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Monday, December 6, 2021
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From the Publisher

A couple weeks ago in this column, I described my maternal uncle, Buck Belisle, as a “gambler and adventurer.” This was somewhat unfair, and I will explain why. The reason I described my uncle as a gambler and adventurer was because I was comparing him with his older brother.

But, my Uncle Buck was, for a number of years, the vice-principal of the very successful Belize Technical College, when the principal was Edward Percival “E. P.” Yorke, who wrote what many of us consider Belize’s most beautiful patriotic song, “Belize by the Sea.”

When I went to teach English at the Belize Technical College in September of 1968, the school, which was opened in 1952, to the best of my knowledge, had already produced in that brief sixteen years of existence, such technical luminaries as Kenrick Leslie, Dougie Fairweather, Henry Gordon, Gilbert Paul, Harold Williams, and many others with whom I am not acquainted. (The much respected Bert Tucker was also an early Technical graduate, but he was not, strictly speaking, technical.)

When I went to teach at Technical, I was the product of a liberal arts education at St. John’s College and Dartmouth College. I didn’t know how to do anything practical, so to speak. I didn’t know how to do anything with my hands. I knew a little science. Technical was all practical and all science. I was amazed at the practical and scientific brilliance of the Technical students.

Now, back to my uncle. My uncle was a teenaged messenger in the government service of British Honduras in 1941 when he rolled the dice and took the boat to Panama to work in the American Canal Zone. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, he came back home broke, and then managed to get a job at the Public Works Department compound, which was located between the old Belize City Hospital on Eve Street and Her Majesty’s Prison, the old prison compound now being the site of the Belize Central Bank.

Around 1954 or so, my uncle and Albert Hoare went to Puerto Rico to study under an American AID program. My uncle studied electrical science. I know that he was at Technical when Hurricane Hattie struck in 1961, but I know almost nothing about his years at the school. When I went to Technical in 1968, and I only spent one year there, my uncle was doing further studies somewhere in the United States.

I mean no disrespect to the late E. P. Yorke, but I think he was more a liberal arts man than a practical/scientific technocrat. So that, I have to believe that my uncle, as E. P.’s vice-principal, was responsible for much of the atmosphere, the “esprit de corps” of BTC.

Previous to the opening of Technical in 1952, all the high schools in British Honduras were run by religious denominations, and they were liberal arts in emphasis. My uncle told me that he had attended a high school called St. George’s College, which was later split into St. Michael’s College (Anglican) and Wesley College (Methodist). This would have been around 1940 or so.

Technical was so successful that Fr. Leo Weber, the famous guru of St. John’s College, decided in the early 1960s that he had to establish a practical/vocational wing at SJC. He did so establish.

To my mind, the two superstars on the teaching staff of Technical when I was there were the late Sydney Satchwell (mathematics) and Owen Morrison (biology). Sydney Satchwell died young, of a heart attack I believe, and I do not believe he was at Technical when the Heads of Agreement uproar began in March of 1981. Hindsight is 20/20, they say, but I really believe Satchwell would have been a calming influence on Technical when the Heads of Agreement controversy began.

I believe that the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) held a grievance against Technical because of the Technical students’ role in the Heads of Agreement demonstrations.

But, I also believe that the anti-PUP undercurrents at Technical which cost the school support from post-1981 PUP administrations, were of no benefit to the school when the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) came to power in December of 1984.

In 1992 or thereabouts, it so happened that my Uncle Buck’s eldest daughter, Georgia Belisle, a mathematician, was the vice-principal of Technical under the principalship of Owen Morrison. Georgia was slated to succeed Owen as principal, but the PUP pulled a stunt which boggles my mind to this day.

The late Cecil “Chubby” Reneau, a Technical graduate who was a woodworking expert trained to a high degree in the United States, was the principal at the Center for Employment Training (CET), which was a Technical prototype, so to speak.

At some very high level in the then ruling PUP, it was decided that a job had to be made available for one Carlos Perdomo, who had been known for his loyalty to the UDP and UDP Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel during the UDP’s 1984-1989 administration.

The PUP moved Chubby Reneau from CET so that he could take over Technical, in order to make the CET principalship available for Perdomo. Georgia Belisle was sidelined.

Now, I don’t know what sin Georgia committed in the eyes of the PUP, but I know for sure that Carlos, although his older brother, Santiago, had been a PUP Minister from 1961 to 1974, was a hardcore UDP when he was given the CET top spot.

When I went to the University College of Belize (UCB) as board chairman in late 1999, I discovered that the PUP Cabinet had created an amalgamation plan for five secondary and tertiary institutions which would establish the national University of Belize (UB) in August of 2000. Technical was one of the secondary institutions swallowed up in the UB amalgamation of 2000. Cabinet promised that a school of engineering would upgrade Technical within the UB context. Not so, beloved. Not so.

I wonder why the Technical College history is never discussed in Belize. I wonder why. How can you build a nation without people who work with their hands, and with their heads?

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