An update. January 2012
SEVERAL PEOPLE ACCESS THIS PAGE EVERY DAY. ANYONE HAVING INFORMATION, PHOTO'S, COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS ABOUT CCC, AAC&R OR ITT IN THE 50'S AND 60'S PLEASE CONTACT ME AT MICHAELJAMESMERRY@HOTMAIL.COM
LAST REVISION Feb 11 2013: Photograph (Under "20-30 Club and Carnivals" on Page 8) 20-30 Inaguration Panama 1972 Photographs (Under "The Haywards visit Miami" on Page 9) The Haywards and the Merry's
PART 8, AN IN-DEPTH ACCOUNT
Part 8 of the missive contains a more complete version than the earlier Part 1. In Part 8 I have told the story of our training in greater detail and included many of the pictures that I saved and others which Maurice Hale uploaded some years back. There are pictures of people, places and items in the U.K., the 'Zone and Panama which can be associated with events described in the text and these will hopefully help readers see and understand better, some of the things mentioned here. It contains expanded details of what happened after we arrived in Panama, what we did, where we went to and who were the persons we met. It goes on to tell my personal story along the years.
- HOW TIME HAS PASSED
- Oh, how the years have sped along, as if we all were standing still,
- They spin and race without a glance and go a 'tumbling down the hill.
- All too soon we're left behind, pleading with the clock to slow,
- Time rushes on, ignoring us, claiming that it has to go.
- If I owned a beggars bowl on a corner I would stand,
- Asking passers-by for unused seconds to drop into my hand.
- We pray for time, on bended knees to the greatest God of all,
- He smiles but shakes his head at us, we must obey his call.
- Recorded in a holy book our lives, no less, no more,
- Written in the darkest ink, qualified by highest law.
- The sea of life, oft slowed by God's almighty hand,
- Released, flows unstoppable, erasing lives scratched lightly in the sand.
- M J Merry 2012:
THE TRAINING SCHOOL IN LONDON AND A WEEKEND VACATION BEFORE WE LEFT
Before we left London we had trained hard for about 8 months. We would work 10a/3p training and then do a full shift from 3p/10p (no overtime was ever paid for this). It was a lot to do but we did it cheerfully and with the knowledge that this would eventually change our lives. We received a great deal of support from everyone on the office and all were anxious to see us make a go of things. We were looked at as kind of "mascots" and received a great deal of ribbing about what we would do when we arrived at the end of our journey. We dreamed about the day but we had no idea what was to happen. At the office we worked with the more senior Teleprinter and Overseas Operators. The teleprinter ops were mostly ex-RAF personnel and had served in Aden. Ron Baxter was the leader, a tall slim fellow with a small beard. Ron was a great fellow. He helped out and included us into his group. There was Joan Tyrell, a vivacious lady, classy dresser and Ron's special friend. Then there were Mazie and Rowena, Mazie very outgoing blonde and always happy and Rowena, well versed in the ways of the world. Mary Jennings, young and very attractive. Peter Morris, red haired and very gay. Brian Stamp, snappy dresser who always wore long sleeves to hid some tattoos he had done in Aden. Eddie Spillane, Johnny Barret Pat Cleary, Dennis Sheehy and others, the Irish contingent. There was Aubrey Wollaston and "Spag" Stevens, both ACPO's who had son's due to train for LATAM in the near future. The ACPO's worked on the other side of the office and effortlessly sat keyboarding the priority "R" traffic, usually buy and sell orders, for the New York brokers as well as the regular message traffic. They would type away, keeping with the the 66WPM transmitters, slowing and speeding up and stopping to chat or light a cigarette, all without reducing the foot or so of tape that awaited transmission through the transmitter. These men had earned their positions and were rarely bothered by the Supervisors, being almost a law unto themseles. The Supervisors, Guy Shorter (who wore the most beautifully tailored suits I'd ever seen), Collins and Dan Dalziel worked their shifts and had overall responsibility for the smooth running of the office. They moved staff around the office to different positions as needed and generally kept things running smoothly. The various technical staff members and the inside messengers had their own responsibilities. The inside messengers were usually Pensioners or handicapped people often with a withered arm. They would pick up messages from the conveyor belts, tuck them under their shorter arm and walk the message to its inside destination in the office. The best known of these were Frank Thompson (usually miserable), Alf Kushnar (usually complaining) and Pop Poplett (usually good humored). We had some fun times in those days, always very busy until about 7pm but then dropping off as it came close to 10p when the night staff came on. We would start at 3pm in the area that housed the direct teleprinter links to the provincial offices (Glasgow, Birmingham, Southampton etc.) We would take the incoming messages off the printers and do a word check and pass them down so that the internal messengers could take them to where they would be routed. Them perhaps we would go to the other end of the office and work in the Customer bays where incoming traffic from individual telex clients would be collected and routed. There were the late evening trips up to the canteen where Mr. Daly would set up shop for the night with his ham rolls and tea, Later, the walk to Liverpool St. Station. During my last six months at CCC I would often meet my father coming home from his late duty at the Telegraph and we would, time permitting, grab a beer in the Liverpool St. Station canteen and take the train home together to Chadwell Heath. I told him about the possibility of going to Latin America and we both agreed to stay quiet about it as far as my mother was concerned. I eventually told her about a month before we left and our little talk produced a lot of questions about commitment. Back in the office it was a varied life. There were the "skins", reprimands on very shiny copy paper and left in personal mail boxes for any mistakes or problems and argued over for weeks afterwards. There were dances that were organized by the Rifle Club (Tom Hood) at the Hudson Bay company rooms near Mansion House and attended by all who were not working. There was the Dramatics Society which put on a couple of plays each year and a couple of other organizations I fail to recall. There were the soccer matches (The Irish contigent had their own team!) and games against anyone who was interested. These were the carefree days, no worries at all and always the expectations of the next day to look forward to. As the day we would leave grew closer I went to an outfitters specializing in tropical wear in the Strand and purchased some light weight trousers and a couple of shirts. My mother suggested a pith helmet also but we decided that would not be needed. We had no idea what we would wear there and it turned out we really didn't need the over-priced merchandise we finished up with. These were pleasant days. In fact, looking back, perhaps they rank among the happiest.
Before we left London, I believe it was in May or June, a few of us went for a long weekend to Weston Super-mare. There was Ron Baxter, A friend of Ron’s, "Jim", Maurice Hale, John Hayward and myself. We left on a Friday after work in a rented car and Ron Baxter drove us down that evening. I can't recall where we stayed but I believe it was a bed and breakfast. The first thing we did was to buy some paper mache hats at a store and these we wore throughout our trip. We went to the deserted beach, swam, larked around and generally had a good time. We drove back to London on the Sunday evening and finished up our training and applied for our Passports. Were we excited? Of course we were! Who wouldn't be? This was a rare chance indeed! A day or so before we left we had a small party at what I believe was the Kings Arms pub in Bishopsgate Churchyard behind the office. Ron Baxter entertained us by doing somersaults in the Lounge bar! Then, the day arrived. We three arranged to meet on Saturday July 18th 1959 at West London Air Terminal at Cromwell Road Terminal in SW7 (Now a Sainsbury's store) and off we went. What a chance! We were eighteen and nineteen years old, our lives stretched before us. The world was ours at that moment.
At Weston Super Mare - Baxter. Hale. Merry. Jim
Hayward, Hale - Weston Super Mare 1959
Hayward, Merry, Baxter
Hayward, Merry, Jim, Baxter
Ron Baxter and Mike Merry
Merry, Hayward, Hale - London 1959
Hale, Merry, Baxter, Unknown. - London '59
Merry, Hayward, Baxter London 1959
Hale, Merry - London '59
Stevens and Hale - London 1959
Merry - London 1959
Mike Merry and John Hayward London 1959
Hayward, Stevens, Hale, Hayward London '59
Top: Mike Merry Training School London 1958
Bottom: Mike Merry and Peter Stevens - Clacton on Sea 1958
Peter Stevens - Training School London 1959
Nobby Clark at the training school (background) Chris Hall, a later pupil (foreground)
The Irish Football Team from AAC&R
The 36 hour flight is described in Part 1 of these stories. Dressed in suits with collar and tie, as was the custom back then, we flew from London to Amsterdam where we boarded the KLM International flight, a Lockheed Constellation L-749A with a triple tail. This aircraft had a capacityof 65 passengers of which 8 were seated in first class. On to Zurich, Lisbon, the Azores and Curacao before arriving in Panama at about 230pm the next day. On the flight in first class, there were prizes for guessing arrival times when the wheels touched and other information. I recall that Maurice won most of these ( he was probably paying more attention than myself and Pat). We were given many small Delft* (see below) blue pottery cottages, Dutch boys and girls etc. all filled with "Jenever" as souvenirs. Pat Cleary carried on to Ecuador and we de-planed in Panama. I myself never went to Salinas during my time with AAC&R. Pat Cleary was the first London graduate to work there. His story can be seen Part 3. Malcolm Wollaston went first to Balboa and later to Salinas. His memories are listed in Part 2. Same for Maurice Hale, his story is recorded in Part 4. Sadly, Maurice passed away a few years back, however many of the photo's he left us are displayed on this site.
- Delft (from WIKI) Since 1952, KLM has presented its long-haul first-class passengers with small Delftware, blue-and-white porcelain reproductions of old Dutch canal houses, filled with jenever. In 1993, amidst the change-over from three to two cabins on its long-haul service, these canal houses (in Dutch, "huisjes") were made available to its "WorldBusiness Class" passengers. Initially, these houses, ranging in size from 5 to 11 cm. (about 2 to 4 inches) were filled with Rynbende jenever (a Dutch liquor and precursor to gin made from juniper berries.
Lockheed similar to which we flew on to Panama
Brochure from KLM 1959
An example of the Gin-filled Delft houses
The old Tocumen Airport Panama where we arrived in 1959 (There were no jetways back then)
SALINAS - THE CABLE HEAD OFFICE BETWEEN BALBOA AND LIMA, PERU
Most ex-CCC boys were sent to Balboa. Later, some were transferred to Salinas in Ecuador. Pat Cleary went directly from London to Salinas after leaving us in Balboa. Pat and Malcolm Wollaston have hours of stories concerning the Ecuador events. Maurice also enjoyed Salinas and between these three they tell the tales of the friendships they made there, meeting Frank Chatburn, the Managers son and working with Jeff Phoenix (who later went to Balboa).
The Salinas ex-pat operators worked three weeks straight and then got a week in Guayaquil at a hotel paid by the company according to Malcolm Wollaston. This was to give them a break from the desolation that was Salinas in those days. Both Pat and Malcolm told me that Salinas was a wasteland. Just a fmall fishing village with no entertainment whatsoever! No wonder management sentthem to Guayaquil once a month!
Salinas is located on the west coast of Ecuador and back in the 1960's was a lonely outpost whose only activities were the Cable office and the Ancon oil fields. Wollaston tells some hilarious stories about those days and what took place. Today of course it's Ecuador's Riviera and the once lonely beach is lined with modern Condo's. It’s a hot tourist spot and a favorite for vacations for Ecuadorians.
Pat Cleary in Salinas
Maurice Hale in Salinas
The house in Salinas where Pat and Maurice lived
Pat and Jeff Phoenix in Salinas
Cable landing Salinas
Maurice at farewell party in Salinas
Maurice Hale and Friend - Salinas
The Office in Salinas, Ecuador
Maurice Hale with truck - Salinas
Maurice Hale, Rosa (Daughter of ex-Station Electrician) and Husband.
The Malecón, Salinas in1960
Salinas beach 1961
Modern Day Salinas
ARRIVING IN PANAMA
It was very strange arriving in Panama, for us, a new country with different customs to our own, different food, different temperature and away from one's family. I sat in my room that first afternoon and started to write a letter home. I found myself looking at the palm trees waving in the breeze and sweating in the heat. This was indeed a change. We had been advanced a few dollars by Supervisor DeBella so after we got settled in Maurice and I walked down to the Clubhouse and purchased something to eat. We walked back to the office and went upstairs to the Bachelor Quarters lounge and watched TV on a station from the U.S. Military Southern Command Network. Black and white of course in those days. The program was "The Andy Griffith Show". (There was no Panamanian TV at that time). That show still repeats on U.S. networks today and has a large cult following. About 6pm a couple of the Canadian ex-pat technicians came in after an afternoon nap and we went with them down to the Ancon Bar (which was to become a favorite for many ex-pat's) on the border and had a gin-tonic. Just the one and then we got an early night before facing the upcoming Monday morning. The next morning at 830am we went down to Jack Jude (the Manger). We were welcomed formally and told that we were here to work and to behave ourselves, to set an example etc. and were quickly sent out to the operating room to start our labor. The new equipment was ready to start up and we got things going on a test basis. Everything was strange and it took a little while to get used to things. However, there was little time to adjust, we were thrown in and that was that.
