Cyril Packwood was a librarian with a passion for history. He was the author of Chained on the Rock, the first definitive account of slavery in Bermuda.
Published in 1975, after Packwood spent several years doing painstaking research in the Bermuda Archives during summer vacations, Chained on the Rock shed light on an important aspect of Bermuda’s history that had previously been swept under the carpet.
He was born in Wellington, St. George’s, the only child of Cyril and Gladys (Outerbridge) Packwood. His father was a former St. George’s Cup Match cricketer. Packwood attended Temperance Hall, East End primary school and Berkeley Institute.
He left Bermuda at age of 15 to complete his high school education in the U.S., and with the intention of becoming a dentist. At Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, he came under the influence of Harlem Renaissance writer and historian Arna Bontemps and decided to study history.
Packwood received a bachelor’s degree in history from Fisk in 1953 and a master of science in library science from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, a year later. He received a second master’s degree, in history, from Hunter College in New York in 1972.
He spent most of his professional life in New York. He worked in the New York Public Library system from 1957 to 1968 and from 1968 to 1985, at the Borough of Manhattan Community College Library, where he was supervising librarian.
In 1985, he was appointed head librarian of the Bermuda Library, the first black person to hold the position.
He breathed new life into the library. He organised evening lectures, instigated upgrades of its computer system and started a video rental system, all with the goal of bringing more people into the library. He was head librarian for eight years, until his retirement in 1993.
Packwood’s other books included Detour Bermuda, Destination U.S. House of Representative: The Life of Joseph Rainey, about the former slave who took refuge in Bermuda during the U.S. Civil War, and went on to become the first black member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
During his years in New York, Packwood lived near Lincoln Centre and enjoyed all the cultural pursuits the city had to offer, from opera to theatre.
His deep and abiding love for Bermuda was matched by his love of Africa. He led cultural tours of Africa for many years and had criss-crossed the African Continent.
He was married to Dorothy, an artist and fellow librarian. The couple had one daughter Cheryl Packwood, a Harvard University-educated lawyer, who is currently chief executive officer of the Bermuda International Business Association, and three grandsons.
Packwood died at age 67 of complications of heart bypass surgery.