Henry S. Fraser: Philanthropy and preservation (Part two)

Sir Henry S. Fraser

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday February 11, 2015 – Last Sunday I asked what moves some people to give and others to grasp. And I told the stories of five of the major benefactors of the Barbados National Trust in its first three decades since 1961. There have been other major benefactors since then, especially under the presidency of Paul Altman – the Rausing family, whose generosity enabled the Trust to restore Arlington House and save it from assault, and others, such as the Tabors, who made major contributions to the magnificent Synagogue restoration and especially the splendid Nidhe Israel Museum.

But the work of the Trust in the tough years of demolition and “new build” – the sixties and seventies – fell to some truly dedicated people who gave of their time and energy in vast amounts, their passion and commitment to get things done, and often at great financial, personal and family sacrifice. I think here of the two great pioneers, Sir Donald Wiles and Paul Foster, both of whom served as President and then as Director, ably supported by giants like Sir Frank Hutson, Jimmy Walker, Colin Webster and Richard Goddard. I served as President when Sir Donald was Director and Colin Webster was Vice President; and then, for most of my presidency, with Paul Foster as Director, and both of these distinguished heroes of mine taught me an awful lot, while Colin Webster’s blood, sweat and tears was an inspiration to us all.

Sir Donald was actually serving as Administrator of Montserrat (a first for a Caribbean man) from 1960 to 1962, and when a yacht with 30 Lodge School boys sailed into Plymouth in July 1962, under our games master John Ludwig, I had the effrontery to walk into Government House (entirely unguarded), meet and shake hands with Sir Donald! But as the right hand (Permanent Secretary) to Sir Grantley Adams, Premier, and in his later years as perhaps the most revered senior citizen in Barbados, his influence, his common sense and his negotiating skills were enormous.

Sir Donald Wiles (1913 – 2000) began his professional life teaching at his alma mater, Harrison College. I recall many social and National Trust encounters where he met a former student who would say “Do you remember teaching me at Harrison’s?” And out came the usual reply: “You mean when I TRIED to teach you!” He was a wonderful raconteur, with a great sense of humour and he always seemed to enjoy every minute of life, never seeing problems but always challenges and solutions.

As PS to Sir Grantley he oversaw all of our major transformative social, economic, health and housing developments of the 1950s – the first major housing schemes (Pine and Colleton), the Government Headquarters, the Deep Water Harbour and the planning of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. With his encyclopaedic memory, integrity, humour and tact he and Sir Grantley made an efficient executive partnership.

As Director of the National Trust from 1980, he oversaw with Colin Webster the restoration of Gun Hill Signal Station and the acquisition and restoration of Ronald Tree house, the first Trust headquarters. And he was especially proud of negotiating the purchase and landscaping of Accra beach as a public beach facility. Sir Donald was a legend in his own time.

Colin Webster (1922 – 1996) was similar in respect of his humour (but sometimes more risqué!) his tact and hard work. He always described himself as a Wildey Webster, and in fact for many years he worked at Wildey as manager of Wildey and Upton plantations. In later life he went into real estate, an almost natural progression because he loved people and knew almost everyone in the country! I remember best his passion for Gun Hill, for historical artefacts, and for plants. His work at Gun Hill, rescuing the ruined signal station and cookhouse from the jungle after nearly 100 years, moving the earth to make it accessible, and landscaping it with the input of Iris Bannochie of Andromeda Gardens, was a pioneering work of restoration and development of an important heritage site, for the enjoyment of Bajans and visitors alike. It was really the first and the model restoration of a nationally and globally important historic site in Barbados. It is an icon of Barbados, and the recent embellishments and wheelchair access will make it even more central to our visitor and entertainment culture.

Colin then took on Morgan Lewis Mill. The Mill, given to the Trust by Egbert Bannister had initially been restored by a team led by Sir Frank Hutson and Eustace Corbin in 1964. In 1994, with funds from American Express, Derek Smith and others it was fully restored by David Nicholls, mill engineer from Britain, and Colin Webster’s local team, under the directorship of Penny Hynam. And he looked after the Mill over the years as if it were his child, often spending his own money “just to keep things going”.

Next week, Paul Foster – father of modern tourism, father of the modern National Trust, and living legend.

Bouquets of the week: To David Crichlow, photographer, whose splendid website caribpix.net – The Caribbean in Pictures – I’ve only just discovered.

And to Dr. Frances Chandler for organising and leading The Barbados Horticultural Society’s Agricultural Tour 2015, 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday the 15th (today week). The tour bus leaves St. Lawrence Gap (opposite the Dover Playing field) Christ Church at 1:00 p.m. The cost is BDS$ 125.00 per person (includes tea and entrance fee to tour of Exclusive Cottons of The Caribbean ginnery) For bookings call 428 5889 OR 231 5718 or e-mail hortsociety@caribsurf.com OR fchandler@caribsurf.com

A sad farewell: To Sir Roy Marshall – one of our greatest sons – Vice-Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies and distinguished in many other legal, administrative and leadership roles. It was a privilege to know him, both while a student at Mona and in his later life. Others will have many more tributes to pay, here, in Britain and across the Caribbean.

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