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Obituary for Barry Bowen, 64, Belize beverage baron

Belize has lost its beverage baron, inarguably one of the country’s most prosperous and visionary businessmen, who had over the past four decades built up a corporate goliath from the humble beginnings of a family-owned, beverage bottling business.
Business tycoon Sir Barry Bowen, KCMG, 64, died suddenly and tragically on Friday evening, February 26, at around 5:30, when his private commuter Cessna plane, which he was piloting, crashed on the island of Ambergris Caye (San Pedro). Bowen had been residing on the island since the 1970’s with his wife Lady Dixie Bowen.
Barry Bowen had led the Bowen & Bowen Company Limited into both growth and diversification since the 1960’s, expanding from producing bottled beverages, to a gamut of enterprises, namely shrimp farming, power generation, tourism hospitality services, auto sales, shipping, cattle husbandry, the production of jams, jellies and sauces, lumber milling, and to cap it off, nature conservancy.
Bowen was born on September 19, 1945, in Belize City, to Emily and Eric Bowen, both Belizean parents who previously lived in San Ignacio, Cayo.
His union with Lady Dixie made him father to six children, sons: Kevin, Michael, Alexander, and Dustin of Belize; and daughters: Shelly (resident in the USA) and Courtenay who has been studying in the US. (All his children are reportedly here for his funeral.) Bowen adopted Alexander and Dustin, two sons his wife had before their marriage.
Sir Barry Bowen had formal university training; however, he also learned much from his entrepreneurial father; and as a young man, he was very self-driven and self-taught in many respects.
At the time of his passing, Bowen commanded a workforce of 1,500 through his six enterprises under the parent company Bowen & Bowen Company Limited. Bowen & Bowen remained the holder of the Coca Cola franchise in Belize and the bottler of the soft drinks Coke, Fanta, and Sprite.
The subsidiaries of the group are: Crystal Bottling Company, which produces juices and purified water; Belize Brewing Company, which bottles Belikin Beer and Stout, and Guinness; Belize Aquaculture Limited (BAL), a state-of-the-art farm which is contracted to supply 10 megawatts of power to Belize Electricity Limited for the national grid; Belize Estate and Producers Company Limited, the local agent for Ford vehicles and Hapag-Lloyd shipping; Gallon Jug Agro-Industry Limited, which produces cattle, lumber, hot sauce, jams and jellies for the market; and Chan Chich Eco Hotel, which housed among its famous guests ex-president of the US Jimmy Carter.
Barry Bowen loved nature, which he experienced through boating, fishing, and bird watching. He also loved Belize’s archaeological heritage, having visited all the major sites during the course of his life.
In his former years, Sir Barry Bowen also invested in air transportation and merchandising. He was a shareholder in the now defunct Belize Airways Limited (BAL), and owned majority shares in James Brodie & Company Limited until he sold them in the mid-80’s.
His most successful investment was started by his father Eric, who founded Crystal Bottling Company, producers of Crystal aerated drinks and lemonade, in the 1930’s. Since then, his legacy has expanded to national and overseas prominence. For example, Belize Aquaculture Limited exports most of its shrimp to the USA, with smaller quantities going to Europe.
Today, Bowen has distribution centers for his bottled drinks across the country, in San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Corozal, Orange Walk, Cayo and Stann Creek.
Hilly Martinez, CEO of Belize Brewing Company, who joined the company 35 years ago, remembers his boss and friend as a visionary man, whose shrimp farm is reputed as one of the best in the region and the world because of its technologies. Barry Bowen put all his money in Belize and had zero investments abroad, Martinez said. He was a perfectionist, who maintained an open door policy for his staff, and he was generally a very outgoing person with a great sense of humor, Martinez also shared.
Barry Bowen was also an avid sportsman, having participated in, and won several sailing races in the March 9th Regatta with his boat Sprite—that was even before he began bottling Sprite.
After university studies, Barry Bowen began to lead the Bowen & Bowen group of companies with his father Eric. It was under the name Bowen & Bowen that the family began to distribute the Coca Cola line of products. They would have started in 1961, but Hurricane Hattie pushed back those plans to 1962. Barry Bowen took over as manager in 1968. They began the brewery in 1971. Bowen assumed full control of the company from his father seven years later, in 1978.
Bowen went on to purchase Belize Estate and Company in the 1980’s, according to information published by Chan Chich Lodge, which he also owns. Belize Estate retained 130,000 acres of land, a large chunk of a 150-year-old estate. Included are 3,000 acres at Gallon Jug, where Chan Chich is located. Much of the area was kept under protection, with the lodge opening on December 4, 1988, to attract tourists to the lush lands of rural Orange Walk. This is one of the largest private reserves in Belize, where the hunting of wildlife is prohibited.
Bowen’s eco-lodge was featured twice in the National Geographic, once for a six-month study conducted through NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) on water density in trees, while his shrimp farm was featured in a separate international publication.
Barry Bowen was a political financier, but his enterprises also supported local charities. For example, the Bowen & Bowen Group of Companies is listed among the friends and supporters of Lifeline Foundation, founded by Kim Simplis-Barrow, wife of Prime Minister Dean Barrow. (The organization delivers food, medicine, clothing and other fundamentals to children in need.)
Bowen served for at least two years in the Belize Senate during the first term of the People’s United Party (PUP), beginning in 1998. He was appointed Senator for the PUP.
In December 2007, he was knighted asan Ordinary Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander of the said Most Distinguished Order (KCMG), for his contributions to commerce and industry, according to a press release by the then Musa administration.
He was serving as the Norwegian consulate to Belize until the time of his death, though he kept only a Belizean passport.
Along with the Belize Landowners Association, Barry Bowen, one of Belize’s chief landowners, was among the claimants who successfully challenged the Barrow administration in 2008 over the Belize Constitution (Sixth) Amendment Bill, because of concerns that landowners would face a derogation of their rights to court redress in the event of government’s expropriation of lands to be explored for petroleum producing ventures.
Bowen’s expansive Gallon Jug enterprise falls within the contract area of RSM Technologies, which last year dug an unsuccessful oil exploration well in the Gallon Jug area.
Barry Bowen’s sons are continuing their father’s legacy. Kevin works with the beverage arm, Michael with the aquaculture arm, Dustin manages the Riverside Tavern, while Alexander oversees his Gallon Jug investment.
An official funeral service is slated for Sir Barry Bowen at St. John’s (Anglican) Cathedral in Belize City. The service is due to begin at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 2, with a procession and motorcade immediately following to the place of interment in San Ignacio.
Sir Barry will be buried on a family plot in the local public cemetery, Santa Rita Cemetery, where his parents were previously laid to rest. Canon Leroy Flowers is scheduled to be the celebrant.
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live:” Norman Cousins.
“Those who have lived a good life do not fear death, but meet it calmly, and even long for it in the face of great suffering. But those who do not have a peaceful conscience, dread death as though life means nothing but physical torment. The challenge is to live our life so that we will be prepared for death when it comes:” (Anonymous)
“He [Christ] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away:” Revelation 21:4
(Amandala wishes to thank Mr. Hilly Martinez for assisting us with biographical data.)
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