I was fortunate that Al Cooper Jr., the son of the Station Electrician, befriended me that first day and the following Sunday had two lady friends of his take me for a guided tour of the Canal Zone in their car. Like many 'Zone teenagers, they had their own transportation at a young age. There was no public transport around the Zone except the buses and few Zonians would ride those! Al Jr. worked at the office and had gone to school in the Canal Zone. He knew a lot of people. Al Sr. the Chief mech, was a tall, gaunt old-timer who smelt suspiciously like mentholated spirits. From Al Jr's lady friends I learned the “social structure” of the Zone as seen by two senior high school girls. Which were the “best” places to live (they all looked pretty good to me, however, big-wigs had very large houses on Ancon Heights all around the Governors’ Mansion), who had the best jobs in the Zone (most of the 'big' jobs were located at the Administration Building). The military hierarchy, which kids had high ranking fathers in the Army, Navy and Air Force (Generals and Colonels) who had the hush-hush positions (Canal defense etc). What you could and could not do if you were not a Zonian (Resident in the Zone with Commissary privileges). Where to go, where to hang out, what to do on weekends. Where the “cool” places were, who were the key players on the high school scene. All together a completely different layout from the UK. It became pretty obvious, very quickly, that although we lived and worked in the Zone we were accepted but not really welcomed by everyone residing there. Why was this? Well read on for an explanation:
Panama has enjoyed two eras of prosperity over the past forty years. The first was in the 1941 to ‘46 period, when the influx of American troops, some stationed here and some merely transiting the Canal on their way to the Pacific and Australia and New Zealand, and back again, made it the liveliest town between San Francisco and Valparaiso. Kelly’s Ritz, -where, in the fifties an Argentine colonel named Juan Perón met a dancer called Evita, was the most famous nightclub in Latin America, and the bordello, Casa Villamor, had over a hundred girls available every day of the week. The Gold Coast, as Colon, on the Atlantic coast, was known, had even more clubs than Panama City. Front Street was one joint after another; two of them even joined by a tunnel to protect revelers from the heavy rain if they felt like a change. The action was fast and furious, everyone willing to spend a dollar, and each one wondering if it might be their last. Many girls made enough to retire on in a year but not all the stories were ones of success. Interlaced with the big dollar bonanzas, were the sad never mentioned sagas where people lost everything, where girls were injured and businesses burned to the pavement. The sad stories though, no one was interested in; it was the big dollar ones that people talked about. That was what gave Panama its reputation. When the war was over, not all of the GIs went home. The Canal had to be defended and the boys stationed at Coco Solo and Clayton carried on the traditions of their predecessors. They took advantage of every opportunity to live it up, going into town and making any business that sold food, booze or sex, an instant success. By the middle 1950’s, however, things had slowed down. The resident garrison had been reduced after the Korean War, and many of the strip joints, restaurants and bars went out of business as their clientele vanished. Panama settled into a lethargic state and was in danger of becoming just another banana republic. This, as it turned out, was not to be. During their stay in Panama, many of the soldiers, sailors and airmen had made friends in the Republic; many married and stayed on. Panamanians welcomed them with open arms. They were different from the solidly entrenched ‘Zonians’, the men and women that staffed the Panama Canal Company. These were the pilots and the locomotive operators at the locks, the Panama Railroad staff, the Grounds Maintenance personnel who supervised the local crews as they carefully manicured every square inch of grass in the Zone. That ten-mile wide, fifty-mile long strip that Omar Torrijos, the military dictator who seized power in 1968, called ‘An arrow through the heart of every Panamanian.’ The Canal Zone Police force was one hundred percent United States citizens, most of them born and bred in the Canal Zone. In their blue uniforms and shapeless garrison caps they patrolled the Zone in their green Fords ready to stop any vehicle for the slightest violation of the multitude of Canal Zone traffic regulations. The Zone was a place that Panamanians dreaded to drive through. Their car number plates would attract squad cars like a wounded fish attracts sharks, and the usual number of tickets issued in a day in this quiet community of forty thousand people was more than a hundred, mostly to residents of the Republic of Panama who were crossing the area by necessity. Many of the residents of the Zone had never crossed the Fourth of July Avenue into Panama. The boast that they had never set foot in the Republic was a proud one to this strange breed. The Panama Canal Company provided work, housing, and commissaries for food, clothes and furniture. Movies and entertainment were all available at subsidized prices. Schools and a college were free. On the surface it was perhaps the perfect example of socialism. But underneath, there were hidden rules and regulations that made this utopia the capital of bigotry in the Western hemisphere. Many Zonians disliked Panamanians; they were perfectly honest about it. They considered them second class citizens. However, the Zone had another secret that was not publicly discussed as the Panamanian issue was, a secret that everyone knew about but which was, by general consensus, not talked about. What was this secret that nobody ever mentioned? It was segregation. Segregation of the worst kind because it was held up to be a perfect example of how segregation could work. The large spacious homes of Balboa and Ancon and the pool, commissary buildings, movie theater and schools were all for white Panama Canal Company employees. Black people who worked for the Canal Company could utilize them but were discouraged from doing so. Contract employees from the shipping agencies and the cable office were allowed to, but they were limited to purchasing one hundred dollars worth of goods monthly, effectively keeping them short of almost every luxury available to the Zonians. The black employees had their own facilities on the Pacific side in a township five miles from Balboa called Paraiso and on the Atlantic side at Rainbow City, outside of Cristobal. This was where the black workers lived in smaller houses with smaller commissaries, smaller theaters and smaller pools. There were also smaller, not so well equipped schools and playing fields. Everything that was available in the white areas of Balboa or Ancon was there, but in scaled down, cheaper versions. That was the hidden secret of the Panama Canal Zone. Segregation, complete segregation which affected anyone who was not a ‘Zonian’. In January 1964, Panama finally boiled over. It started with the insistence of Panamanian students that their flag fly side by side with the Stars and Stripes at the local high school. The hatreds of both sides came into the open, and rioting between them took place. Some forty persons lost their lives, and when the debris was cleared, the old days had gone forever. (see comments later in this missive under GOOD THINGS AND NOT SO GOOD THINGS) In April 1964, a joint declaration which was the forerunner of the 1977 Treaty, was signed with the U.S. and things were never the same in Panama again. There was a military coup in 1968, and Torrijos and his brand of populism became the law of the land. Torrijos set his sights on the Canal Zone and obtaining sovereignty for Panama. He said “I don't want to go into history; I want to go into the Canal Zone.” These of course were brave words but behind the military take-over was the absolute corruption from top to bottom in the military itself and in the new, military appointed Government. A second boom started in 1975. South America had finally wakened from a hundred years of Spanish colonialism and fifty years of lethargy. Its oil, minerals and heavy manufacturing capacity now made large sums of money available through wage payments to its working class for the first time in history. The Colon Free Zone, after twenty seven years of ups and downs, suddenly blossomed, as the need for a duty free area available to all of South America became a necessity. Now, in 1977 it would exceed its innovators most optimistic predictions. The Free Zone was a “must” for any visitor on his way from South to North America. The tourists hauled off merchandise by the shipload and Panamanian businessmen could sell anything they could store. The armed forces of Latin America considered the Free Zone to be their personal shopping mall. They dispatched naval vessels and aircraft for the sole purpose of purchasing goods and stocking their own military commissaries. These institutions were owned by the Army, Navy and Air Force and any profits went to their own beneficial societies, and perhaps to a few Generals and Admirals who were in a position to skim from the top. The influx of trade brought more and more banks to the Republic; by 1980 there were more than one hundred and sixty doing business, most of them taking advantage of the offshore banking laws, and enhancing Panama’s reputation as the new Switzerland. Meanwhile, the Free Zone continued to expand. In Panama City, new bars and restaurants opened every day. The daily flights in from Bogota were filled with ‘schoolteachers’ taking full advantage of the thirty day period that foreign visitors could enjoy without a visa. Working, of course, was not permitted, but many of the young ladies did not call what they did ‘work’. It was estimated that the average ‘teacher’ returned home with approximately five or six thousand dollars after the thirty day stay. By 1981, Panama had settled down once again to a prosperous but quiet existence. The military started to have problems paying debt, and some of the banks left. The flights from Bogota were no longer full, and everyone knew that Panama’s second boom in forty years had finally come to an end.
Perhaps this will enable the reader to understand the background and events that led up to the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty. This shows clearly the double standards that were practiced: separated communities with the same facilities, but five miles apart. It explains why the Canal Zone had the highest of bathrooms per resident but also the highest rate of child abuse and the highest rate of death from alcohol poisoning in the world. How then did a coalition of military men, leftists and students force the United States of America to admit the injustice of a treaty signed in 1903 and how did they negotiate a new document that would hand over all of the Canal Company and military facilities, valued at over five hundred million dollars, by the year 2000? They accomplished this nevertheless and the feat must rank as one of the smartest diplomatic coups of all time.
Today, 2012/2013, Panama enjoys the highest economic growth in Latin America. There is no un-employment for skilled workers, indeed, foreign workers are recruited from all over. A new Metro system is being built and the expansion of the locks is underway. Politics are still a cause for concern and corruption is the same as it ever was, except that the sums being misappropriated are much larger these days!
Panama City 1962
Panama City 5th of May Plaza 1960. Some Cable Heights (AAC&R) houses can be seen on right hand side on the hill above houses/stores in Panama.
In the pictures the Main entrance can be seen in the center of the building. A side entrance was located to the left (looking at the photograph) and covered with a tiled roof. There was another entrance (unseen) on the right hand side leading to the parking lot and giving access to the generator building and yet another door at the rear of the building giving access to the storage bohio, the large Mango tree and the tennis court. The bulding is still there on Gavilan Road today. When AAC&R left it was taken over by INTEL, the Panamanian Communications entity and when they sold their rights, by their successors, Cable and Wireless.
All America Cables and Radio Building, Gavilan Road, Balboa 1960
Old view of AAC&R Balboa (1928). (from the 1928 book "ALL AMERICA CABLES, INC., A Half Century of Cable Service to the Three Americas 1878-1928")
I was not 100% sure if this was the front or back of old picture of AAC&R. At first it looked to me like the rear view of the office with the famous mango tree to the left. However, thinking back, the mango tree would be more to the right of the picture in line with the back door. Also it could be claimed that if this were a view of the front there would be the arched side entrance on the left as can be seen in later pictures of the building, however it was pointed out by Bill Burns that the arched side entrance could have been added later, and after looking through the Canal Zone archives for 1930/31 I find that the Gavilan area (where the cable office was located) was still being developed at that time and that could well mean the front of this office IS shown before the streets were named etc. (see below)
Isthmian Canal Commission (U.S.. Panama Canal record (Volume v.24 (1930-31)). (page 2 of 109 ANCON-BALBOA. The new street south of Plank Street inter- secting Gavilan Road at right angles at the cable office in Balboa, extending westward, is desig- nated Akee Street. The new street south of Akee Street, inter- secting Gavilan Road, extending westward and paralleling Akee Street, is designated Almond Street. The new street intersecting Akee and Almond Streets, running north and south paralleling Gavilan Road, is designated Calabash Street.
STREET MAP OF BALBOA: http://gozonian.org/maps/balboamap.htm
Panama City in 2011
PLATE MARKING THE OLD CASA VILLA AMOR PANAMA
WHAT DID WE DO?
So, what did we do in Balboa after we settled in? Well, in a few days Maurice Hale and I had been assigned to different shifts to work with the local operators on the Kleinschmidt tape converters which changed the long Morse code slip into the shorter and broader 5Unit type. For a few weeks we were the kings of the office but as soon as the ex-pat’s learned the routine, the senior staff and supervisors cracked the whip and we, the new boys were constantly given the dirty jobs. If an operator called in sick after the late shift ended, we had to stay. However, if overtime was available on an early or afternoon shift, then one of the senior ex-pats would be assigned. Some were doing 20 hours a week on top of their regular 40 hours and were making very good money. My first Christmas was December 1959. In November I had to go to the Tropical Radio offices in Panama to "book" and pay for a phone call to the UK to speak to my mother on Christmas Day. Because of the lack of lines, all international calls had to be reserved in advance. I recall arriving at the office and joining a long queue waiting to be called to one of the four or five telephone booths. I had my three minutes which cost something like $10.00 for the privilege and caught a bus home.
What else happened? Well we had to eat so if we were off duty (and had a couple of dollars) we would walk or take a “chiva” bus down to the Balboa Clubhouse which was the restaurant located on Stevens Circle. If you went by chiva you would have to call out "Parada!" when you got close to the Clubhouse stop. This would let the driver know you wanted to get off. He would stop the bus and operate the handle which swung the door open. The handle was usually decorated with a dolls head taken from some long abandoned toy. These "chivas" were decorated all over with girlfriend’s names, religious events and garish interpretations of Panama life. They were (and sometimes still are) an art form to be admired. If we walked down to Balboa, which we often did to save money, we would leave Gavilan Road turning left down Balboa Road, past the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple building and down past the YMCA (where some of the shipping agents lived) and the Balboa Police Station. On the opposite side of the road was the Chase Manhattan Bank. Then further down was First National City Bank on the left. Then came the Balboa Clubhouse fronted by Stevens Circle on the right flanked by the Post Office. Behind the Clubhouse was the pool. After the Clubhouse came the Balboa cinema, opposite that, the Commissary where the groceries were sold and then, just across Roosevelt Avenue, was the "Teen Club" a place that was open several evenings a week for the Balboa High School students and which had a small hot dog and hamburger stand and which played dance records for the kids. Then came the Port Captain's Building where most of the shipping agents had offices and the entrance to Balboa docks. Unlike the Agents offices, there was no air-conditioning in the AAC&R office in 1959; only fans in the operating office. We eventually purchased a fan or two for our rooms but until 1963, air-conditioning was just a dream. By the time it was installed, I had married and moved into Panama. What I especially recall about those years was the eternal poverty we endured. In London we had been making 12/15 pounds a week, about 20/25 dollars. When we heard we were to earn $200 a month in Panama we thought we would be rich! Then we found out that on this salary of $200.00 a month we had to pay daily food and transport, which took up $100. Then we had to pay for the cleaning of the Bachelor Quarters and the laundry, another $20.00. Then miscellaneous items such as writing paper, stamps, envelopes, soap, deodorant and assorted medicines which took another $20.00. There was bed linen to be purchased and clothes and shoes as well as cigarettes. A movie, a restaurant meal and an occasional drink which took another $40.00 leaving us $20.00 for everything else. Somehow we saved and purchased cars and then had to pay for repairs and gas. It was a very tight existence, no room at all for any luxuries.
We bought more suitable clothes for the climate. The commissary sold blue jeans and T shirts and these became off duty wear for many of us. Deck shoes were the preferred footwear. For work we wore "chino's" and button down, short sleeved shirts. It was usually very warm or very wet! The torrential tropical rain fell in sheets occasionally, stopping traffic and making it impossible to leave whatever shelter one was using. Thunder, lightning, rain, they all lasted a few minutes and then, in fifteen minutes or so, the streets were dry and the only sign of the storm were fallen fronds from palm trees.
Below: Typical "Chiva" bus similar to that which we took from the Office to the Clubhouse.
View of Balboa, 1960, from Sosa Hill. Looking north from above the Club House across the palm-tree lined Prado and towards the Administration Building. Panama City can be seen in the background. Stevens Circle and the Post Office are lower right. Ancon Hill is on right with radio mast. The Cable Office at Gavilan Rd. would be bottom right, past the Post Office and about three quarters of a mile up Balboa Road.
