Our Community - Winston Panton

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 4            January 25, 2007

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Mr. Panton has led an interesting and rich life, and his experiences have added to his character and made him invaluable to our community.

Weather forecasting is a true art and a calling not many possess. To be able to look at the skies above and to use, at times, not the most advanced equipment to predict whether it will rain or not is a real science. To use those skills and the knowledge acquired to help the environment and take a proactive approach to sustainable development is a definite love. To have someone such as that residing in our ever growing town is a true honor and this week we present one such individual – Winston Franklin Panton.

    Born in the big city, Winston grew up alongside his four brothers and three sisters. The middle child of the family, parents Robert and Gladys Panton welcomed their bundle of joy on June 29th, 1941. Winston’s fondest memories are of him playing in his grandfather’s house. His “grandpa” was a veterinary surgeon and in those years there were not many of those in the country. Winston would help tend to the various pets and admired his “grandpa” for making animals feel better. He also recalls his favorite past time of tinkering with electrical equipment, taking them apart and finding out how they worked. The greatest task was always discovering the ways to make the items work once more.

    Winston attended Holy Redeemer Primary School. He also attended secondary school at Saint John’s College and to get to school he remembers having to walk close to five miles along mangroves paths. “It was a horrible walk to school and it would get worse when it would rain. I did enjoy very rainy days at Primary School because not many students generally attended classes, but I would be one of the few that would go. I would love getting wet in the rain and enjoyed that weather immensely,” he reminisced. While at elementary school, he integrated himself in the Holy Redeemer Boy Scouts, taking his scouting activities very seriously. “We would go camping every other weekend to the countryside. It was a wonderful time of my life.”

    Having attained very good grades towards the end of primary school he was allowed to start his secondary school enter early. The principal of St. John’s College at the time was Father Raskowski, who offered him a great opportunity. In January of 1954, Winston entered St. John’s College; it was an opportunity that he used to the best of his capabilities. Dedicated and loving the scientific field, he pursued an education in the Science and Language field. After graduating in 1958, Winston continued his education at St. John’s College Sixth Form where again he majored in the Science Department. In 1960, Winston successfully completed his studies at the prestigious junior college.

    Throughout his years at the St. John’s, Winston still remained very active in the Holy Redeemer Boy Scouts and eventually became a Scout Leader. Through the years, Winston along with his scout mates would travel to Ambergris Caye and camp out for three weeks during the summer breaks. “It was a wonderful experience to be close to the sea, beach and to enjoy the mostly sunny weather,” he said. His expertise and volunteerism was put to good use when Hurricane Hattie made its way to the shores of Belize. In 1961, he was a warden at one of the many hurricane shelters in the city; coincidentally the shelter he helped to man was at the St. John’s College. “Events such as this you never forget and I recall the force of Mother Nature so vividly. There were approximately 100 people seeking refuge in the shelter. At about 10:00 p.m. the power lines started to spark. Quite honestly the sparks were beautiful, they looked like fireworks. At about midnight we saw the roof of the college’s bike shelter just fly off into the sky and just disappear into the darkness. At 2:00 a.m. white foam started coming into the first floor. The white foam was actually the sea water making its way into the room where we were. A little bit later the glass louvers began to shatter sending the pieces on top of us. They were very small fine pieces. At that point we began to move the people to the second floor,” he explained.

    After the hurricane winds died down, Winston along with the rest of shelter attendees left the safety of the four walls. Looking outside they were astounded and shocked at the state of destruction that they found. “We could contact no one and the state of destruction was so immense. We were completely cut off from everyone for a bit. We remained at the shelter for three more days and afterwards walked into the city. I felt horrible not knowing anything about my family, I had left them to tend to other people and did not know anything about them; whether they had survived or not. As I made my way home, there were no signs of street paths. All the houses were either half way or completely destroyed. All the rubble was piled on the streets, just like the pictures you see of the Tsunami that hit Asia, just everything on the streets, complete devastation everywhere. As I made my way home, I was literally shocked to see that my entire family was standing on the second floor of our verandah. Amidst all the destruction, all the broken houses, our home was one of the few left standing on our street.” For the months following Hattie, Winston helped the country get back on its feet. He worked on the first aid unit, assisted people find their family members, and passed on messages to family members abroad.

    After assisting as much as he could, Belize started getting rebuilt, and Winston got a job working at the Public Works Department. In un-chartered territory he became a self taught bookkeeper. “During those times, government had a lot of projects under its wings, including the Southern Highway, and many of the service roads now traversed in Belize,” he commented. For the following six months, Winston helped in every way he could in the Accounts Department. Shortly after, the Chief Executive Officer of the department asked if he could replace their Correspondence Clerk who had left for another job. Every letter coming in or leaving the department passed through Winston’s desk. “We would see so many letters through the course of the day, it was amazing. Letters from the various departments, civilians, ministers and even the Prime Minister,” he stated.

    For the following three years, Winston dedicated himself to the correspondences of the Public Works Department until he saw an advertisement on the local paper on a vacancy for a Weather Observer. Finally, something right up his alley! He applied and received a notification where an interview was requested. Winston, wanting to be fully prepared for the interview, searched in the library until he found three weather related books. He studied them as much as he could, and was very well informed on one topic – the rain gauge. Armed with rain gauge information, Winston attended his interview and got the job. 1964 was the first year that Winston would send the daily weather observations to the Weather Office in Jamaica who would then forecast the weather for the country. For the following two years, that was the procedure, Winston and another colleague would analyze the equipment, send the information to Jamaica and they would forecast Belize’s weather; until 1966, when a service mandate was issued where the Belize National Weather Service was started. Winston along with his colleagues would use details that came in through telegrams and along with the particulars gathered via their equipment, they would forecast Belize’s weather.

    Winston went on to receive a scholarship and for the next three years he studied Physics and Meteorology at the University in Reading, England. After his studies, Winston got an internship at the British Met Service where what he had learned was put into practice. He would forecast the climate depending on who it would pertain to, whether it was aviation, agriculture, or the general British public. His internship took Winston practice at major British airports such as Heathrow and Birmingham before returning to his home country of Belize where he accomplished wonderful things.

    (To be continued next week.)

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