Henry S. Fraser: Philanthropy, preservation and the father of tourism

welchman-hall-gully

Welchman Hall Gully

Sir Henry S. Fraser

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday February 16, 2015 – We’ve been considering what moves some people to give and others to grasp – some to do and others to watch. In the last two columns I’ve recalled our major benefactors of the Barbados National Trust – Ronald Tree, Egbert Bannister, Iris Bannochie, Peter Moores, Edna Leacock, the Rausing family and the Tabors, who all made major contributions to preservation in Barbados. And I spoke of the dedication of two of the pioneers, Sir Donald Wiles and Colin Webster, whose time, energy, personal funds and total gift of themselves to the Trust, with no desire for reward but the pure satisfaction of doing and saving, inspired my generation; and of the passion and energy of Richard Goddard, Jimmy Walker and others. But of all the many people passionate about Barbados, there’s none that can compare with the man I call the Father of Tourism in Barbados – Paul Foster.

Paul Garner Clement Foster was born on May the 27th, 1925 and attended Harrison College, where, of course, he was taught by Sir Donald Wiles, and duly inspired by him in many ways! On leaving school he became a cable and wireless operator with Cable and Wireless (later BET and now LIME), serving all over the Caribbean. But photography was a passion and he joined the Old Lady of Fontabelle – the Barbados Advocate – in 1949 as Photographer / Reporter, and was rapidly promoted to News Editor and then Assistant Editor.

During this period of his “youth” he was a star water polo player, was the first secretary of the Amateur Water Polo Association which he helped to form, President of its next phase, the Barbados Amateur Water Polo and Swimming Association, and then President of the Amateur Swimming Association of the West Indies. Needless to say, with his film star good looks, skills as photographer, physique and sporting skills, he had no difficulty in sweeping the beautiful Brenda Roberts off her feet! They married 64 years ago on September 9th, 1950.

But this amazing, multi-talented Renaissance man took on the challenge of becoming the first Director of the newly Formed Barbados Tourist Board. That’s a rich and entertaining story for another time, but some of it is told in “Island in the Sun – the Story of Tourism in Barbados”, by yours truly and Dr. Kerry Hall. Suffice to say that the tremendous work he put into that period of his life (1959 to 1966) created thousands of contacts and he learnt about tourism AND HERITAGE TOURISM, on the job and across the Western World, with dramatic expansion of our tourism – several fold in six years. He then moved on to establish his own pioneering travel agency, Paul Foster Travel, in which his daughters (the Foster girls) were the stars!

But his love for Barbados, his curiosity and photographic skills, and his sensitivity to the interests of his tourist clients helped to fuel his passion for patrimony, the beauty of Barbados and our built heritage. In fact his Travel Agency evolved and divided to form Foster and Ince Cruise Services, operating sightseeing tours for cruise ships, with Cecil Ince of BWIA fame as partner … a man equally passionate about our heritage.

And it’s not surprising that this Father of our modern Tourism Industry was in on the ground floor of the National Trust from its foundation in 1961. (The fascinating story of the Trust’s origins is told in the splendid coffee table pictorial and history book “Barbados National Trust – Guardians of our Heritage: 50 years”. ) After serving as President of the Trust he succeeded Sir Donald Wiles as Executive Director from 1987 to 1991. And he was associated with many of the early achievements of the Trust … the development of Welchman Hall Gully and Gun Hill Signal Station (opened on November 24th 1982), the purchase, restoration and opening on December 19th, 1983 of Govan, the Trust’s first proper headquarters on 10th Avenue and Pine Road (Ronald Tree House) and the raising of funds to restore Morgan Lewis Mill. Having worked closely with Sir Donald Wiles on many projects, it was in Paul’s last years as Director that I worked most closely with him, in the first half of my own Presidency.

It was very much an older / younger brother relationship, as his enormous knowledge of people and facts fuelled my energy and our ideas were almost always in synchrony. He was logical, meticulous and never failed to follow through quickly and efficiently. I learnt quickly the importance of taking your own brief minutes in special committees and finessing them the same night, while everything was fresh in your memory. And a memo from Paul in the most beautiful handwriting was an aide memoire of perfection!

Among our most successful partnerships were the acquisition of Tyrol Cot, the bequests we received for Andromeda Gardens and Wildey House, and the development thereof. And there’s so much more to the story. One of our bitter-sweet projects was the restoration of the Old Eye Hospital on Bay Street … restored with funds Paul negotiated through the Canadian High Commission. It still bears the plaque unveiled by the great Canadian High Commissioner Noble Power, but its scandalous abandonment and dereliction is a blot on the wonderful relationship we have with our Canadian cousins and betrays us all.

Paul’s charm and diplomatic skills went a long way in earning friends and philanthropists for the Trust. He also knew and practised the adage that “Food fills the stomach but praise fills the soul and brings out the best in us all”. I consider him both the Father of Modern Tourism and the Father of the modern National Trust; Paul Foster, a living legend.

PS. Anyone wishing to join Dr. Frances Chandler’s Barbados Horticultural Society’s Agricultural Tour 2015, 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. today, should call 428 5889 OR 231 5718 this morning.

And don’t miss this Wednesday’s National Trust Open House at the extraordinary Colleton Great House in St. Peter – the collection has to be seen to be believed!

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henry-fraser-150Sir Henry Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website:  profhenryfraser.com