LEARNING ABOUT PANAMA AND MAKING FRIENDS IN THE 'ZONE
Al Cooper also introduced me to a few Canal Zone high school students about my own age. I got to know a couple of them quite well and one in particular, Charlie Chase, became a great friend. Charlie was a "character" and well known by most people in Balboa. His parents were from Costa Rica and he lived in one of the large four-family houses on Balboa Road near to the Post Office. I was invited to lunch (Bologna sandwiches) or dinner (chicken, rice and beans) at least twice a week by the Chase's and they were the absolute best of people. Charlie worked in 1961/62 on the construction of the "Thatcher Ferry Bridge" the first bridge to permanently span the Canal. Charlie usually drove a dump truck but sometimes he would be designated to hose down the concrete at the bridgehead. We would sit at the very end of construction with a huge void below us and for hours would have to make sure the concrete was kept wet. Later Charlie became a Canal Zone police sergeant and then a probation officer. After that he went to Texas and joined American Airlines. In 1961 he went to do his 6 months army service and came home two months later very smartly uniformed. I met Harry Elliot also, a great friend of Charlie. Another friend was Mooney Stabler whose father was a fireman. Mr. Stabler took me out in my car as I had only a learners permit in the 'Zone and spent hours and hours driving around the La Boca road area so I could pass my test. When I did pass I was awarded a license to drive only automatic transmission vehicles. This was a problem later when I bought a manual change car. I was stopped by the Canal Zone police and had to go to court. Meanwhile I went and took the test for manual vehicles and passed. In court the Judge suspended my sentence (a $25.00 fine) when I told him that in the UK there was only one kind of license and I had already got a manual license. I would go fishing with the Stabler’s to the Balboa Yacht Club pier some evenings. You would rig a light over the water and this would attract the bait fish. In turn these would attract the larger Corvina and then on the very outskirts the sharks would prowl. We would usually catch a couple of five or six pound fish to take home.
Harry Elliot, Sue Simpson, Mike Merry - Cerro Azul 1960
Bottom: Mooney Stabler, Sue Simpson - Mike Merry
Mike Merry with Charlie Chase & Family - Miraflores Lake 1960
The Bridge of the Americas across the Panama Canal where Charlie Chase worked
Charlie Chase as Canal Zone Policeman
The pier of the Balboa Yacht Club seen from the actual Club. The pier was where we fished. Ancon Hill in background.
THE CLUBHOUSE IN BALBOA
The Clubhouse was I suppose the social center of Balboa. A large building in the center of town on Stevens Circle that housed a self serve type of business for food, a magazine stand and a soda fountain to one side. You walked along the self service line, took what you wanted from the constantly replenished trays and paid the cashier at the end. You knew which day of the week it was by the menu which was displayed above the service line; it was the same each and every week. The Commissary or Club House served a variety of hot food, deserts and sandwiches. Monday was liver and onions. “Johnny Mazzetti” was a cheesy macaroni dish (Tuesdays). Ropa vieja, a stringy meat dish (Wednesday). Arroz con pollo (Thursday) Fried shrimp and snapper (Friday’s). All the main dishes cost about $1 each, a soda or ice tea another $0.25 and desert $.35 cents more. In addition to the daily specials there were hamburgers and hot dogs as well as French fries available and a variety of fruits and deserts. I recall the first day we went there and at the end of the line were the drinks. I saw some half full glasses of a darkish liquid and took one. I drank a mouthful and didn't like it a bit. Later I found it was iced tea and you were supposed to add ice and sugar! Seating was wherever a free table could be found. If we wanted to eat at the office then when we were working we would have the messengers pick up food for us. Panama offered a variety of meals and they were all filling. We ate shark meat and various other strange dishes, usually with rice salad and beans. Most of the staff were Cuban coffee addicts and would club together to collect about two dollars and get a half a milk bottle of the very strong brew. They sugared it and diluted it slightly with milk and swore it was more of a kick than a couple of rum and cokes. Clubhouse food was edible and filling, it did not however, provide anything other than something to eat in a very sterile environment. If you were lucky enough to get a window seat you could at least watch the traffic going past. However, with about 15 window tables and another 45 with no view, there wasn't much of a chance of seeing anything during meal hours so one watched the people instead.
The Commissary/Club House as seen from The Prado about 1960 - (Commissary is the right hand side white building) and the Club House in Balboa (Left rear) on the other side of Stevens Circle.
Frontal view of the Clubhouse Balboa c 1945
Arroz con Pollo
Fried Red Snapper
If we were working you could not leave the office as there were no "official" breaks. We had to tip the messengers five cents (If you were a cheap-o) or ten cents (If you were flush) to go on their motor cycles to pick up a meal, usually in Panama. Sometimes they would ask you, instead of tipping them, to go to the commissary (see picture above) to get cans of tomato paste (see picture below) as it was cheaper and better quality than that the paste available in Panama City. Going to the commissary was a hassle for we were inevitably stopped by an inspector who demanded our I.D. We had no photo I.D., only our "Commissary Card" which had our name, where we worked and a table of printed figures where amounts (up to a total of $100 in a month) could be ticked off. The inspectors knew who we were. Non U.S. Citizens who resided in the Canal Zone. That made no difference. We were stopped almost every time when visiting the commissary. The food that the messengers bought back depended upon ones budget. For 50 cents a meal of stewed meat, rice, beans and potato salad with a slice of bread could be obtained on a paper plate. This was absolute luxury and very filling. For 25 cents the messengers would bring back the makings of a large sandwich. A large "micha" (roll) costing 10 cents, ten cents for half a dozen slices of cheap ham, and 5 cents for a pat of butter and combing these made a very convenient and filling meal. At other times we would get fried yucca or fried stuffed shark meat, both very good. There were empanadas, small meat pies, and Cevechie, raw marinated fish, both excellent. By the end of the month when there was very little cash the bachelors would get together and buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and live off that or green mangoes from the tree in the back yard. I was fortunate that by then, unlike most of the others, I had friends in Panama and the Zone and could usually get an invite to dinner there.
About once a month, after saving a few dollars, we would go to the El Rancho or the Atlas Gardens or to the Skychef near the 4th of July Avenue which bordered the Canal Zone where a really good meal could be had for about $10/15. We would eat a steak or an avocado stuffed with shrimps and drink a bottle of wine. Very civilized indeed. There was also The Napoli, an inexpensive Italian restaurant where we could get spaghetti and clams with a bottle of Chianti for under $10.00. After that we would go and drink rum and cokes at 25 cents apiece and generally enjoy our evening.
Rice and Beans
Green Mangos (ughhhhhhh!)
Tomato paste as sold in the Balboa Commissary
GIVING BLOOD AT GORGAS HOSPITAL AND 'BORROWING' SOME SOUP PLATES
We were encouraged to give blood at Gorgas Hospital in the Zone. Once a month we would go there and be treated wonderfully by the blood bank nurses who would ask if we had had breakfast (we always said no) and who would tut-tut and give us crackers and cheese they kept on hand. Then they would draw a pint of blood and give us a shot of bourbon and a can of beer to replace the liquid! I found out that I had a strange blood type, O negative and the RH Negative. Due to this I was urged to give monthly to create a store of this in case of an emergency. Because of the sticky heat in the Zone and the lack of air conditioning and fans, tinea crusis or "jock itch" was not uncommon. Myself and Peter Stevens on a blood donor visit to Gorgas one day complained about it and a doctor gave us some alum powder to be dissolved in water and used to calm the infection. When we returned, having no containers to use, we went into Malcolm Wollaston's room and "borrowed" two soup plates. We dissolved the liquid in them and then rested ourselves on his bed with the infected parts marinating nicely inside the plates. This was fine until Malcolm walked into his room and saw us! He was not happy about his plates being used in that manner! Remarkably we rarely got sick in those days so doctors visits were few and far between.
Gorgas Hospital where we gave blood
FREE TIME IN THE ZONE AND THE GIRLS WE MET
Sometimes we went to the Balboa Swimming Pool during free time during the day. Other times, weekends we took our cars up to the beach at Santa Clara and slept under the stars (very uncomfortable). We would get off work at 10pm and meet many of the ex-pats from the shipping agencies at the Ancon Bar where a rum and coke was only $0.25 and one could drive carefully home at 2am to sleep off the effects. We met girls. I dated several daughters of military officers, many of whom had served in the UK and whom had no objections to their daughters dating an Ex-pat and once, the daughter of a Canal Zone Police sergeant who did object. After dating this young lady the next day I received a visit while I was working from the police sergeant told me he didn't want me seeing his daughter again. I was not from the Zone, I was not an American and he didn't want me near her. Pity about that, she was very attractive! Not to worry! I had plenty of friends from Panama by now and I was introduced to many girls in the City by Negro Franco and his brothers and was recruited by his mother to escort young ladies to several charity dances. My wife told me (much later in life) that it was at one of these dances that she first saw me and could not believe I was with such an unattractive girl. Gradually I learned to speak Spanish, very slowly at first but then as I realized this was the key to everything in our environment, a little faster.
Mike Merry and Rod Davies at dinner with friends
Mike Merry with friends at Hotel Washington (Colon) Pool
TOP: Mike Merry
Mike Merry with Rod Davies (right)
DRIVING AROUND THE ZONE AND PANAMA
We explored the Canal Zone. It's cleanliness was amazing. Crews were constantly at work sweeping streets, painting bulding buildings and cutting grass. I've never seen anything like it before or since. It was squeeky clean! The Zone was an exciting place with many hidden treasures. From Ancon Hill herds of wild deer which would drift down during the night and graze on the lush grass and rob the garbage cans of the houses. Then as dawn broke, they would suddenly group together and run up the hill, leaping the walls and crossing two roads to return to their daytime pasture. This mass exodus was dangerous as they would stop for nothing and could leap up and over a four foot wall to gain the higher ground without a problem. It was strictly forbidden to hunt these animals and there were always police cars checking the perimeter of the hill. Along the Quarry Heights road was the Governors Mansion and then came Gorgas Hospital. Then, just before the Fourth of July Avenue, a right turn would take you to Cable Heights, the Cable Office housing, which bordered the southern side of Ancon Hill and overlooked the Fourth of July Avenue which was the border with the Republic of Panama. The houses were three bedroom structures on stilts, old, but not bad to live in. There resided all the ex-pat married operators and the Manager.
The only ways across the Panama Canal until 1962 were by the Thatcher Ferry and Miraflores swing bridge. The ferry was where you drove your vehicles onto a flat motor powered barge and it rolled across the west bank (or vice-versa) where it unloaded. The ferry carried about 20 cars and operated during the daylight hours. I recall that sitting behind the wheel one would attempt to "steer" the barge which of course was futile! The swing bridge was at Miraflores locks and would operate when ships were not actually transiting. At last in 1962, a permanent bridge was finished over the Canal and the long waits for the ferry or bridge ceased. You could fish almost anywhere and catch anything from shark in the sea to bass in Gatun Lake. British passenger ships would dock overnight in Balboa and we would get passes from our friends the shipping agents and go on board and drink UK beer and beg English sausages from crew members. The shipping agents from Cristobal were famous for their party's and these were usually held at the Grace Building on the Atlantic side. We would drive over and stay and sleep wherever we could find a spare bed. Before that however, when the party finally finished the bachelors would move over to a Colon nightclub around 3am. A Sunday drive might take you North West to Gamboa where the Golf Club served excellent food. On the west bank of the canal, after crossing by Ferry or swing bridge, was Ft. Kobbe and Majagual, the beach closest to Panama. Further north was Arijan, said to have got its name from the GI's leaving Ft. Kobbe and telling the taxi drivers, "Take a right hand" (to turn towards Panama City) so "a right hand" became "Arijan/A RI HAN" or that's what they say! The road to Arrijan was pitch black of a night-time and a very dangerous drive as it was up and down several winding hills with many blind curves. There was a popular bar at the entrance to Arrijan and we would drive up there to get a beer.
If you drove north east, you would cross the Continental Divide after the Gatun turn off (past Summit Gardens, the place to buy your girl a corsage for a dance and the Summit Golf Club and the Navy transmitting station). Then came the old French Canal workers cemetery before Paraiso and after that you would be on the Forest Preserve Road that eventually runs into the Transismisian Highway, connecting Colon and Panama. The preserve was bisected by the Las Cruces trail which used to be the only way to get from Panama to Colon. To this day they still turn up artifacts from the 15/1600's along its way. It's not all a land trail; there are several stretches that are rivers. Crossing the Canal by the swing bridge one could turn off the Arijan Road and enter a myriad of trails and dirt roads that lead along the west bank of the Canal. There you could find monkeys, sloths, bushmaster snakes and many hidden streams and pools excellent for cooling off on a hot afternoon.
If one drove out past the Panama (Tocumen) airport and turned left about 10 miles the poorly kept road would gradually rise to about 2,000 feet. The "mountain" peaks were a thousand feet higher. This is Cerro Azul. Here there is an old man-made lake for boating (Also known as Goofy Lake). Alligators were seen there so it was not such a good idea to swim. It was cool and fresh back in the 60’s and very few people went there. There was a small restaurant and one could buy sandwiches and simple meals as well as beer. I used to go hunting with a .22 rifle along with Tony Martinez from the office in the gorges and rocky areas there. Running from the lake downwards was a fast stream and as it ran through the rocky gorges there was a “shute” at one point running down 30 yards through rocks and over a waterfall into a deep pool. It was a lot of fun to slide down this, completely out of control and over the falls (Goofy Falls) and into the pool. Below the fall the water pounded into the water and one day I went over and was caught by the heavy flow and forced to the bottom. Luckily I kept my head and using the rocks, pulled myself out of the grasping torrent and into the calmer pool. I was lucky. I often wonder what was at the bottom of that pool because there must have been lots of items washed over those rapids over the years.
On the outskirts of Balboa was Albrook Air Force Base. The U2 flew from here and sometimes very early in the morning, one would see a takeoff, probably to look at what the Cuban's were doing. Further along the Highway was Fort Clayton home of the 193rd Light Infantry Brigade. Then came the Miraflores locks which bordered the road and where there was an excellent view of canal operations. Some evenings we would drive out to Amador Causeway, which sheltered the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and held Southern Command Naval Headquarters. We would park and drink beer and play the radio while sitting in the car. The Causeway was the Canal entrance and administered by the military. On Flamingo Island at the end, they had missiles for defense. The MP's would patrol and usually kick you out when they saw you parked by the side of the causeway.
