrong’ side of the road as it were – despite my never having applied for, nor acquired, an international driver’s license.  Good thing she and I routinely played golf with the local gendarmes, who usually kept me out of harm’s way….except for that one time I got caught speeding, zipping about 45Km all through the winding streets of Hamilton and really, it is difficult to drive that slowly…….but I digress.  That’s another story that shouldn’t see the light of day for at least another 10 or 20 years.

We had the kind of friendship most women are unable to sustain:  one requiring little upkeep and even less nurturing.  Two or three times a year I’d visit and play in Bermudian golf events or she would come to Detroit, a city she truly loved because of her new found friends here.  People say a lot of negative things about the Motor City, but isn’t it ironic that of all the places someone who lives on a gorgeous island should choose to vacation, it would be Detroit?  We always discovered plenty of ways to create wonderful memories, including visits to her favorite courses, Pine Trace in Rochester Hills and Cherry Creek in Shelby Township  She just adored the courses’ managing partner Mike Bylen and the rest of the staff including Jimmy Reading, Head Professional Jim Norgart, Megan Pike, and others.  Oddly enough, it was in Bermuda that I too first formally met Mike – in almost exactly the same place I first saw Mady.   We discovered we frequently crossed fairways at Indianwood Golf Club in Lake Orion, Michigan, where I was a member and he played in a regular foursome with a member or two who didn’t believe in equal golf privileges for women.   Because of my work as a course ratings panelist for Golf Digest Magazine, I always had courses to rate and Mady provided some excellent perspectives when she was in town and could accompany me.  Occasionally, Mike would join us and I’d relegate him to the back tee boxes.  Mady hit the ball prodigious lengths, though the fast bent-grass greens gave her putting fits.  That’s why we made up such a great partners team:  she was long, sometimes wrong, and I was long enough, straight, steady,  and could putt.

Back in Bermuda, or wherever she happened to be, she’d occasionally ‘give me a bell’, which is Mady-speak for a phone call, and we’d catch up on all we had missed for months.  There was never any whining about not keeping in touch often enough.  We simply picked up where we had left off last time and planned our next adventure, with no apologies.  I’d say we were more like guy buddies rather than girls, which made sense since we both existed in predominantly men’s sports and business worlds.

In the late 90’s, Madeline’s position as a senior vice-president for Rollins-Burdick-Hunter took her all over the world and our schedules failed to gel.  Twice we had made plans to connect at both the Mid-Ocean Invitational in Bermuda and at the Grand Opening of the new Mountain Ridge course at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, located in northern Michigan.   And twice, due to business conflicts, we were forced to cancel those plans.  Besides, there’s always time to reschedule, right?

In mid-March of 1999, a friend had called to tell me about this new wonder product, magnets for golfers with aches and pains.  But she also had other news.  While at a conference, she ran into a golf professional who had asked her to convey condolences to me.  News of Mady’s death was inadvertently left on my voice mail.  On Valentine’s Day, at age 39, my friend Madeline Joell had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

Madeline was in the prime of her life.  She had recently been elected to Parliament in Bermuda and had competed in several more World Amateur Golf Championships, representing her beloved Bermuda.  She had a new boyfriend after a painful divorce a few years earlier.  All of Bermuda – politicians, golfers, performers, clients, employees, and friends – came to see her off.  Everyone, that is, except me.  Out of all these people, no one, not one person, had my new phone numbers from a recent move and did not know how to contact me.   Unfortunately, these were the days before e-mail and texting were popular.

It is ironic that I, as a professional musician, am frequently called upon to sing and play at funerals, yet the one funeral I should have been attending, I didn’t even know was happening.   Mady frequently marveled at my ability to perform the music at funerals, which is all too often part of my work.   “Doesn’t that get morbid for you?” she’d ask, curiously.  Mady had some recordings I’d cut a few years back and we would often sing along with the tapes as we zipped down the slim and winding Bermudian roadways in her meticulous Mazda.  Mady was also tone-deaf.  Yet when we sang together, she was mysteriously and gloriously on key.  I could never explain the phenomenon but  suffice it to say she loved to pretend she could sing…..and I let her.

