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Seychelles Unsung Heroes collection looks at Doris Johnston with a from Bush Baby to Career Lady approach

Seychelles Unsung Heroes collection looks at Doris Johnston with a from Bush Baby to Career Lady approach ( Seychelles, 22 JUL 2013 (FIR): Derek Savy, the Seychelles feature writer with a series entitled Seychelles Unsung Heroes that is published in the Seychelles' Today Newspaper this time looks at Doris Johnston.
Derek Savy writes:- The field of travel and tourism can present countless challenges. But the rewards far outweigh the bumps and hard knocks. It is a passion that we are mostly born with and Doris Johnston is a true embodiment of this zeal.

Her strong, burning desire to be of service to people transformed this elegant, passionate woman into a glamorous career lady; from her humble beginnings as a nomadic ‘bush baby’ exploring the ominous depths of wild Africa to entertaining celebrities in our islands of love.

Family matters
Doris’s family tree can be traced back to Canada and France. Her great grandfather Jean Hickey came to these islands as a crewmember on a whaling boat; jumped ship off Ste. Anne Island and never left Seychelles. Her father, Daniel Payet, was born in 1906 at Anse aux Poules Bleues. Doris’s mother, Venise Antat, was born at Le Niole in 1909, with links to the St. Ange family hailing from St. Cloud in France.

Her parents met and wed in Kenya where all their children were born, with the exception of her brother Ted who was born in Seychelles. Her dad was employed as a road works foreman, building roads and bridges in the Aberdare mountains and northern parts of Kenya. Her mother was very tenacious and created a lasting impression on young Doris. She devoted her time in providing her children with ‘bush schooling’ and worked long hours sewing to supplement her husband’s income, thus enabling the children to attend good schools.

Doris married Jack Johnston who took her to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, which became the springboard in her long career in the travel industry. Motherhood turned out a pleasant surprise with the arrival of her twin sons, Gary&Robin, followed by the birth of her daughters Debbie&Julie in Mombasa and Seychelles respectively. In 1976, Doris lost her dear husband to cancer and had to bring up her four children on her own.

Three of her children are today living in far-flung countries and have given her four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Debbie set off for Australia, Julie is in Germany, Robin resides in China and Gary is the only one keeping ‘Mumzi’ company in Seychelles.

The bush baby days
As her family roamed around Kenya following her father’s employment trek, young Doris lived the life that most safari adventurers dream of today. She vividly remembers roughing it up under tents, camping in the bush and bearing witness to the road construction as it progressed across the country. The six young children in her large family were exposed to several scourges as they lived in malaria-infested areas. Her mother would use her knowledge of natural herbs to cure the ailments that affected her children.

As young Seychellois living and working in East Africa, Doris’ family had to overcome the stigma attached to people of Seychellois origin. Her parents were determined to fight this racial prejudice that prevailed during the colonial period. Consequently, they adopted a strong work ethic, with a solid resolve to prove themselves – despite the limited financial resources available to them.

The family was able to save up to provide the children with good education. Doris left her ‘bush lifestyle’ at the age of eight when she was sent to boarding school and eventually graduated from high school.

A passion for aviation
Doris had a very long career in travel, spanning over 40 years, starting off in Tanzania with East African Airways. Travel&tourism seemed to be part of her DNA and airlines became her first love, creating a lasting impression that she cherishes to this day.

Her career path led her into positions of responsibility and promotions followed her wherever her late husband’s postings took them around East Africa – from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania to Mombasa in Kenya and from there to Botswana and eventually Uganda. From Uganda, she landed on the stepping-stone to her homecoming when a career with BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) /British Airways beckoned in Seychelles.

Doris led a very active social life while living in East Africa. Her stunning beauty and gorgeous features were the perfect ingredients to a glamour lifestyle. She took up modeling on a part time basis, taking to the catwalk for some of the local fashion stores.
Her love for the stage led her to dabble in acting and she performed in several plays.

Her first homecoming
When in the early 1970’s the political situation in Uganda took a turn for the worse with the rule of Idi Amin tightening his grip on the country, Doris opted to flee. She was fortunate to be selected for a posting to Seychelles, together with Noellie Alexander to start up operations for the first international carrier to operate into Seychelles.

The challenge and enjoyment of starting this new venture from scratch, was highly motivating for Doris. She also worked with other prominent ladies such as Marie-Simone Tirant and Josette Moulinie who attained senior management positions with BA in Cape Town&Johannesburg. And of course, Doris also assisted Vicky Lanza who would go on to rise up the through the ranks to later become BA’s Indian Ocean regional manager based in Mauritius.

Local airline pioneer
Doris came back to Seychelles with a wealth of experience in the aviation field to become somewhat of a pioneer when she joined a core team in setting up a small office for BOAC within Delhomme Air Travel based at Le Chantier. The office then moved into the Pirates Arms building under the banner of British Airways.

She was a rising star with British Airways and was selected to represent Seychelles as a member of the English speaking Union’s Summer school at Oxford University. She met up with union members from all over the world, rubbing shoulders with political figures such as Douglas Herd, the head of the Metropolitan Police, Geoffrey Archer and many others who lectured and animated lively discussions.