We would go for a drink or two to the Ancon Bar at "J" Street located on the 4th of July Avenue which separated the Canal Zone from the City of Panama. There were shows in some of the bars and the beer was cold. Drinking age was more or less defined as when your head reached the level of the bar. Outside the bars were vendors with "meat on a stick" cooked over small charcoal stoves. No one asked what kind of meat it was. Shoe shine boys were everywhere and would put a shine on your shoes for a nickel. I recall one of the Canadian techs bought a small monkey down in "J" street one day. It didn't last long. It got in his bed one night and while sleeping he rolled on it and crushed it. Having a drink was possible at almost any hour if you had the money and by 11am the bars had plenty of customers.
The Panama Railroad ran from Balboa to Cristobal following fairly closely, the route of the Canal. It was a journey of about 90 minutes and very interesting as it took you past the many way-stations that had been set up as the Canal was built and which had been abandoned years earlier. Rio Grande, Empire, Frijoles, Tiger Hill etc. all forgotten names today. There were many hidden lakes and streams to be seen and lots of overgrown equipment that had been abandoned years earlier.
Merry, Stevens - Cerro Azul Panama 1961
Hayward, Merry, Stevens, McMahon - Amador Causeway 1961
Mike Merry - Balboa 1961
Peter Stevens Gladys Kaufman at Santa Clara 1961
Peter Stevens, Miriam de la Lastra. Cerro Azul 1960
Peter Stevens at Amador Causeway Probably taken 1961
Maurice Hale with Mike Merry’ 1952 Pontiac on way to Panama's Interior in 1961
Mike Merry and John Hayward 1962
Mike Merry - Amador Causeway 1960
Mike Merry - 1961
The 4th of July Avenue at Ancon Boulevard.
Ancon bar on left hand far corner.
Casa Morrison on far right hand corner.
Salterio's store a little further to left out of picture.
Road to Cable Heights on near right hand corner (where policeman is talking on telephone)
4th of July Avenue coming from Balboa. Cable Heights would be on top of grass bank to left.
Start of the Las Cruces Trail (Kings Bridge) in Panama Viejo
The Governor's Mansion - Panama Canal Zone
The Canal Zone Administration Building - Balboa Canal Zone
Cerro Azul (Goofy Falls) Waterfall - Where the "chute" was located
Cerro Azul (Goofy Lake) in 1968
The Panama Railroad
The Old Swing Bridge at Miraflores Locks
THE CANAL ZONE POLICE
The Canal Zone Police in 1959 were all US Citizens. There were no officers from the Republic of Panama employed although civilians did work in administrative jobs. The police drove green Fords with a red light on top and they themselves wore blue uniforms with garrison caps. Later, in the '70's, Panamanian citizens were hired. There was rarely any serious crime, merely petty theft, burglary, drunkenness etc. The cops had a pretty easy job and many of them liked the power that went with the badge. If you had a Panama number plate on your car you could expect to be stopped for any reason at all and would have to explain where you were going and why. There were numerous stories of how the "Good Old Boy" network kicked in if there was a problem. For instance one very well known citizen was stopped for suspected DUI and being a friend of the arresting officer, asked him if he could change his shirt before going to the police station. This was agreed to and the man ran up to his second floor apartment to change. When he didn't come down after ten minutes the cop went up to look for him. He found him sitting in a chair drinking from a bottle of bourbon. Of course, it could not be proved (when he arrived at the police station) if his high alcohol count was due to drinking before being stopped or after! Kids were taken home to their parents if they were picked up and in general, no one made waves. It would have been simple for the police to wait outside of one of the several Masonic Lodges or the Knights of Columbus Club on a Friday night, but they never did and the drunks drove unsteadily home. Many of the cops had grown up in the Zone and would usually only give a warning to US Citizens caught breaking or bending the minor laws.
Canal Zone Cop and "Green Hornet" Patrol Car 1960
GOOD THINGS AND NOT SO GOOD THINGS
There were good events and bad events. Denis Sheehy went drinking with the crew of a Colombian freighter and was paralyzed in his bed next day and we had to call an ambulance to take him for a two day stay at Gorgas hospital. He recovered after that thank goodness. Paddy McMahon was sent home after an unpleasant incident involving threatening a fellow ex-pat. Ted Bass got married to a young lady who worked in a bar and was transferred out (never saw or heard of him again). Malcolm Wollaston was sent to Salinas where he thrived! He called in to Panama on his way home for his first (and last) vacation and we spent a day or so together, I was married by then. Malcolm's return to London after he left me in Panama, was quite a story. He has NOT included it in his story (see part 2) but I recall it involved meeting a young lady from a very wealthy fairly and going to stay with her in New York for a few weeks!
He then returned to London and eventually joined 3M. Pete Stevens was promised a post in Peru and went on vacation first. While he was in UK he was told he was being let go but came back on his own and went into business in Panama. He is still with his own shipping agency business today. Maurice Hale went to Salinas and on to Peru. He passed away a couple of years back but not before we had again been in touch. I went one weekend with Franco, his brothers and the son of the Finance Minister "Pocho" Samudio to Samudio's house in Santa Clara. That evening we went to a dance in Penonome, about twenty miles north and it was there that I first actually met my future wife. We were married in 1963.
THE RIOTS OF 1964
The riot started after a Panamanian flag was torn during conflict between Panamanian students and Canal Zone Police officers, over the right of the Panamanian flag to be flown alongside the U.S. flag. In January 1963, U.S President John F. Kennedy agreed to fly Panama's flag alongside the U.S. flag at all non-military sites in the Canal Zone where the US flag was flown. However, Kennedy was assassinated before his orders were carried out. One month after Kennedy's death, Panama Canal Zone Governor Robert J. Fleming, Jr. issued a decree limiting Kennedy's order. The U.S. flag would no longer be flown outside Canal Zone schools, police stations, post offices or other civilian locations where it had been flown, but Panama's flag would not be flown either. The governor's order infuriated many Zonians, who interpreted it as a U.S. renunciation of sovereignty over the Canal Zone. In response, outraged Zonians began demonstrating with the U.S. flag. The news of the actions of the Balboa High School reached the students at the Instituto Nacional, Panama's top public high school. Led by 17-year-old Guillermo Guevara Paz, 150 to 200 students from the institute marched to Balboa High School, carrying their school's Panamanian flag and a sign proclaiming their country's sovereignty over the Canal Zone. After hurried negotiations between the Panamanian students and the police, a small group was allowed to approach the flagpole, while police kept the main group back. Scuffling broke out. The Panamanians were driven back by the Zonian civilians and police. In the course of the scuffle, Panama's flag was torn. One of the most famous photographs of what Panamanians know as Martyrs' Day shows two demonstrators, one bearing a Panamanian flag, climbing over the Fence of Shame at Ancon. Various Panamanian versions, many inaccurate, blame all Panamanian deaths on U.S. forces, though those who died in the Pan American Airlines building fire can not reasonably be said to have died at the hands of American forces. Panamanians did fire shots at other Panamanians on the Day of the "Martyrs", and some may have been killed or wounded that way. Most US accounts put the number of Americans killed in these events at four, though others put the death toll at three or five. Those who died on the American side. When the fighting was over, DENI investigators found over 600 bullets embedded in the Legislative Palace. After the fighting, American investigators found over 400 bullets embedded in the Tivoli Hotel. At the outbreak of the fighting, Panama charged the United States with aggression. Panama severed relations with the United States and appealed to the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations (UN). On January 10 the OAS referred the case to the Inter-American Peace Committee. The eventual result was that on Dec 31 1999, the Panama Canal Zone and everything in it was handed over to the Panama Government and Panama has run the Canal since that date. (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyrs%27_Day_(Panama))
(The student clashes that started it all - January 9th 1964 - From an article by GLENN GARVIN - The Miami Herald)
Three views on flying the flag
The Class of '64 has debated endlessly whether it was justified that day in raising the American flag.
1. Hicks says no: "We were guests in this country. We should never have acted that way."
2. Dimitriadis thinks it's more complicated: "I think it was insensitive not to fly an American flag. My grandparents lived in a railroad car while my grandfather worked out there in the mud, building the canal. My grandmother lost three babies to diphtheria. . . . The Zonies had earned a right to be proud of the canal."
3. "I would not have made one single move I made that day if I had thought all this was going to happen," said a California businessman who feels the topic is still too touchy to give his name. "We didn't want to change anything. We loved the status quo."
But what everybody agrees is that the flagpole incident ended in a disaster of unfathomable dimensions that seem to grow as the years pass. "There was nothing political going on that day," said David Kimberling, now a software engineer in Albuquerque, N.M. "All we wanted to do was protect our flag. . . . But it sure didn't turn out very well, did it?"
I insert this little piece of Panama History because it had an affect on AAC&R in Balboa. For the three or four days of the Riots the office was besieged by military personell lining up to send telegrams to their families in the US regarding their safety. These forms had been in the office for years and were occasionally sent by the military residents at Christmas. The were simple forms with pre-prepared phrases represented by numbers and were probably made for WWII and the Korea Conflict so that the military had an inexpensive way to send telegrams. I believe it cost $2.00 for five of the five number groups, representing phrases, in a cable. The phrases were simple. "I am well and the family is well also" , "We are all safe here", "Happy Christmas greetings to all the family". These are examples. There was a queue of at least forty persons all day long for theis period and the operators were kept very busy sending the cables.
I was living in Panama at the time of the riots and had to drive to work each day. I flew a huge Panamianista political party flag on the car and parked outside the office. Harry Sinnott said to take it off but as I explained, if I did that there was no way I could have driven in each day!
Canal Zone Riots of 1964 - View of Panamanian Students raising flag on 4th July Avenue (Re-named later Ave. de los Martires)
BUYING A CAR
Somehow or the other many of us purchased cars. I had several. Firstly a 1952 Pontiac, then a 53 Ford Convertible and then an MGA. John Hayward had a Sunbeam Talbot. I recall going to the Summit Transmitting Station to purchase it with him. Unfortunately a few months later a crucial part broke and the car was laid up ever after! Peter Stevens and a group had a huge light green Dodge convertible, it was like a tank! It was an event when the owners took it for a drive. First they had to start it and that was no easy task. When it did start the muffler wasn't that effective and the noise would bring most of the people working in the office to the front door to watch it depart. Malcolm Wollaston and I also purchased a Morris from the British Embassy and with Malcolm Wollaston, stripped the engine and cleaned the pistons (de-coke). It worked better afterwards. Just before I left on my first 3 month vacation in 1962, I loaned the MGA one evening to Malcolm Wollaston and Denis Sheehy. Around midnight they turned up with the car. It had the distinct shape of Sheehy's head etched on the broken windshield and the left front fender was smashed. They had been in a wreck. This was two weeks before I was supposed to leave and was a great nuisance. I did get it fixed eventually but, like all crashed cars, it was never the same (probably Sheehy's head suffered the same fate). In 1966 I purchased my first new care, a Morris. I soon learned that parts for British cars were hard to find and I was obliged to write my father for help whenever anything broke!
Mike Merry with MGA - Balboa 1962
A bearded Mike Merry
The MGA after Malcolm Wollaston and Denis Sheehy took it for a late night spin. The impact of Sheehy's head can be clearly seen on the windscreen.
MGA parked at the house of Ted Scott (Scott Francis' uncle) Gorgona 1961
Mike Merry with 52 Pontiac (with exterior sun visor showing)
Mike Merry's 52 Pontiac at Santa Clara 1961 (without sun visor)
Sunbeam Talbot similar to John Hayward's
1953 Ford Convertible similar to Mike Merry's
Mike Merry with Morris 1966
AFTER RESTORATION - Stripped to bare metal and re-painted, re-upholstered)76JAG XJ6. OUTSIDE CALEB BRETT OFFICE, BALBOA.
Mike Merry in 1985 with '76 Jag XJ6
MJMK XJ6 in Miami 1989
Mike Merry in 2008 with 2008 Jaguar "S" Type
THE MANAGER, SUPERVISORS, OPERATORS AND MESSENGERS IN BALBOA AND THE OFFICE AND GROUNDS
When we arrived in Balboa Jack Jude, a Texan, was the Manager. Always dressed in a light blue or brown striped seersucker suit purchased at the Balboa Commissary and a small bow tie. He sported a flat top and had a selection of quotations that he spouted (his favorite being when he entered the men’s washroom where he would declare to any and all who were at the urinals “Step up there you longhorns, the next man may have no shoes”. Tony Laveno was the accountant. Laveno was not a nice person. As we were paid in cash he was always around late on the day before pay day offering to get ones money in advance if you would give him a few dollars.
The Supervisors were a strange lot. Willie Newell was the friendliest of them. Willie had a Peruvian wife and daughter and he worked whenever he could as they needed a constant supply of money sent back to them in Peru where they lived (very well so he said). Willie never went out and ate very sparingly, saving whatever money he could. He subbed (filled in at work) for Clarence Holmes the Texan, also a supervisor, who would work three hours of his shift 4/7pm and then have Willie sub for him until 11pm while he went to the Panama Hilton Casino to gamble. Clarence was a miserable bugger and things always improved once he had gone out. However, Willie always wanted cash for his subs and one night Clarence didn't have any. Willie said "Cash on the barrelhead" and Clarence and he had a hell of a row. The other Supervisor was Kelly Dibella who had picked us up at the airport upon our arrival. A very quiet man he stayed out of everyone's way. Kelly would wander into the back technical room about 5pm with a small bottle of rum and a coke and would stay there out of everyone's way until 11pm when his shift finished. He would come out a couple of times to sign the log but that was that. The bottle was his friend. When Willie Newell’s wife finally paid a visit to Balboa, I was recruited to take him to the airport to pick her up as I had a car. The big treat? I was taken by Willie to the Diablo Clubhouse for dinner "anything you want, my boy, anything". Poor Willie. Diablo to him was a fabulous restaurant! Occasionally when a Supervisor went on vacation a regular ex-pat staff member took over his job until he returned. Charlie McConny was one who relished this temporary job. He would swing his (considerable) weight around when he was in charge, constantly looking for minor infractions to reprimand operators or clerks.