Madeline Joell Warren would have been 40 in September of ’99.  Oh how she would have fought the thought.  Of course there would have been the prerequisite ‘Over the Hill’ party, the sympathy cards, the practical jokes, and the Ben Gay samplers.  And I, 43 at the time, had resisted the constant reminders of my own aging:  gray hairs, facial lines, less luminous skin and eyesight a little less sharp than my former 20/15 vision.  Now, I think of her passing 50 and the adventures we would have added.  For me and my 54 years, the stray grays have turned almost solidly silver, and a few extra pounds have crept on despite diligent eating habits and daily 4 to 6 mile fast-walks.  I still carry my clubs while walking most courses, and the vision – well, let’s just say I don’t have to wear glasses yet, if the light is good.   But if I even begin to dwell on those signs of fading youth as they continue to appear, I have to remember that I, unlike Mady, have the honor of growing older, and by default, a little wiser.

Mady was a shining star and vibrant beacon whose light will never dim.  Just as the water droplets of a passing storm disperse the returning sunlight into a thousand shades of color in the rainbow, she will continue to cast her brilliant light into the hearts of all who knew her.   She was a woman of color and not in reference to skin but to heart and emotion and style.  Her closet, which was actually a room converted into a clotheshorse fairyland, was crammed with tailored suits and dresses in every hue.  I know because I borrowed them on many occasions when we’d go to the prerequisite cocktail parties surrounding the tournaments.

I haven’t returned to Bermuda since Mady’s death but know that someday soon, when I am ready, I’ll go.   I’ll visit the places we used to frequent and see some of the people we knew and played golf with.   However, reminisce as I may, it will never, ever, be the same.  You see, Bermuda is an ethereal place.  But now I know that what made it truly meaningful was the human experience and the way I was embraced by the people of this lovely island nation almost immediately.   In the years following Mady’s death I thought of dozens of ways to honor her, to let people know how special she was, but could never quite get it right.   Now, with an international stage here on The A Position, it’s time.

When I finally do touch down over the pink sands and turquoise waters of Bermuda, one of the first stops will be graveside as I bid her a personal and long overdue ‘God Be With Ye’.  It won’t be a goodbye because I don’t believe in those, as it is simply a matter of time before I’ll see her again.   If anyone strolling nearby should hear a pure alto voice singing strains of Amazing Grace – in key – you’ll know it is me…..though it could also be Mady joining along in a new and synchronized perfection.

And, true to form, I heard she was buried in red.

5 Responses to “Madeline Joell: Bermuda’s Golden Girl”

  1. Darnell McQueen

    Wow, Janina that was a great story. God puts people in our lives for good reasons. Look at all the great things you have been able to experience and enjoy with such a wonderful person. What she has left you with can’t be replaced or forgotten.

    Keep up the great job.

  2. Leslie Franks McRae

    Hi Janina: This was absolutely beaufiful! I had known Madeline since age 12, was her maid of honor, and along with another good friend Fiona, made sure she was dressed in red for her burial. I also read Psalm 23 at her funeral 12 years ago; and oh boy, it was a funeral she would have loved!

    I was thinking of my old friend and googled her name; happy I came across your tribute!

    God bless you!

  3. Janina Jacobs

    We’ll have to talk. I know so few people who knew Mady very well. Even though it has been almost 13 years it still does not seem real that she is gone… least from our sight. Watch for another story I’ll post soon about my first visit to Bermuda since her death. I played in the Bacardi Par-3 at Southampton Princess last March and a very remarkable thing happened. Have a wonderful Christmas and blessed New Year!

  4. Liz Burrows

    Hello Janina Jacobs, hi Leslie, wow this is so beautiful Janina I am Madelines sister.She has been heavy on my mind today andI missm her sooo much,I just wanted to see her name and what others had to say about her. Having memories and pictures as I do its nice but to see how others felt well it makes me feel extra good, she was so loved by many. I just want to say thank you for this lovely Tribute.God Bless you and Happy Holidays

  5. Mimi Moore

    Hi Janina and Madeline’s family. I briefly knew Madeline as she prepared to move into her new home after being elected to office. She was here in the United States to pick out materials to send back to Bermuda by container. She was everything you have described. She was warm and lovely. I knew I was in the presence of someone so special and I am a tough critic of humankind. She invited me to Bermuda to stay when the house was complete. She sent me a book on Bermuda with a message on the inside cover. When I called to see where to forward a credit due to her, I found out about her death and absolutely fell to pieces and broke down in the middle of work. I had only hours with her, and I was also devastated. Today I asked my sister to look for any memorials to Madeline as she is on her way to Bermuda. I will miss Madeline Joell still and will never forget her. A true gift. Mimi Moore Debski Stratford, CT United or my daughter Rebecca Debski is on facebook ( I don’t have Facebook)

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