Sir Barry Bowen statue at Municipal Airport, now known as the Sir Barry Bowen Municipal Airport
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Sir Barry Bowen statue at Municipal Airport, now known as the Sir Barry Bowen Municipal Airport

Presentation by Dixie Bowen, Barry Bowen’s wife, October 19, 2017. Sir Barry was a pioneering captain of industry who was known for his love of flying. To top off the renovations, a statue of Sir Barry was unveiled at the airport.

Good Morning~ Protocol having been established, welcome Ladies and Gentlemen, invited guests, friends and family. Thank you for joining us today.

It is my privilege to have been requested by the BAA to be asked to commission a statute of Sir Barry for The Sir Barry Bowen Airport, renamed in his honor last November.

The truth be known, Sir Barry was always taken by statues. When traveling he would always take time to stop and really study this form of art and I know today he would be so very proud of his lasting remembrance of himself, at the airport he so painstakingly designed and was determined to make a reality.

I would like to take this time to share the story behind the sculptor and this statue coming to fruition…. I had been approached or had suggestions from several parties about who might be the artist to take on this project. Then Michael told me Hilly knew of various artists in Cuba, had a particular artist in mind and that it would be a good idea to travel there to procure the proper sculptor.

In June of 2016, Hilly, my friend Julie Bacock and I traveled to Havana. We set out the next morning to visit various artists. Upon arrival at our first stop, the gentleman had just left for lunch, so we missed him. We stopped for a bite to eat and then began asking questions about a man Hilly did not know how to locate.

Out of the clear blue, came a comment that several blocks away there was a large stone of some sort in front of a home where possibly an artist lived. We proceeded to find that home and our taxi driver, Chino, began knocking on the door but to no avail.

It was a sultry afternoon in Havana as we sat awaiting a possible response. Just as we were about to give up, a lovely man came to the door. He kindly invited us in, although, we were totally interrupting his lunch with his wife and her brother.

Graciously, he showed us to his studio and stepped out for a moment only to return with a catalog of his work. Hilly, totally gob smacked was almost speechless. This was the very person he was looking for and immediately we all knew this was the correct sculptor for the job. Jose Ramon Villa Soberon.

His works throughout Cuba include the likes of Ernest Hemingway at the Floridita, John Lennon on a park bench in Havana, Mother Theresa, and numerous others throughout the world. And at that time he was sculpting Alecia Alonzo, the famous Cuban ballerina. Sir Barry was later to have her as good company in the artist’s studio.

Our trip included visits to other destinations in Cuba and since flights and hotels were already in place, we continued our trip. Although Cuba has a host of talented sculptors, with whom we met, none compare, or at least in my opinion, to Villa’s work. He is a master at his craft. Gracias Jose por su esfuerzo y dedicacion en este proyecto que es importante para mi, mi familia y Belice.

On several other occasions including the inauguration of the Sir Barry Bowen Airport I have been asked to speak. That WAS HIS forte, not mine, but on his behalf I will reiterate some excerpts from my speech at last year’s program for those of you who were not here.

The muni airstrip once a short landing strip is now one of the finest in the nation. For all of us, whether pilots or passengers it has given us a new sense of pride and safety as we take off and land. As the wife of the late Sir Barry, I know he would be overjoyed since his dream has become a reality. For so many years, he dreamt of this airport and spent hours envisioning how best to lay out and design this locale which has been renamed in his honor.

Barry’s flying career began early on with John Greif Sr. as his flight instructor. He soloed within 14 hours of instruction and found aviation and flying one of his favorite pastimes and the only way to travel efficiently around the country whether for business or pleasure. As we took off and touched down, many destinations proved to be a brand new adventure. Gallon Jug being probably the most beloved and exciting.

I had asked Johnny Roberson to say a few words today. I had wanted this to be a toast to Sir Barry and not so much his history from my viewpoint. Johnny could not be here today so I will share with you his story of Barry.

October 14th, 2017

Dearest Dixie,

It was kind of you to ask me to say a few words about Barry at the unveiling of his statue. Unfortunately, a previously planned rendezvous with our daughter and grandchildren were in conflict with dates.

I have written a few fond memories to share with you. Please feel free to use them, add to or subtract as you wish or just leave them as a letter between longtime friends.

One might ask, what else is there left to say?? A lot has been said, and rightfully so, about all of his accomplishments and yes, there were many. He is also remembered by some as a very hardnosed business man who would let no one or anything stand in the way of getting what he wanted. He had the reputation of often being a S.O.B and I don’t mean Sweet Ole Barry!

Hard, yes, he was and that may be true but…. how many today ever heard Barry sing? Ole Barry, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket! But that did not stop him from singing, loudly in an unknown key his version of Brukka Brukka Bullfrog. He would sing with a Pavarotti gusto that brought all of us into tears of laughter!