Willie Newell (Supervisor) AAC&R Balboa 1961
The techs we met early were Jim Bullen, Einer-Helgasson-Zoega the Icelander, Jack Skinner and Adrian Walsh. The Technical staff was headed up by Pat Storey who was a resident of the Bachelor Quarters. Later, Alex Cadger (whose daughter married Johnny Hayward) ran the technical show. The Mechanician was Eric Peterson (deceased in UK). My father told me he met Eric one night in Fleet Street in 1970 and they talked about Balboa when he found out Eric had been employed there. There was also Peter White, a technician who came from Guantanamo to Balboa and who married one of the Canal Zone school teachers. The had a maroon colored Pontiac convertible which was the envy of all the bachelors at that time. They had a house on Cable heights and I can remember Pete started to fix it up by paneling the living room in a dark laminate that made it look very modern.
Jim Bullen 1959
Jack Skinner 1959
Instrument Room Balboa
From Panama Canal "Spillway"magazine November 1963 Showing Harry Sinnot VP/GM ITT/AACR at Cristobal Coaxial Cable landing.
The Balboa staff was a mixture of Canadian ex-pats and Panamanians. The Salterio twins, Joe and Arthur were married to two sisters and lived in company housing on Cable Heights which overlooked the 4th of July Avenue which was the “border” between Panama City and Balboa. Joe and Arthur were quiet fellows who called everyone “Mickey” for some strange reason. They were avid golfers and believe it or not, they both won considerable amounts in the Panama lottery. The wives owned a linen shop on 4th of July and generally did well for the family. Jacques Epailly was a French ex-pat who lived above the Salterio's store on 4th of July. Tommy Pescod was from a long line of AAC&R employees. Tommy had had throat cancer and when I first knew him, spoke with the aid of a vibrating tube that he held against his throat to translate the sound from the vocal tubes. Later he learned to talk by swallowing air and expelling it over the cords as he “spoke”. Tommy was a favorite of all the Panamanian operators and he would often go drinking with them. His “outings” on the day before his annual vacation were famous and usually resulted in a car crash! His brother, nicknamed “Atahualpa” because he had a very Indian face, was a supervisor who came later to Balboa transferred from another Latin American office. Unlike Tommy, he was a very serious person.
Jake Brewer was another ex-pat with a large family. Charlie McConney was a Canadian who boasted that he had a second profession he had learned, upholstering. He said if he was ever laid off he could go anywhere and get a position. I hope he had luck because in 1964 all the ex-pats were fired. At one time he insisted I sell my car, a Pontiac, to him. He went on and on saying he had one like it and he wanted another for his wife. I finally agreed. Unfortunately about three weeks later the engine seized up and he was not happy! Geoff Phoenix was another old-timer. Nice fellow who kept to himself and was thin as a rake! He always wore a white collarless vest. Amongst the Panamanians was Negro Franco who remains a friend to this day. He invited me to my first home cooked meal in Panama. One day at work Negro said "I hear you give blood at Gorgas Hospital. I have a family member being operated and she needs blood. Would you be willing to give?" I said I would and after our shift we headed to Santo Thomas hospital in Panama City. First of all they "typed" me and were very excited about my blood type. They set me up and then removed a liter of blood! A liter is over 2 pints and this left me dizzy and unable to get off the bed for about 30 minutes. I never gave blood again after that! Anyway, at least I got a home cooked meal out of it at Negro's house! His elder brother (Joaquin) was the Minister of the Interior and another brother (Teodoro “Fulo” Franco” ) studied at Cambridge and went on to become Ambassador to the UK. Sadly, he passed away in 2010. His sister married the Minister of Finance. Today Negro owns an insurance agency and underwriters school in the City and remains, as he always was, a very nice fellow.
Tito Tapia, always with a fresh white shirt and tie. Tito, an ex-officer in the Panamanian Military later left to supervise the Military’s interests in the Casino business in the City. There was Urrutia, another Panamanian Operator and Jacques Epailly, a French Ex-Pat. Tony Martino, whose parents owned an Italian restaurant and who often went hunting with me. Memo Fong another Chinese-Panamanian who later joined me at Western Union International’s joint venture with Communicaciones S.A. in 1970. In the late '60's Miriam de la Lastra and Gladys Kaufmann (Gladys later married Memo Fong) were front office girls who dealt with the general public and Mrs. Lee who worked in the Managers office. Roberto Pulgar was a middle aged Panamanian operator. Ernesto Chang who was the money-lender ($10 loaned Monday, $11 paid back following Monday). Von Chong was another operator.
There were of course, others. However these were minor characters with the exception of one, Tito Lee. Tito was a Chinese Panamanian a front office clerk who was somewhat effeminate. Great manners and a friendly but reserved person. When Declan O’Sullivan became Manager, Tito applied for a few days off to go to Colombia. Because we had a lot of work at that time and were short handed, the request was refused. Tito went anyway and when he returned, was fired for his offense. Unfortunately Tito was very highly strung and swallowed rat poison and died. The newspapers had a field day saying it was all Declan’s fault but in truth it wasn’t. Tito put everyone under pressure working to cover his absence and that’s what he was fired for. What he did afterwards was his decision, not O’Sullivan’s. Rat poison, what a horrible way to take one’s life.
Jake Brewer and Mike Merry 1961. Standing in the AAC&R parking lot between the office and the generator room. Behind them can be seen Jimmy Huddleston's (operator) Hillman Minx car.
Top - Memo Fong
Bottom - Operating Room Balboa
Malcolm Wollaston and Dennis Sheehy
Maurice Hale, Mike Merry and Jacques Epailly in Balboa
Mike Merry - Balboa - 1959
The messenger staff were pretty good people. About five of them. There were Berry and Edwards who had been at the office for years. They knew all the tricks. Then there was six foot six Critchlow who when he sat on his motor cycle had his knees up round his ears. Cunningham, commonly called "Raaaasss" referring to his rather large backside and Lewis, the best educated of all of them.
"Chuck" Berry, Winston Edwards. (Messengers) AAC&R Balboa 1960
BILL BEATTY AND THE NIGHT DUTY
Bill Beatty, an ex-marine and old time operator worked the night shift permanently. I often worked that shift with him as he liked me and let me sleep most of the time. We would clear up all the evening traffic and then Bill would call Critchlow over (if Critchlow was the night messenger) “Ok Critchlow” Bill would say. Now. Go down to the commissary and get ne a six pack of beer and a ham sandwich. Is that clear?” Critchlow would reply “Sure thing Mr. Beatty. Be back in fifteen minutes”. Critchlow would leave. He would return an hour later (probably having been home to see his family in the city) and present himself to Bill. “Here you are Mr. Beatty. One hamburger and s small ice tea”. At that, Bill would turn blue and have a fit. When he could finally speak he would curse Critchlow until he was lost for words. It never failed. Critchlow NEVER once would get Bill’s order right. Poor Bill! He didn't have a car but he knew most of the police in Balboa and would often get a ride home from the Knights of Columbus club (there were no bars in the Canal Zone, only clubs like the KC, Elks etc). I often worked the 10p/7a duty with Bill. We got on well together. Bill and I would come in about 955p and relieve the late operators. The Supervisor would leave and Bill and I would clean up the remaining tape to be sent. The messenger would sweep up and then Bill would send him for beer and something to eat. Once we were clear Bill would tell me to get my head down. There was very little to do after 11pm. The Red and Blue main line circuits from Lima to New York were "tripped" in Balboa and in Salinas in Ecuador so that all through traffic went straight up the line and did not have to be handled by local operators. Any local traffic would enter with an ABABABA trip and go out at the end with a ten dot .......... trip to restore the through circuit. The Hawk and Hare Central American circuits were closed down and peace reigned. (I should say peace "usually" reigned because one night the Salinas operators, Wollaston and co. put the trip in, so they thought, and went off to a dance in Ancon at the oilfields close to Salinas. Something happened, the trip failed and everything stopped in Salinas for about six hours and slip ran all over the place. Out of the windows, through air vents etc. and some was eaten by a goat under the office. There was hell to pay the next day!) I would get three operating room chairs that had wheels on them, fill a manila food bag with paper tape to make a pillow. Then I would stretch out along the three chairs and fall asleep. If all went well, as it mostly did, then I could usually sleep from about midnight to five in the morning when Bill would wake me up so we could get ready for the morning rush which started about six o'clock when the trips were removed. By the time the morning shift came in at seven we were ready to leave. Bill would go up to his room to sleep and I would see what I could do that day having already had a good rest. There was always something to do especially when the schools were on vacation. I would drive down to the Club House and meet Charlie Chase and we would go out somewhere in the Zone to see something.
THE OFFICE AND THE BACHELOR QUARTERS
The office was located on Gavilan Road. Gavilan was about half a mile from the 4th of July (Ave. de los Martires) which was the "border" between the Zone and the Republic. It was to the right exiting Gavilan. If one turned left (Balboa Road) exiting Gavilan there was the impressive Scottish rite temple, a Masonic meeting place. Balboa itself was about three quarters of a mile down Balboa road. Apart from the office, the remainder of the structures in the area were houses that sheltered Canal Zone families. The office grounds housed a large storage shed where old messages were kept along with boxes of tape and rolls of paper (along with snakes, possums and other assorted wild life). Behind this was a seldom-used tennis court. There was a huge mango tree between the shed and the tennis court which housed several iguanas. There was a building that housed the generator and other technical equipment to the right of the office and parking between that and the office itself. There were three doors, at front and back and on the side of the generator building. Windows were all screened against insects. The building was solidly built of concrete with a tiled roof. The office had two floors. Downstairs were the operations, technician and administration offices and upstairs the bachelor quarters. The furniture in the bachelor quarters was new. In each room there was a bed, a desk and upright chair, a chest of drawers and a lounge chair and a small bedside table. Anything else you wanted you purchased yourself. We all purchased fans after a few months saving up and this made things more bearable. When we arrived there were no fans or air conditioning and the rooms were very hot. There was a communal bathroom and a water cooler stood at the top of the stairs. There was a sitting room with a refrigerator. In the sitting room was a telephone and a TV as well as a fridge (in which anything stored would be swiftly expropriated). A few couches and chairs and finally a ping pong table that never had paddles, balls or a net on it. The TV set received the Armed Forces channel. TV from Panama did not exist until 1961 so that there were few choices of programming.
We would collect huge Praying Mantis insects and long worms and leave them in an envelope in the mail rack for Malcolm Wollaston. When he opened one of these a loud scream was guaranteed! In the office on the operations floor staff stood around collecting the paper tape spitting out from the North American (Red and Blue circuits), Central and South American circuits (Hawk and Owl as they were named). the messages (on tape) were pasted to free end sticking out of the buckets of tape destined for the appropriate destination. It might be traffic from New York sto Guatemala or traffic from Costa Rica to Peru. The correct way to gum tape so that it ran continuously through the transmitter was to hold the right forefinger over the end of the tape to be pasted on to the tail of the tape in the main bucket. Quickly scrape it lightly over a gum-holder placed strategically near every circuit. Line up the perforations, the new addition to the existing waiting tape and press firmly and that was that. Or was it? One had to be very careful that another operator, in a playful mood, would not quickly push down on your finger as it passed over the gum pot, resulting in a very messy hand.
Living above the office was convenient in one way but a nuisance in another as everyone in the office could see when you came or went. The bathroom was at the head of the stairs and anyone looking up could see you entering or leaving the washrooms. Ida Omphroy presided over the Bachelor Quarters. Ida was an elderly Jamaican lady who made the beds and cleaned up. She also did your washing for $10 a month. One day I left my wallet in a shirt pocket which she took home to wash. We drove to Rio Abajo where she lived and we finally found her house and a neighbor told us where she put the washing to dry. We eventually found a field strewn with drying clothes and I found my shirt (and the wallet) lying in the field to dry!
A good thing to remember was to lock the door of your room in the bachelor quarters. Failure to do so could result in an adjustment of furniture or in extreme cases. Having all furniture dismantled and locked in the room closet leaving an empty space. There was no air conditioning in the quarters at that time. This did not come until the end of 1962 and beginning 1963. For me that was too late as in February '63 I got married and moved to an apartment in Panama. In the communal wash room it was not unusual to be having a nice hot shower and receive a bucket of ice cold water over the top of the cubicle. There was always plenty of hot water and Ida Omphroy, the caretaker, kept it fairly clean.
Mike Merry - AAC&R Bachelor Quarters 1961
In my 4 years in the bachelor quarters I recall only one party being held there. That was a bachelor party for Scott Francis that we organized. Scott was a New Zealand journalist who was marrying Miriam de la Lastra, an AAC&R counter clerk. We had a fine time and the picture of Ted Bass and Denis Sheehy on page 1 was taken there. The truth was that the bachelors were not "close" friends. We all had our own ways of amusing ourselves and some were on duty while others were free. We would sometimes meet for a drink but not much more than that. We all had different interests and just did not mix together that much. The Bachelor quarters were clean. Not much else could be said for them though.
Rod Davies and Phil Neame (Payne and Wardlaw shipping agents) . AAC&R Bachelor quarters 1961
Top: Scott Francis, Mike Merry, Chuck Berry - Bachelor Party All America Cables Bachelor quarters 1961
Bottom ; Pocho Samudio
Top: Hayward, Francis, Merry, Davies, Neame - AAC&R bachelor Quarters 1962
Bottom: Hayward, Merry Davies
Merry, Hayward, Davies at Scott Francis' bachelor party 1961
Maurice Hale in the AAC&R bachelor quarters Balboa. One of the few pictures showing view towards Gavilan Road windows.
Mike Merry in Bachelor Quarters 1962
OUR CONTEMPORARIES - THE SHIPPING AGENTS IN BALBOA AND CRISTOBAL
On occasions, usually late evenings, we would go up to the other Pacific side Club House at Diablo Heights which was open 24 hours to get a bite to eat. We would perhaps meet one or the other of the shipping agents, Rod Davies, a South African, Robin Lynch, an Englishman and Ian Evans, from tasmania (deceased in Panama 2012) or any one of the others, all ex-pats. Most of the agents lived in the YMCA at that time. The Y was down Balboa Road before the Police Station about half a mile from the Clubhouse. The rooms were very small but the agents were paid about $100 more a month than us. Rod had a huge pink Oldsmobile. The agents worked shifts as we did but their job was going out to meet the transiting ships and take care of all of their paperwork and requirements. This was a dangerous job as we were to find out a few years later when Don Gunn, a co-worker of Rod Davies, fell while leaving a ship and was drowned. The agents were best known for their parties which were usually held at the Penthouse Bachelor Quarters of the Grace Brothers building in Cristobal. These really were a big event and were paid for by the agents themselves. There was usually a crowd of a hundred invitees at the events and they lasted until 2 or 3 in the morning.