She made several trips to England, attending courses and even getting a feature in the BA newspaper with a picture as a tourist at Victoria station in London.

The Seychelles glamour days
Doris has a wonderful personality and people are genuinely attracted to her. She was not only stunningly beautiful but her wit and jovial demeanor made her a human magnet. Everyone wanted to be in the company of this well versed, popular, fun loving and gorgeous woman. With her bubbly, extroverted and charismatic persona, Doris naturally courted the glamour side of life and became a model ambassador for her country.

Her career inevitably turned her into a socialite and led her to meet up with most of the celebrities who visited our islands back in the early days of the birth of our tourism industry. Doris befriended Gerald Harper from the UK’s Capital Radio and Sterling Moss (one of the most renowned rally drivers of the time). She wined and dined with them at the Mahé Beach Hotel and when they expressed the wish to see more of the Seychelles, Doris contacted Bobby&Diane Moss and arranged a sailing trip around Therese&Conception Islands in ‘Buttercup’ complete with a fresh fish BBQ on the beach – “This is absolute heaven” beamed Gerald Harper at the time.
She also played host to the internationally acclaimed crooner Bing Crosby and welcomed the British Royal Family in the person of Princess Margaret on her visit to our islands on a BOAC flight. Doris took care of all the travel arrangements for the last Governor’s children who regularly came on holiday from New Zealand. She was involved in numerous events and was one of the judges at the 1976 Miss Seychelles beauty pageant.

Memorable Independence Day celebrations
One of the most memorable moments in our local glamour lady’s life is the euphoric event that symbolized the birth of our nation on 29 June 1976. Doris had the privilege of being selected by then governor, Sir Collin Allen as the local lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Gloucester, guest of honour for our Independence celebrations. And Doris was filled with pride, learning the procedures of Royal protocol from the Duchess’s Lady-in-waiting, Jennifer Thompson. A local seamstress made her outfits, although she had to fly to London (for just one day) to choose her shoes and all her accessories in Oxford Street!

Doris coordinated all the arrangements for the Duchess using her long list of contacts established through her job at BOAC. She was given a list of 500 guests and knew almost 80% of them! It was a great experience for Doris who was exposed to the world of protocol and diplomatic affairs where things are timed to precision and perfection.

The Royal couple stayed with the governor at State House, with Doris and the royal protocol team assisting to their every beck and call. She recalls one anecdote on their last evening spent on L’Islette Island, where the whole party was stranded for a while due to low tide. Doris explained how she made a bit of a faux pas when in her efforts to pacify the Duchess who was anxious about being late for her departure she offered - “Don’t worry ma’am, the flight will not leave without you!” - to which the Duchess retorted, clearly not amused: “Royalty does not keep people waiting Doris!”

A new airline challenge
In 1986, Doris became involved in the startup of a new Seychelles independent carrier called Ligne Aerienne Seychelles (LAS), the ‘brainchild’ of Capt. Chris Hurndal. She assisted with the interviewing of flight and cabin crew while laboring on all the documentation needed to start the new service. LAS secured traffic rights to Australia and Southern Africa including Botswana and Swaziland.

Although things were looking good at the outset, the airline’s first flights were marred with mishaps and Doris became anxious at what she saw as the way the company and staff were being mismanaged. She abandoned ship when Cpt. Hurndel was summarily dismissed and LAS fizzled out of the local aviation landscape.

Doris was itching for a new escapade and the travel bug came biting again.

Another African adventure
With a burning desire to reconnect with Africa, Doris packed her bags and headed to South Africa, where she worked as a rep for a publishing company. This was a very daunting experience as she pounded the streets of industrial Johannesburg selling advertising. Indeed a far cry from the glamour jobs she was accustomed to! But her past experience in dealing with people paid off as she achieved a high sales record.

The job took her on a back and forth journey to Seychelles as she introduced ‘What’s On in Seychelles’, a new guidebook for the tourism trade.

In the late eighties, she joined Pan-African Travel in Botswana, soon after being promoted to branch manager in Francistown. Working her personal magic, Doris trebled the agency’s revenue in less than six months as she networked the leading companies for their business patronage.

Back in the islands
After her two-year contract in Botswana in 1990, Doris returned to Seychelles to take care of her ailing father. She joined Mason’s Travel as the Customer Service manager and became the face of the company with her glowing presence at the front office.

One of her passions is floral arrangement and Doris’ strong sense of esthetics and her many blooming arrangements have won her numerous awards at the horticultural shows between 1995-2010.

Since her retirement at 63, ‘Mumzi’ has been contributing to several charities and fundraising for orphanages, old people’s home and the rehab center.

Today, Doris enjoys a homely lifestyle dabbling in poetry, while listening to her old classic jazz numbers and concocting her delectable dishes from her African tinged cooking repertoire.

‘Mumzi’ has indeed lived a colourful life between the Dark Continent and these Isles of Paradise islands. And I can’t wait to dig into her long awaited memoires whenever she decides to write


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