Often I would visit his office, either on business or just in to say hello and many times had to wait my turn to see him. When he did open his door to me, I learned not to be surprised when I saw who was leaving. Very often, it was someone I knew or knew of; someone that rumor had it was down on their luck. I could tell by the way they shook hands in parting that they were very thankful of their meeting. I knew or highly suspected what had happened… Barry had helped them out of a very bad situation. However, when I went in, not a word was ever mentioned about what if anything had occurred. I have no way of knowing how many he did help…

I recall another time when we were out fishing, we came upon the Bluefield Range. That exquisite setting seemed the right place to meet a few very interesting visiting gentlemen.

Of course, Barry started talking to them and soon learned they had visited Belize many years ago in their youth and were visiting again while they were still able. I heard later through the grapevine that Barry tracked them down and had quietly paid for their entire Belize trip.

I fondly recall when we asked you and Barry to be Godparents of our daughter. I really didn’t know what he would say but surprisingly, he quickly agreed and dates were set.

I will never forget how he not only took the occasion very seriously but hung on every word the Priest addressed about the responsibilities of being a Godparent.

That occasion meant a lot to our Family and our Carrie holds so dearly in her heart.

Another of many fond memories is fishing with Barry. Often, we would fish alone, in a small boat and usually somewhere he thought looked “fishy” while flying. We would go under the guise of “going to check it out and if it’s good, will bring the girls tomorrow” Hmmm….

We would take off with a cooler of snacks and made by you Dixie, for an afternoon of fishing. After finding his place that did not look a bit “fishy” to me we would bait hooks and wait. Not a word was spoken other than, “do you want a beer” or the too infrequent, “nice fish”. That is where I learned that as Cicero said, “Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.”

Just before dark, we would return still not talking. While unloading, often with a really nice fish or two he would finally break the silence with a big grin and a Thank You!!! That was a Great Day he would say! Barry would refuse all help then would clean the fish, go upstairs and perform one of his secret recipes that deliciously surprised us every time. He was also a great cook….

He may have seemed a hard man to many but to see him with children, you knew there was another side to him. He loved to teach the kids to “fish kiss”, a fun way of sucking in your cheeks while pecking a kiss on the forehead with those fish lips. Something that our children now teach their children!

How he told stories that he learned as a child; children sitting at his feet, taking it all in. Funny stories that we should have recorded, I do hope they are remembered.

While putting together this program and sending invitations there have been some interesting stories that I have come to know, as Johnny mentioned in his letter.

Most of us here today know Bert Andrews. He has been with Bowen and Bowen for many years. Bert’s position takes him all over the city and often Belmopan, dealing with work permits, licensing and whatever he is called on to do. A couple of weeks ago he phoned me from the Immigration office.

He was sitting with the Head of Immigration in Belize City, Mr. Sheldon Hudson. He had told Mr. Hudson about the unveiling and I was honored to know that Mr. Hudson would like to attend the ceremony. The story behind this is so very touching:

In 1991, Bowen and Bowen gave its first scholarship for education to a young man from Corozal. That student was Sheldon Hudson. His words were that he would forever be indebted to Sir Barry for that opportunity to further his schooling. He wonders had it not been for that scholarship if he would be where he is today, the Head of Immigration?

Barry did touch the lives of so many and with no need for recognition. Quoted from the Moon Handbooks~ Belize. “Barry Bowen was a prominent businessman in Belize whose products touched nearly every Belizean and every visitor to Belize, he also was a central figure in the political and economic history of modern Belize and a key link to the British Honduras past.”

“Admired or distrusted, envied or loved, Sir Barry Bowen was one of a kind. He made his mark on nearly every major event in his lifetime. Bold and full of life, ambitious and willing to take a risk, a man of vision and large plans, he was a multimillionaire who achieved things. There will be no one like him again in Belize.”

Many did not understand him. He was a complex man and often his views controversial. He had an impending need to do for his country. He WAS the son of the soil and one word, he was extraordinary.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Al McNab from Hyde Shipping for his generosity in shipping the statue of Sir Barry at no cost. He had hoped to join us today but had a previous obligation.

Secondly, my sincere thanks to RF&G for insuring the statue, gratis, from this day forward. Thank you so much.

Thirdly, today is a special day for several people in my life. First of all, Happy Birthday to Goli Guerrero, Miss Elvia’s daughter. Happy Birthday to my son Zander, it is his 40th. And on the count of three, please everyone join me in saying Happy Birthday to Johnny Greif. 1 2 3~ Happy Birthday Johnny!!!!!!

Thank you all for joining us today in the commemoration of the renaming of the airport and the unveiling of Sir Barry’s statue.

Photograph by Tropic Air

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