Later, after I married, a group of us would go up to Ocean Blue cottages in Gorgona for a weekend. We would barbeque and play water polo in the pool and perhaps cribbage. Other times we would go out on Gatun Lake water skiing. Soccer matches were organized by the shipping agents, Cristobal vs. Balboa and also against visiting Royal Navy ships. These would all finish up with a party. At one time I lived with my in-laws at a huge house at 605 Via Espana. The front lawn was so big was once played soccer against a Navy ship on it!
Every month or so my wife and I would drive over to Colon/Cristobal and visit Ian Evans, a Tasmanian who was an independent marine surveyor, and his wife Alicia. Would talk and have dinner and drive back. In Panama I would meet up with John Akers, the Manager of Payne and Wardlaw for drinks after work as he lived close to us. I still see John today when I go back but Ian passed away early in 2012.
TOP: John Mcarra (Agent) at Ocean Blue in Gorgona
BOTTOM: Doug Westgate, Chris Morice, Don Gunn, Dieter Heinichen (Agents)at Ocean Blue in Gorgona
Pat Johnson (Agent)at Ocean Blue Cottages in Gorgona
Agents at Ocean Blue Cottages in Gorgona
John Hayward, Don Gunn, Robin Lynch at ocean Blue Cottages Gorgona
Glasscock, Gunn with Jan Hayward in background at Mike Merry's engagement party 1962
Peter Snell (Agent)
Don Gunn Soccer Cup 1970 - BALBOA VS CRISTOBAL. Top - (L to R) Mike Merry and Joe Josephs (pulling Cup) L to R. Negro Franco, Bernard Merry, Abdiel Teran, Fulo Franco (with beard, facing away)
Bottom (L to R) 1968 Ocean Blue Cottages Gorgona. Don Gunn (Shortly before his untimely death), Robin Lynch, John Hayward, Mike Merry.
John Akers (Payne and Wardlaw) - Frank Rudolph (Payne and Wardlaw)
Mike Merry, Alicia Evans, Mariela Merry, Ian Ivans (Independent Surveyor)
GOING HOME FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER THREE YEARS
I went home in August 1962 to the UK. I got engaged on July 14th and a month later, off I went. I changed aircraft in New York and will always remember grabbing a bite to eat in the terminal and finding I had $9.00 from my $600.00 (three months) vacation pay remaining. I had purchased an engagement ring before leaving Panama. I recall drinking a Rheingold beer and eating a hamburger. That left me tapped out. I was there from about 10am until the flight left and 9pm and was thoroughly bored. My parents picked me up at Heathrow early the next morning and we went home in my father’s Ford Anglia. We dropped Maurice Hale and his huge suitcase off on the way. The UK was so different to what I was used to in Panama. The people I used to know seemed to have changed. I contacted them and was told to meet them the coming Friday. Their big event was Friday evenings when they got together and found a pub and played darts. They talked about soccer and the latest films and local events of which I was ignorant. I was completely unaware of most of their subjects of conversation. I found the close friendships that I had made in Panama were not at all like the loose associations in the UK. I must admit, I tired of the company pretty quickly. Not their fault really but mine. I had left and found another life and couldn't expect them to change. In Panama relationships were much more personal and you got to know a lot more about people. After two excursions with these old acquaintances I gave up! They were probably just as tired of hearing my stores which must have sounded very far-fetched to them. So there it was. In Panama I knew a few people far more intimately than anyone I had met in England. I knew what that had done in their earlier years, all about their parents, where they had been and whom were their friends. I learned of their triumphs and failures and of their hopes for the future. Alas, in England that information was not shared and so I found things a little strange. I moved on without regrets. Today I wish I could see those people again perhaps to explain. Unfortunately things don't work that way and despite efforts, I have never found any of them. If by chance, any of them do read these pages I would very much like to hear from them.
My father "suggested" I get a job as I had no money and three months of vacation so I went to the Ilford Labor Exchange. The next day I started at Harrison Gibson department store in Ilford High Road as a porter. HandG was famous for its "Room at the Top" nightclub in those days. I carried the smaller carpets for the customers and helped peel back carpets from piles when clients wanted to look at them. This is one of the most boring and heavy-duty tasks known to man! Then I carried the carpets down to their cars or to the bus stop. I usually dressed quite well and one day, while waiting by the elevator with a customer and carrying a small carpet under my arm, the General Manager came up and offered to carry the carpet. I thanked him and we all went down in the elevator. He accompanied me to the front door of the store and I thanked him and handed the carpet to the customer who thanked me and strolled off. The General Manager looked at me and asked who I was. I told him I was the Porter from the carpet department. He didn't think it was funny! However, I didn't care about the job so I did more or less what I felt like, taking naps and long breaks etc. One day I was recruited to drive a furniture van to the house of Marion Ryan, (the singer) on the other side of London to deliver a carpet. I had no UK license and of course, no Heavy Goods credentials. Needless to say, on the way out of the garage, I managed to hit a wall. No Problem, they gave me a smaller van to drive! No one ever said much because it was very difficult to get staff and they didn't want to lose me. I saw various cases of villainy while at the store. People had scams whereby they would rip of the company for anything they could possibly steal. I served my two and a half months and then one Tuesday morning I took my suitcase and thankfully got a lift from my dad to the station and was off to Latin America again. I sat on the train taking me from Chadwell Heath to Liverpool Street and looked at my fellow travelers. I smiled inwardly. How many of them were on their way to Heathrow to catch a flight to the other side of the world? I was 22 years old and had my life in front of me to do what I liked with. I was very happy! I boarded an Al Italia flight at Heathrow and got rather tipsy on Chianti as there were only about 30 passengers on the New York leg of the trip. I found myself looking forward to getting back to Panama. I had been so anxious to get home three months before but now I was returning and glad of it.
Harrison Gibson store Ilford High Street 1962
1963 Ford Anglia similar to my father's
PLAYING CRICKET IN PANAMA
We played cricket with a team cobbled together by the British Ambassador, Sir Edgar Vaughn.*
- (George Edgar Vaughan was educated at Cheltenham Grammar School and then at Jesus College, Oxford, where he obtained first-class degrees in Modern History (1928) and in PPE (1929). He was a Laming Travelling Fellow of The Queen's College, Oxford from 1929 to 1931. He joined Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service in 1930, serving as Vice-Consul in Hamburg, La Paz, Barcelona and Buenos Aires. After posting in Monrovia (as Chargé d'affaires), Seattle, Washington, Lourenço Marques and Amsterdam (as Consul-General in each), he returned to Buenos Aires as Minister and Consul-General in 1956, before being appointed Ambassador to Panama in 1960.)
We played in the Paraiso League where not all the players were versed in what we called "British Sportsmanship". Giles Bullard* the first secretary of the Embassy (and later Sir Giles Bullard) was constantly amazed at some of the questionable stunts that opposing teams pulled. "My goodness" he would say in his Oxford accent. "That really wasn't fair!". I ordered cricket boots from the UK and one night left them on my balcony in Panama City. Next day they had gone. I spent some time looking for someone walking round in a pair of white boots with spikes in the soles! Never did find anyone! We found the opposing teams took their cricket very seriously and would use every rule in the book, plus some that were not listed, to advance their cause, sporting or not!
- (In August 1983 Bullard was named as High Commissioner to the West Indies, based in Bridgetown, Barbados. Only two months after his arrival came the American invasion of Grenada, to topple a left-wing regime and a suspected pro-Cuban plot. This armed intervention in a Commonwealth country was greeted in London with official outrage, but Bullard, who knew the strong feelings about the Grenada regime in other West Indian countries, advised co-operation with the Americans, or at any rate doing nothing to hamper them. The fact that his advice was ignored was something he never referred to, though he was sorely tempted to do so in the face of American criticism.)
TOP: Front Row l to r. British Ambassador Sir Edgar Vaughn, Peter Snell (slightly to rear John Hayward, Mike Merry, Giles (later Sir Giles) Bullard, 1st Secretary British Embassy, Eusibio Morales (Businessman- slightly to rear) Gabriel Hernandez (Businessman).
BOTTOM: Mike Arnold (Shell), Sir Edgar Vaughn, Scott Francis, John Hayward (with Peter Snell behind him) Giles Bullard.
I had met my wife in 1962 and were engaged in July of that year. I then took my first vacation and returned in November after three months. We were married at the El Carmen Church in Panama in March 1963. We had our reception at the famous Tivoli Hotel in the Canal Zone. Dr. Arnulfo Arias, the three times President was a guest of honor. Rob Davies was my best man and many of the Cable Office employees and the shipping agents, along with the Bullard's from the embassy, attended. We found a small apartment in El Cangrejo next door to Scott Francis, the Panama American reporter and his wife Miriam who worked at All America Cables in Balboa. It was a nice area and quite inexpensive. In the empty lot besides the building there were rats to be seen running around. We would sit on the balcony and shoot them with Scott's air rifle. The slugs would render them unconscious but they would wake up after a few minutes and resume running around. There was always something to do. Parties and dinners and then in '64, the first child.
Top: Meeting the wife for the first time in Penonome 1961
Bottom : Engagement party with in-laws 1962
Mike and Mariela Merry - February 14 1963 - In background, wearing sunglasses, President Arnulfo Arias Madrid.
Top Picture - Denis Sheehy (in background) Unknown Girl, Peter Stevens, Mike Merry, Mariela Merry - At Negro Franco's (AAC&R) Wedding reception.
Bottom Picture - John Hayward, Mariela Merry 1962
Top Picture : Mike Merry, Mariela Merry - Panama 1962
Bottom Picture - Jan Hayward, John Hayward - Panama Picture -
Jan Hayward and Miriam de la Lastra (Counter Clerk AAC&R) - Taken at engagement party 1962
Jan and Johnny Hayward - Engagement Party 1962
Scott Francis wedding
Back Row: Mike and Mariela Merry - Peter Stevens (with face partially hidden by Chinese girl) then, further along Miriam and Scott Francis and Dindo Franco. At end of line Gladys Kaufman who later married Memo Fong.
Front Row: John Hayward, Tito Tapia, Negro Franco, Rod Davies, Malcolm Wollaston, Dennis Sheehy.
John and Jan Hayward, Mike and Mariela Merry, Scott and Miriam Francis
The El Carmen Church in Panama where we were married. Panama Hilton Hotel on right.
The Tivoli Hotel - Where our wedding reception was held - Balboa Canal Zone
Mike Merry 1964 (At the house at 865 Via Espana)
GETTING AHEAD AT AAC&R AND THE MOVE TO ITT
I owe Declan O'Sullivan thanks for encouraging me to take classes to get ahead. In those days the only way to advance was by taking technical courses. Having no technical ability whatsoever, I explained this to Declan. He told me to look for sales courses and this I did. I took a basic course and a few months after I passed it, in 1964, I was given the opportunity to move to ITT Standard Electric in Panama City as Assistant Manager. Obviously the ITT management planned this in advance. Not two weeks after I made the move, all of the ex-pat's in Balboa were let go and were given the opportunity to leave Panama and return to Canada or stay there, moving from Cable Heights to the City. Most left.
Before this however we had the riots of January 1964. Although the Panama flag flew alongside the US flag at Shaler triangle in the Zone Panamanians wanted sovereignty. Students marched to the Balboa High School to raise their flag there. During the confrontation the flag was torn and for a week riots raged along the 4th of July avenue, the border. There were two dozen deaths and a lot of bad feeling. Some years later, in 1977 the Treaty was signed and flags flew everywhere side by side leading up to the 1999 hand-over of the Canal and all facilities.
Moving into Panama City to Standard Electric was a huge opportunity for me. We lived in a small apartment in El Cangrejo and I started to travel in Central America. At the ITT Headquarters Building on Balboa Avenue in Panama City, I worked alongside a group including Jim O'Brian, the Latin American Personnel Manager, Frank Simpson the Sales Manager and Archie Norval the Marketing (and later, Cristobal) Manager. We had a regular Wednesday evening poker game for a year or so and a permanent lunch date each Friday. Being ten years younger than these worthies it was a great chance for me to learn. I had seen them in the past from a distance but they were so far up the ladder that even sightings were few and infrequent. Now I was working in the same set of offices as them and was welcomed into their tight group on an equal level. Although they were still far above my lowly station, they treated me as a fellow toiler at ITT and made me privy to their conversations and inside discussions. This was heady territory for me indeed! I felt that at last I was going somewhere.
Concerning Archie Norval who later was appointed the All America Cables Manager in Cristobal. Archie lived over the Police Station with his wife and daughter and one fourth of July I went over to the annual Strangers Club dinner held in Colon where all the local businessmen got together once a year. My wife was about to deliver our second child but it was delayed so I made the trip. As we finished very late I stayed at Archie's place. Around 4 in the morning he woke me to say there was a telephone call. It was my father in law to tell me I had a son! I was rather light headed and stood there staring at the phone when he hung up. Then Archie said "Mike, perhaps you could put some clothes on before my family comes out". I had been standing there buck naked! We got dressed and proceeded to the Cristobal Yacht club where there was a crowd of people who had been at the dinner and who, being bachelors, had not gone home. We celebrated the birth and eventually I started back home around 8am. To get to Colon/Cristobal we would either drive or take the train. The Panama Railroad had been built by Americans starting in 1850, with appalling loss of life, so that it is said, of course with exaggeration, that every sleeper laid represented the death of a man. It was an interesting ride from Ancon Station to Cristobal as the railroad did not follow the highway so one got to see many strange and novel sights. There were lakes and rivers, hills and abandoned towns along the way and it took about 90 minutes to complete the journey.
We moved into a top floor apartment on "F" street in El Cangrejo. Then Chris Morice moved in on the ground floor. Some weekends I would play golf or go fishing on Amador causeway with Chris (who married my ex-secretary, Michelle from ITT.) Chris is mentioned again later in this missive.
