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Still standing tall

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Still standing tall

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ANYTHING but ordinary. Those are the words that Shelly Williams is constantly drilling into the head of her daughter Dana to make sure that she lives her life to a high standard: “Be anything but ordinary”.
For Shelly it isn’t just idle talk, or some mantra that has been handed down by well-meaning family members.
It is the way that she herself has lived her life.
Truth be told, there has been nothing ordinary about Shelly’s life over the past four years. As the newly svelte Shelly, a slimmer version of her former self sat down with EASY magazine at her Port St Charles residence sporting a pair of green cargo shorts, a white shirt and Gucci shoes, she was the portrait of a new woman.
Shelly went through a weight loss regimen after finding out that she was tipping the scales too far in one direction.
“I started working out and eating properly. I started with the gym and that didn’t work for me. I bought three Jillian Michaels DVDs and I started working out with her and watching everything that I ate. It was in my living room everyday for the first two to three months, twice a day. Now I only do it every evening for about 45 minutes . . . . Going dining with me now is no fun . . . only water, and I don’t use sugar or eat any processed meats.”
Watching her settle into the armchair to talk, one could see that she is a woman who has gone through a metamorphosis that goes deeper than just the physical. She is a woman who has gone through her own baptism by fire and come into her own.
That baptism included a highly publicised and much-talked about relationship and subsequent interracial marriage to business magnate Ralph “Bizzy” Williams, for which Shelly was not portrayed in a very good light.
According to her, she has often been judged very harshly, by both the public and the media.
“It is the story surrounding me as opposed to the story surrounding another couple who were married for thirty-something years and the man who left his wife for a younger woman, but the story surrounding her [was that] she was a white woman that was born into this wealth and he married a wealthy woman,” said Shelly.
“The story surrounding me was that I was impoverished, this poor girl from the ghetto, and Biz found this girl, gave her a business and made her somebody. The stories could not be more wrong in both regards.
“What is interesting is that we tend to think that our black Barbadians come from someplace poor. I didn’t come from any place poor. I have a very good middle-class upbringing. I went to St Gabriel’s School, a private school. I did horseback riding. I did gymnastics. I travelled every year just like my children or other middle class children.
“I was never impoverished a day in life. And I had my business five to six years prior to meeting Bizzy. I thought I was accomplished in my own right. I think that is what made Biz like me in the first place – the fact  that we were both entrepreneurs and had so much in common – and we became good friends through our similarities.”
Learning to ignore being the target of talkers and their harsh judgements was something that Shelly had to grow into.
“We Barbadians judge women differently than we judge men. People will see Bizzy acting a certain way and say ‘Oh, that’s Bizzy’. [In my case] they would say ‘Oh, that . . .” Shelly added, laughing.
But she admits getting to a place where the negative comments didn’t affect her was not an easy task.
“I went through some highs and lows about it,” she said candidly. “At first it was great, having all this attention and people knowing you,” she said of her social lifestyle. “But then you never realised that there’s a flip side to it. Those people that don’t know you judge you, and I had to find some medium where it didn’t make me sad.
“I went through a period where it was hard on us. It was hard on our relationship as well. You read things or your hear things that you know aren’t true. But how do you defend yourself, because when you defend yourself it makes you even more guilty?”
Instead of falling into the spiral of gossip, Shelly found herself retreating.
“You go through that initial sadness, and recently I became very reclusive,” she said. “I don’t think I was forced to become reclusive; it was just a decision I had to make to pull myself back and get to the place where these things no longer bothered me . . .  because it was affecting me.
“Because I have two children it will affect them, because they will hear people talk or read something in the paper and then I have to protect them. So I decided there were certain places I am not going. I think I’ve gotten to the place where I realise enough is enough and that God will be my judge and everybody else . . . too bad.”
Now she has become more focused on her son, Terry and daughter Dana.  
“My two children are totally different. My daughter has a big personality. I always say I’m just trying to chip away at this personality. I’m trying to mould her but she already has in mind who she is,” Shelly said.
Shelly admits that, being a parent, juggling the frequent travel and social events isn’t easy.
“They have friends that their mums are home or there all the time,” Shelly said. “Their father is an entrepreneur, I’m an entrepreneur and Bizzy is an entrepreneur. That means that we are driven by our businesses, so wherever needed we are there. I have no problems with the children; they don’t give me any trouble, but it must be hard for them sometimes.”
Shelly revealed that she struggles with the issue of balance like any other working mother.
“If you want to be a good mother you have those feelings of guilt, because you have to pull yourself in so many pieces. I have to be this prominent man’s wife and if I don’t go out with him people will say something’s up,” Shelly said.
“I only have two children and I’m not planning on having anymore so I have to invest my all into these two children. My son Terry is doing a degree in computer engineering in Miami. It’s very difficult, the balancing act. It’s rough on me sometimes . . . if I can’t be there, I think I’ve failed in some regard.”
“I constantly talk to both my son and my daughter. I also don’t want them to get accustomed to one particular lifestyle because at any given moment your lifestyle can change,” Shelly says. “I’m always telling them have something more to fall back on. There’s this song Anything But Ordinary. Not that there is something wrong with being ordinary.  But I tell them they have to aspire to something more and have goals and work towards them.
“I think as a parent your biggest fear is to not instill everything that your children need to make productive human beings. I think that’s my biggest fear, to be a failure as a parent, but there’s no way to know. ”

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