He is recognized by almost everyone on the island as a hardworking man; a man filled with integrity and dedication. This week’s column of “Our Belize Community” is pleased to feature Mr. Felipe Paz Sr. or Tio Pil as he is known. The following is a compact version of the life of a man who has removed obstacles from his path, and deserves the respect he has earned today.
Tio Pil was born in San Pedro to Thomas Paz and Marcelina Paz de Alamilla. Growing up in San Pedro was “heaven” he recalls. He attended San Pedro Roman Catholic School up to Standard III and then dropped out to help with family expenses. As with many of the youngsters of that time, he became a coconut picker working for the Blakes and Alamillas, who owned the biggest portion of the island. Tio Pil, along with other locals, then traveled to Panama for a period of two years where he worked stocking steel and assembling furniture.
Only three days after his return to San Pedro, Belize suffered minor damages from a hurricane. During that time hurricanes were not named. Three months later, contractors from the USA came to Belize and San Pedro to recruit workers to take back to their country. Tio Pil was one of the many that signed up and was accepted for this task. He worked for a Celotex Corporation in New Orleans and then moved to Niagara Falls where he worked at a honing (sharpening) stone factory. After four years in the United States, Tio Pil, along with many others were sent to a temporary housing facility awaiting return to their individual countries. Once there, some of them were given the option to stay in the USA. Tio Pil opted to stay and went to work in Tampa, Florida, being recommended by the Celotex Corporation he had worked for in New Orleans. After two years in Florida, Tio Pil returned home aboard the ship “La Fricola.”
Back in his birthplace, Tio Pil ventured into a new business – operating a freight boat. In 1959 his first cargo boat was completed and he named it “Elsa P.” Unfortunately, shortly after it was completed, Hurricane Hattie struck Belize and the “Elsa P” suffered great damage. He started the process of construction all over again and in February of 1961 it was completed. He would buy coconuts and fish and transport them to Belize City and Corozal to be sold. At that time he would be paid $3 for every 1,000 coconuts he would take to Belize City. His cargo boat was built to hold approximately 12,000 coconuts. Business was promising at that time so he started traveling to Guatemala exporting bigger fish. He would take as much as 100,000 pounds during Lent. One must remember that during that time the boats depended on good winds to travel since engines were not available. Tio Pil experienced many obstacles but always managed to get through. He remembers clearly that during one of his trips, he was surprised by a storm in the Gulf of Honduras. He was forced to dock at Puerto Barrios in Stann Creek. Tio Pil, always thinking of ways to make business beneficial to both the village of San Pedro and himself, decided to buy some oranges and plantains which he brought back to the island to sell. The villagers were always happy with this extra treat.
Felipe Paz Sr. married Mrs. Bina Paz in 1963 and together raised four children Felipe Paz Jr., Lily Nuñez, Neri Rivero and Cholo Nuñez.
As San Pedro started to develop, so did the ideas in Tio Pil’s mind. He continued his freight business but also started his next project; Lily’s Hotel. With no bank loans available at that time, he started bringing building materials from time to time during his trips to the city. By 1970 he had built Lily’s Hotel which consisted of six regular rooms. As the tourism business continued to grow, he saw the need for expansion and the addition of a small dining area. Lily’s Hotel and Restaurant, family owned and managed, soon became a favorite by the visiting tourists. Today Lily’s Hotel consists of 12 rooms.
Tio Pil is a very active member of the community. He is one of the eldest members of the San Pedro Lion’s Club and is still active today. He is always willing to lend a helpful hand, participate in social activities and promote his birthplace - San Pedro Town. He was honored at the 29th Lions Convention with a tribute and the presentation of the Melvin Jones Award, the highest form of recognition a Lion member can receive. Tio Pil is a respected and honest man - truly a perfect example of “Our Belize Community.”