At ITT Standard Electric I worked for Larry Basso. (Mr. Basso as he liked to be called) Larry was a glad-hander and his big customer was Cia. Panamena de Fuerza y Luz. The Panamanian Power and Light Company, a Boise Cascade corporation that purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside plant equipment yearly. We would warehouse and sell ladders, gloves, helmets, small cables, electric switches and finally large multi-pair underground cable for them. Larry was in charge of Central America which meant Costa Rica and Nicaragua and we had small outlets in both countries. Larry would visit Costa Rica for a couple of days and wine and dine a few clients the. Costa Rica was supposed to be the great place to visit in those days with wonderful restaurants and excellent hotels. I was sent to Nicaragua, a sort of second class destination where Larry didn't want to dirty his hands. Besides it meant speaking Spanish and although he could make his way around, dealing with a General in a foreign language was not his cup of tea! I was sent to deal with the military-run communications operation there and its boss General Arturo Medal. Nicaragua was not a popular place but I found it absolutely fascinating. General Medal would make occasional visits to Panama and I would take care of him there. He came to buy equipment for his new house he was building and would stay at the Officer Bachelor Quarters on Albrook Air Force Base. He would spend a fortune in the PX's and have everything sent back to Managua on a Nicaraguan Air Force aircraft. In the evenings I would take him to dinner after spending hours arranging elaborate meals to be served to him. In Managua I called on All America Cables and met the Arteagas’s a well known Cable Company family who had family members as manager of the office for years. We went for drinks and watched the customers come into the bar and hang up their guns on a rack! We ate at Los Ranchos, a small open air restaurant serving great steaks. The family still owns it today and has branches in Miami. I went to Masaya and purchased the hand sewn Guayabera shirts and the colorful leather shoes for my children. Anastasia Somoza was the Dictator at the time and there were always a few political disturbances there. One day as I was resting at the Hotel National, an opposition newspaper editor took refuge in the lobby. Soon after, a light armored car fired two shells at the hotel which penetrated the wooden walls and went out of the other side to explode in the hills! The hotel lobby had several huge parrots in cages and their squawks were very loud. You could sit there and drink beer and be served the dried plantain (banana) strips as a snack. These chips were so hard they would have doubled as shovels if needed! I went to a reception at Somoza’s ranch outside of Managua one day. We communications people met at the hotel and were taken in a large bus escorted by two armored cars and two truckloads of troops to this beautiful location where we were given a large barbeque and met Somoza himself. In 1971 Howard Hughes moved to the Hotel Intercontinental and ITT was contracted to install a direct telephone line to Hughes headquarters in the US. I met Somoza and his wife there again at that time. In 1972 came the earthquake and I returned to Managua for a few days with the 20-30 Club to assist with the rescue missions. Nicaragua before the earthquake was fun but afterwards it was tragic. I eventually returned there in 2001 and could not recognize it at all.
Top Left: M J Merry, Miles Storms, Howard someone or the other, Unknown, Bert Zavaleta (Later President ITT) Unknown and finally Declan O'Sullivan bottom right.
Managua Nicaragua 1965 - Grand Hotel
Managua after the earthquake in 1972
Downtown Managua Nicaragua 2010
Downtown San Jose Costa Rica 2010
City of San Jose from across airport 1967
Mike Merry, Johnny Hayward, Don Gunn - Gatun Lake 1967
Family visit to Panama 1969
Chris Morice and wife, Mike Merry and wife 1970
Group Picture Panama 1972
Left to right: Uknown girl, Doug Westgate (Grace Line) John Hayward, Mike Merry, Mariela Merry, Don Gunn (Payne and Wardlaw) Jan Hayward, Tita Heinechen, Dita Heinechen (Sea Land)
Group at El Panama Hotel - Uly de St Germain, Nelda (wife), Rod Davies, Mariela Merry, Mike Merry, Lee Phillips.
Article from Canal Zone "Spillway" magazine about Mary Norval, Archie Norval's wife
The AAC&R Office in Cristobal Canal Zone (Archie Norval - Manager)
GETTING TO KNOW THE PRESIDENT
By 1964 only John Hayward and I of the old London ex-pats remained in Panama. John was working for the ITT Long Lines Group and I became Assistant Manager of ITT Standard Electric in Panama. I think John left in 1968/9. He moved to Canada and worked for a bank until retirement. My father in law was a politician and the General Secretary of the Panamanista Party headed by Dr. Arnulfo Arias. He and my father-in-law worked closely and we would get to see him whenever they met at his farm in Boquete. In 1969 I was released from ITT due to some political embarrassment suffered by General McNitt, the group President. As Chief of Staff my father-in-law had me invite McNitt to the Presidential Inauguration and he attended. Unfortunately, 11 days later, the President was overthrown. I drove the getaway car with the President and a couple of Ministers plus a batch of weapons through the blockade put up by the National Guard and over to the Canal Zone and safety. Then I drove the weapons back again to distribute. Myself and all the family moved the next day over to the Canal Zone. I came back after a couple of days but McNitt was not happy and so I was asked to leave ITT. My in-laws were exiled for the next ten years. During this time they lived in Miami in Florida and we would often visit them for a week or so and get to see Dr. Arias. After 10 years they were allowed back and the huge crowds that greeted them at the airport had never been seen before or since.
Top: Michael and James Merry with Mireya Moscoso wife of President Arias (and future President herself)
Bottom: Michael, President Arias, James and Hildebrando Nicosia my father in law
Top: Playing with President Arias’ dog in Boquete 1968
Bottom: In Laws house in El Valle
Top: Mike and Mariela Merry - Presidential Inauguration 1968
A NEW JOB AND CHALLENGE
Back in Panama in 1969 I had a week off and then went to work as General Manager for COMSA/WUI (Communications S.A./Western Union International in the City. This was a new company formed by a joint venture between Communicaciones S.A., who owned a mircrowave network in Panama and Western Union International out of New York. We built the company into a large, profitable operation and then sold it to the Panama Government in 1975. I was full of energy in those days and I recall I weighed 149 lbs. at the time. Building a company from scratch was a challenge. I hired Negro Franco my old friend from AAC&R as Sales Manager and we started work. We seem to have done almost everything right though and after a few years it started to grow. In 1974 the Central American games were held in Panama and we were fortunate enough to have a friend that introduced us to the Mexican advance delegation when they visited. Arrangements were made for them to send all of their stories through us and we really cleaned up on the amount of news transmitted. We had a party every night for the press and in return they used our services. Suddenly we were making money.
During those days I had a driver. It was impossible to park in the City and when making calls, Archie (Clarence Archibald), officially classified as a messenger, would drop me off and pick me up. Archie was a character. He never seemed to sleep and would always be available day and night and on weekends for a couple of extra dollars. He would crew on the boat and help with the baiting of the lines. He would drive the car to the interior for weekend visits and handle many other tasks. One day he was delivering something for me to a friend’s apartment. He talked to the doorman and remarked what a great pair of shoes the fellow was wearing. The doorman was very pleased and was persuaded by Archie to lend them to him to go to a dance. Unfortunately he didn't return the shoes and that created a problem! Archie had about three birthdays a year. I would come home and my wife would say "Archie delivered the laundry you sent. He said it was his birthday today so I gave him $5 as he's always so willing". I hated to tell her he had spun me the same yarn about two weeks before!
My parents and my brother came for a visit in 1970. My brother returned six months later and worked until 1974 with a shipping agent in Balboa. Despite a very good offer to stay, he went back to UK in 1974 and joined the Fire Brigade. On another occasion, while I was on vacation in the UK, Malcolm Wollaston drove to Felixstowe to see me. I will always remember he had bottle green jeans and a green shirt. What a fashion statement!
When I took over COMSA/WUI the outgoing Manager, Percy Watson, who was from New Orleans, introduced me to Ulysses de St. Germain, an ex U.S. Marine officer who became the representative of the Port of New Orleans. We would often have lunch together. Uly was always asking me where I had travelled to and what I had seen. It later became known that his job was a cover for his work with a well known U.S. intelligence organization. We had no idea!
The COMSA/WUI Building on Via Espana Panama. That's Negro Franco's car parked there!
Mike Merry - Press Release
COMSA/WUI Staff 1972 (The famous Archie is front Left in uniform - Negro Franco (with glasses) on his left
Top: Party for Press at Central America games Panama 1974
Bottom: Another party for press - Mike Merry (smoking) and Negro Franco.
Dinner at the Waldorf with Brazilian Telecom
Front Left: M J Merry facing Ms. Romanelli (wife of WUI VP) Russ Romanelli (VP WUI) standing next to gentlemen with mustache in back.
Mike Merry with Scott Rum bold (Reuters at that time) and Peter Frost (Bank of London and Montreal)
With Ed Gallagher (President WUI) and Directors of WUI
WUI Executive Staff at Tocumen Airport Panama J Lasso, E. Gallagher, M Merry, R Romanelli. T Donleavy, C Lasso
Mike Merry with Uly de St. Germain 1972
Mike/Mariela Merry - San Gabriel house 1973
MEETING NEW FRIENDS
In 1970, through Negro Franco, I met Roberto Velasquez, a boyhood amigo of Negro. We became close friends. Roberto went on to become Mayor of Panama City, then Manager of the Colon Free Zone and finally Minister of Housing. How we met was quite a story. I was living in Altos de Golf a very nice area of the city and we had a New Year's party in 1969. Negro arrived with Roberto about 10pm and introduced us. "You have something wrong with your eyes" he said, looking closely at me. He was right; they had been bothering me for couple of days. "Wait here" he said, "I'll be right back". In thirty minutes he had returned with some special drops which he applied. He had left the party and returned to his surgery to pick them up and drive through the New Years Eve traffic back to my house. I was impressed and was sure that such a person would be a good friend. So it turned out to be! We still get together regularly today.
PICTURE 1. Negro Franco, Mike Merry, Roberto Velasquez, Bleixen Velasquez
PICTURE 2. Mike Merry, Roberto Valasquez and Jorge Obediente in Coronado.
PICTURE 3. Meeting of friends Henry Kochman, Negro Franco, Ernesto Cordovez
PICTURE 4. Roberto Vasasquez and Mike Merry in Gorgona
Mariela with Jose Luis Rodriguez "El Puma" (The Latin American singer) near Contadora
Talking with Roberto Diaz - 2nd in Command Panama's Defense Forces and Norieaga's deputy (But himself a decent fellow)
Bernard Merry, Rolando de Freitas (20-30 MEMBER), Mike Merry and Negro Franco - Panama 1971
Mike Merry at Branding in Santiago with the Martinelli's
Party at the Santa Rita House in Panama - Uly de St. Germain, Mike Merry, Charlie Chase, Ian Evans and Rudy Hansen
A group of us purchased two racehorses in 1973 and we had them trained and stabled at the Panama track. At first it was a novelty and everyone was very interested. Then, after a few months the monthly contributions dried up and three of us were left to take care of them. We raced them frequently and they did quite well, winning about $70K between them over an 18 month period. I would go out each morning about 530am to the track to see them and on weekends would take the kids with me. Saturday or Sunday, if they were running, the whole family would go and if we were lucky, visited the winners circle to collect a trophy. I had to do the accounts. Collecting the "appearance" money as well as winnings and pay the trainers and vets. Racehorses are very delicate animals. They need a lot of care. The vet's bill can be heavy! It was a lot of work. I finally sold them when we left Panama in 1975 and we split the money we made. Intermezzo was sent to Miami and was "claimed" in its first race for $25K, that's about $20K more than I sold it for!
Intermezzo 3 year Colt. Panama racetrack 1970
Mike Merry (holding horses head) Owner.
Mike Merry & Family after win by Titi Linda
Mike Merry after win by Intermezzo
We went fishing most weekends with Henry Kochman, a German ex-pat who had come to Panama before WWII. Henry was a Master mechanic and owned a superb 42ft. Chris-Craft. Roberto Velasquez, Negro Franco, Tonito Denis and Alberto Boyd, all 20-30 Club members, would come on these trips also. To keep busy 20-30 was a great club to belong to and every Wednesday evening we would assemble for a meeting at the Union Club and have a meeting to discuss the next charity project and then get down to domino's, poker, chess etc. There seemed to be an activity for every day of the week. Monday was the get-to-gather of the "ex-firemen". This was an old tradition started by some voluntary firefighters and carried on by a few 20-30 members. We would fry fish caught on the weekend and have a few drinks. Tuesday was a home day. Wednesday was 20-30. Thursday was a day we got together to discuss what to do on "Social" Friday. Friday was always a good night, meeting for Happy Hour at the Executive Hotel and then going to eat. Saturday was a home day (unless we had a two day charity event or invitation to an event in the Interior of the country) and Sunday was fishing. A very full week! An interesting trip was a transit fthrough the Panama Canal when Enrique Kochman's new boat arrived in Cristobal on the Atlantic side of the Canal (the old one sunk off Coronado). We went over and watched the boat delivered from the Maersk Line vessel carrying it. We boarded and slept fitfully ready for a 4am departure. Next morning after being measured, (we paid about $100.00 fees for the transit based on size) we took it through the Canal and across to Balboa. Very interesting trip. We went into the locks with larger vessels and were lifted with them. The turbulance was tremendous!. It took most of the day but eventually we arrived and docked at the Bbalboa Yacht Club. A couple of times a year, we took a week and sailed down to Pinas Bay, the famous resort on the Panama/Colombia border. Here the Humboldt Current comes close to the land and the drop-off from shallow water to depths of 600ft and more attracts a variety of game fish including Marlin, Sail, Amberjack and Dorado. One year we pulled in to Pinas (which was a strictly private club) and helped out the Manager (Garry Powers) by giving him all of our week's supplies. He had a party of guests due and the provisioning vessel had not arrived. He was very pleased with this and told us we could dock at Pinas any time without charge. Next morning the supplies arrived and we said goodbye and set off to fish the waters of the Perlas Islands. In the bay we were battered by a big storm and spent several hours bailing out the 42 foot Chris-Craft. Eventually things calmed down but our spare fuel, in rubberized deck containers, had leaked out and we had to carefully fumigate the entire boat. We heard later that two boats had been lost in the bad weather. About six months later in Panama City, myself and another person who was with us on the trip, went to the Hotel Executive for Happy Hour. As we crossed the foyer we came face to face with Garry Powers, the Pinas Bay Manager. His mouth dropped open as he stared at us. Then he finally spoke "I thought you guys were dead" he said. "We heard a 42 foot Chris-Craft went down with five people on board and I was sure it was you!" Needless to say we celebrated our re-birth with a few glasses that evening.
World capital for game fish Tropic Star Lodge - Pinas Bay Panama
Mike Merry 1968 - Fishing Pinas Bay Panama. Holding Kingfish (mackerel)
TOP: Trip to Pinas Bay - Mike Merry George Obediente, Alberto Boyd, Rolando de Freitas
BOTTOM: Mike Merry with Kingfish
TOP: Mike Merry
BOTTOM: Having dinner on "Dorado" at Pinas Bay
Mike Merry and Henry Kochman with a 30 lb. Dorado
Alberto Boyd and Tonito Denis Panama 1974
Mike Merry - Transitting Panama Canal on Enrique Kochmans boat "Dorado" 1974
Mike Merry with Dorado 1973
THE 20-30 CLUB AND CARNIVALS
During 1972/74 the 20/30 club was in charge of the Carnival celebrations. We ran everything. We started with the pre-carnival events, raising the carnival in different locations all over the city on different days and then, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we organized the parades. Lining up the floats and keeping the streets clear so they could pass through. Moving the parade along and not letting it get stuck anywhere. Distributing confetti and streamers and generally making sure everyone had a good time. We finished each night around 9pm and they attended the Carnival Dance until around 3am. We went home, slept until 8am and by 9am we were in the carnival offices ready to organize the next day. We put together the Carnivals for $100,000.00 and still had money over which was returned to the Club for works of charity. The Carnivals were the "glamour" events. Other weekends we would walk the city streets on a Sunday collecting tinned good for the poor and similar work. We would visit the boys club at Chorrera and many other things.
As an aside, the 20-30 Club thrives today with branches all over the world. There are about 10 in Panama. Each year in Panama City the club hosts a Telethon which collect’s several millions for charity. The club sponsors several hospitals, clinics children’s homes etc, throughout the Republic.
Inauguration Directors 20-30 Club 1972
Inaguration Directors 20-30 Club 2972
Mike Merry - Signing a contract for 20-30 Club 1972
Mike & Mariela Merry (Carnival at Hotel Panama produced by Club Activo 20-30 - 1973
BUYING A HOUSE AT THE BEACH IN CORONADO
Finally, in January 1975, we sold COMSA/WUI to the Panamanian Government. How this came about was interesting. I was on a trip to Taboga Island with the 20-30 Club. We were hosting the world-wide organization annual meeting. The club consisted of Doctors, Engineers, Bank Managers and Businessmen. We were joined during the festivities by General Omar Torrijos, the head of Government and two friends who were both ex members of the club. They flew in via helicopter along with a soldier who was about six foot six tall and carrier a sub machine gun and followed the General everywhere. I made a trip to the bathrooms and was joined by one of the Generals friends, an ex 20-30 member, who I knew quite well. As we stood at the urinal he turned and spoke to me. "Mike" he said, "The General is interested in buying your company for Panama. Can you let your boss know and we can set up some meetings". The meetings took place and the deal was made two months later. I was supposed to stay for a 12 month transition period but after a couple of months the Colonel in charge of Telecom called me to his office and said "Mike, I hear you go to the office every day" I answered him in the affirmative. "Well, look. All these guys were your employees and they were well trained. Just take it easy, come in one day a week. Go play golf or something and don't worry. If we need you we can find you pretty quickly". (Wasn't that the truth!)
In February 1975 I purchased a house in Coronado, about 48 miles from Panama City. It was a godsend. Built in a gated complex it had three bedrooms and three baths as well as a huge living dining room and a large terrace. There was a large communal pool, tennis courts and a private beach. Deserted during the week, Coronado only came alive from Friday through Sunday when the part time residents came from the City to relax. I played golf twice a day with the Club pro who had no one to play with Monday to Friday. We furnished the house (which we shared with my brother-in-law, the painter, Alberto Dutary* ) The house was filled with paintings and other works of art and looked more like a museum than a country retreat! We sat around and enjoyed great meals (Alberto was an excellent cook) and had Happy Hour every lunch time and again at 5pm before dinner. I played lots of golf and we went for long walks on the deserted black sand beach and around the area. There was one particular walk which took you down a half-mile long street, Calle Las Acasias, which was lined with the most brilliant scarlet-leaved trees. Coronado was so relaxing. Weekends friends would come from the city and we would buy seafood to cook and dine on. The private access to a black volcanic sand beach was great. In the mornings one could walk for miles and not see another soul. We would drive to El Valle, a small village about thirty miles up a winding road into the hills. There was a market there and we would purchase fresh vegetables and straw goods. The temperature was ten or fifteen degrees lower than at the beach and very healthy. On Sunday mornings one could drive in along the long access road and see the local Indians wobbling along on their bicycles, falling off and just laying where they fell to sleep off the previous evening's excesses. One thing I recall is the evenings at Coronado. It's about 50 miles from Panama and therefore there is no reflection of light after the sun goes down. One could lay in a hammock on the terrace and look up to see a hundred billion million stars sending their flashing messages across the galaxy and the meteors flying every few minutes. A sight to awe anyone! Ah, Coronado!
- 1998 Alberto Dutary O., Panama City painter and printmaker born on 03 July 1932. He studied at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Panama City (1950-1952) and at the Real Academia San Fernando (1953-1855) and the Escuela Nacional de Artes Gráficas in Madrid (1956-1958), where he held his first one-man show in 1957 before returning to Panama. Although he was always a figurative painter, in paintings such as Figures at Twilight (1960) and in his series of over 50 works, Saints, in the early 1960s (e.g. Mocking Saint, 1962), he combined the rich surface textures of Spanish informal abstraction with mysterious ghost figures expressing an Existentialist point of view. In spite of their apparent simplicity, such pictures as Objects for a Ceremony (1973) and the Consumer as Clay (1968) are full of symbolic and mythic associations as well as social criticism. In Dutary’s later works his iconography became less varied, with a preference for tall, ascetic women and female mannequins as virtually interchangeable figures. He also helped promote the arts in Panama as one of the founders in 1962 of the Instituto Panameño de Arte and through his teaching in schools and at the Universidad de Panamá where he established the Artes Plásticas course in the Facultad de Arquitectura. — Antonio Alvarado [19 Oct 1938~] and Haydeé Victoria Suescum [1961~] were among the students of Dutary.
DUTARY, Alberto. Portfolio of 10 Lithos for Jean Genet's "Journal of a Thief." Complete set of ten, all pencil signed and numbered 49 in an edition of 75. Alberto Dutary, Panamanian, 1932-1998. An edition of this portfolio is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum. From a Massapequa, NY collector. Dimensions: image
A view of Coronado where our duplex was located. You can see our place, front of tennis court second from end of line of duplexes.
Michael, Alberto (Pimpito) Dutary (my brother in law) and James relaxing inside
Top: The Duplex July 1975
Bottom: The black sand beach at Coronado (James and Michael standing by rocks)
The signing event as Comsa/WUI passed over to the Panamanian government. Front row: Merry, Tom Nealy (Treasurer WUI), Tom Greenish (VP WUI), Colonel Luis Segura (President INTEL) Back row (final three right) Mauad, Guanty, Kwai-Ben (all Intel officials).
MOVING TO PUERTO RICO
Then, in August of 1975, after sitting around doing nothing for six months, I was transferred by WUI to manage a Joint Venture with Cable and Wireless in Puerto Rico. It was a pity to leave Panama but it was a promotion and off we went. When I arrived there were 56 people on staff. Almost every job had its particular employee! All supplies were imported from the UK (paper, pencils, pens, ink, tape etc.) No wonder the company wasn't making any money. Within a year, despite protests from the Teamsters Union who represented the employees, we had reduced staff to 36. Kike Cuevas who was the Manager in Ponce came up to San Juan to work as Sales Manager and we made a good team. When we arrived we were supposed to move into company housing but the previous CandW manager "forgot" to advise the landlord that this would be the arrangement. We lived in two rooms of a hotel for almost three months and then moved into a new town house we purchased. We lived about 15 miles outside of the City and the gated community had a pool and tennis court. It was a good place to live and the boys had plenty of friends there. The office was in the Old City (Viejo San Juan) and faced the piers. All day and every day there would be cruise ships docking and crowds of people walking in and out. Old San Juan had some great restaurants and I think I tried every one of them during my stay there.
My fief was Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands which Kike Cuevas and myself visited monthly, taking the Grumman "Goose" seaplane over to St. Thomas and then a helicopter to St. Croix. In St. Croix I discovered the that the manager of the Bank of London and Montreal, Tony LeGrice, had been at school (Royal Liberty, Romford Essex) with me and this relationship lead to some great meals and interesting golf games. We were allowed to take back up to five bottles of spirits to Puerto Rico and after a year or so we had so many bottles of good liquor that we started to purchase the exotic brands such as watermelon and mango liquors, stuff we rarely, if ever, opened. The seaplane trip was always a thrill. The company, Antilles Airboats flew Grumman "Goose" and "Mallard" aircraft from WWII. They would waddle down the ramp to the water and when ready to take off the pilot would wind the wheels up into the fuselage. It always happened that a first time traveler would ask him what he was doing and the pilot would inevitably reply "winding up the elastic band motor" Antilles was owned by Chuck Blair the ex-commodore of Pan American Airlines and he was married to Maureen O'Hara of movie fame. She would often run the ticket office at one of the islands. Once, coming into St. Thomas we rounded the hill at the edge of the bay to make our approach. As we turned the corner one wing float hit the mast of a sailboat leaving the bay. There was a tremendous bang and we put down on the water immediately. No one was hurt but the damage was considerable. Later it was discovered that Antilles had been paying off the FAA inspector locally to certify the Grumman's which were not able to pass inspection. Sadly, Blair was killed on a test flight that occurred during an inspection in 1978. Life was slow in the islands and we made the most of our visits with great lunches and dinners. The "Top Hat" a Danish restaurant in St. Croix particularly comes to mind. There were exciting little alleyway with shops selling island themed items and bars every few steps. In the evening we would sit on the terrace of one of the many bars in St Thomas and look west. As the sun dropped below the horizon, one might catch a glimpse of the "emerald flash" in the seconds before the sun finally disappeared. I would watch and think to myself "Why am I so lucky?" And then I realized, you make your own luck!.
In Puerto Rico I met up again with Derry Kingsbury, who had been an engineer at AAC&R Balboa and who I had known there. He and his family became great friends during those years. They were the most considerate of people and a great deal of help to us. I started to play tennis again and Derry got me a membership in the Reserve Officers Club which had a beautiful old facility along the beach strip between Old San Juan and the Condado on prime land. There was a restaurant and bar and lots of beach chairs and umbrella's. I played every morning at 630am and would spend weekends with the family there. The facilities themselves were older but the location was on a private beach enclosed by a reef and was perfect for scuba diving. I would go on a Saturday or Sunday morning and the family would come late afternoon. After a day where one might play 7 or 8 sets, we would have a barbeque with friends. I became Tennis Secretary of the Club and it became my first stop most mornings at 630am where I would open the Club gates and meet someone to play with and then have a quick swim in the ocean before going to the office. I would visit customers around the island every two weeks and myself and Kike Cuevas, the Sales Manager would go from San Juan down to Ponce and then after spending the night, drive up to Mayaguez and then along through Arecibo back to San Juan. We would go for dinner in the evenings to the little coastal restaurants where the freshest fish was served. Sadly, in 1980, the area was blighted with ciguatera, mercury poisoning in the fish, and the restaurants closed rapidly. We had a neighbor who ate contaminated fish on the island of Vieques off the southern coast and she had to be evacuated by helicopter to San Juan. It took her about two years to get all of the poison out of her body.
Puerto Rico was a beautiful island but beneath that beauty was a huge drug problem and plenty of violent crime. Weekends the kids would play little league football at Ft. Buchanan and there were always parties after the games. A local radio station, WOSO asked me to do some news reading for them and I became the early morning (6am) show host. I would collect the latest stories off the wires and put them in some kind of order ready for the 6am broadcast. After the news there would be the "Question of the day" and I would ask a question and then answer the telephone as the replies came in. It was amazing some of the answers that came up! For instance there were 342 continents according to one fellow and another stated that Winston Churchill was a former King of England. The answers were always a surprise and the winner received a WOSO T shirt for his/her efforts. There were always interesting people visiting the station to be interviewed and the Programming Manager was a MENSA member and got me interested in that.
My parents came to visit and we took them around the island and over to St Thomas and to St. Croix which they enjoyed. The shopping in the islands was great. The main street in St. Thomas was store after store of jewelry, leather and clothing shops. The air conditioning blasted out of open doors and cooled the whole street! During those years we had many other visitors. The islands were a very popular place! During this time I continued to study when I had time, eventually getting my BSc. there. I was encouraged to do this due to the fact that my children were rapidly approaching college age and it would have been very embarrassing to have them beat me to the title. Malcolm Wollaston's boss visited Puerto Rico in 1977 and told me that Malcolm was the best #2 he had ever had and that unfortunately, being such a good second fiddle, his advancement with 3M would be limited. That was not to be. The boss left 3M and Malcolm became their Head of Telecom, travelling worldwide. When I met him at the Miami Airport one day he was carrying about three PC's and a large briefcase and said his actual luggage was being transferred to his flight home to UK!
We stayed in San Juan until 1982 when WUI was purchased first by Xerox and then by MCI. This of course called for a clean out and I was kicked out, along with the top 10 wage earners. I immediately had a lawyer prepare a case against them. They settled but after I left, then refused to pay the full amount to ship my furniture back to Panama and I was stuck with the bill and no resources.
Press release upon appointment to Puerto Rico post
Mike & Mariela Merry US Virgin Islands 1977
The Reserve Officers Beach Club Puerto Rico 1977 - Derry and Edme Kingsbury
Mike Merry - Puerto Rico 1977
Reserve Officers Club Puerto Rico
TOP : Mike Merry (in black)
BOTTOM: Richard Zack, Edme Kingsbury, Unknown , Mike Merry
Derry Kingsbury, Mike Merry, Richard Zack - reserve Office Club - San Juan Puerto Rico
Mike Merry and Kike Cuevas - San Juan 1977
Mike Merry at Puerto Rico office 1980
Top: Mike Merry and Peter Stevens - Puerto Rico 1976
Bottom: Mike Merry, Mariela Merry, Pete Stevens - Puerto Rico 1976
Mike Merry - Morning Show Host - WOSO Radio San Juan
Antilles Airboats Grumman "Goose" which we travelled in to St.Thomas
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