Memoirs of Panama and the Canal Zone

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is now in front of the Panama Hilton He was a founding member of the Lions Club in Panama. along with many well known established Panamanian families He was the auditor for the National. Lottery and for many private Panamanian companies where he was instrumental in bringing in an. IBM mechanized system which he installed personally. My father married Lea Azcarraga who was one of Lucho Azcarraga s older sisters She was born in. David province of Chiriqui She was one of the first women in Panama to drive a car smoked and. played golf She was one of the first Panamanians to learn to speak English too She lived in Panama. City by Simon Bolivar Plaza where Teatro National is and worked for the Red Cross before marrying. One year my brother and I went to the US with my father and mother Lucho came with us but my. father left him in New York while we went to Canada where he had arranged for Lucho to take. classes from Lew White at the Roxy Theater which was very famous In those days they didn t have. talking movies so they had organs and pianos playing in the different theaters Lew White was so. impressed with Lucho that he called a fellow named Jesse Crawford from the Paramount Theater to. listen to him When we returned my father tried to pay but they wouldn t take the money because. they wanted Lucho to stay to play in one of the theatres But Lucho was only 17 and wanted to. go home Lucho had played music like the Tango Danz n and all the Latin music for these famous. organists and they were fascinated because they had not heard it that way before Lucho was five. years older than I was When I was 15 years old I played in Lucho s orchestra In those days it wasn t. an orchestra it was a combo and I played the clarinet at the old Union Club My father would. drop me off and then Lucho would take me home later. My father s love of Panama and his marriage resulted in my background with intimate links with both. Panama and the Canal Zone My first two years we lived in the Canal Zone and then my father went. to work for the Panama Government and we moved to Panama City At first we lived in front of the. National Institute for many years which at that time was one of the best neighborhoods We used. to play with the students and never would I have thought that in the future they would be a big. problem in my life When I was PIO I used to have the waiters at the Napoli pizza restaurant call me. when the students were going to protest I would know before anyone else on the Governor s staff. My parents then moved to Bella Vista on 44th Street next to the Catholic Church and in those days. there were only three streets and the rest bush Bella Vista then was practically a Jewish settlement. and I grew up with them and never had any problems with our religious upbringing In fact several. times I went to the synagogue with them in order to go out and play So I became friendly with the. many well known Panamanian Jewish families, Some of our neighbors were the McGrath family and the Boyd triplets The big deal was that we all. had horses and we had races chased cattle went to the beach and rode race horses brought by. the race track We rode those horses in the ocean and could see alligators from the Paitilla River a. mile or so away Another sport was fighting from a hill in Bella Vista with kids from Calidonia they. had sling shots and we had B B guns We always ended up in our area where our mothers served. cokes and sandwiches for both groups, My first two years of high school were at Balboa I didn t do too well and the principal of the school. Mr Hosler will never forget him recommended to my father an appropriate military school in the. States I ended up in Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon Tennessee. One of the things I did when I was in Balboa High School was to the son of Harmodio Arias who. was President of Panama In those days freshman were called scobies and they had to cut their. hair the first year The President s car came up with his son Gilberto Arias and another fellow and. I jumped him and cut his hair off When we were cutting his hair we cut his head and he was. bleeding The presidential car stopped and the chauffer was going to get involved but the Canal. Zone police said No wait this is kid stuff so boy I didn t even go into the school Everybody. would come by and say Albert you are really in trouble Then about 1 00 pm the Presidential car. came up with the President s son with a big patch on his head and I went up to him to apologize to. him And he said no his father had given him a bawling out for not being a good sport I didn t tell. that to my father till months afterwards That is one of the things that got me sent to Castle Heights. I enlisted in the Army and told General Stayer who was the Chief Health Officer of the Panama. Canal My father used to play golf with him and I used to play with him once in awhile One day. at the golf club I told him I was going to enlist in the Air Corps and he said Good where would. you like to go I told him I had heard that Guatemala is the best place He said Okay I ll see that. you get stationed there After two weeks of being at Howard Field cleaning streets I called him and. said General I m still here He said Your father didn t tell me you had enlisted Well I guess. he forgot He replied There is a flight every Friday I ll see that you get on it So I made a big. mistake This was on a Tuesday and I told my 1st Sgt that I was leaving for Guatemala on Friday and. he said Huh that will be the day you just got into the Air Corp you can t be I had a carload of. girls who came to see me from the Union Club just then all these troops saw all the girls and you. should have heard the crowd yelling Hey hey hey I told the girls they better get out of there. but anyway Thursday I got my orders and Friday I was in Guatemala City We had an airstrip there. with U S planes that went out into the Caribbean to chase submarines. My last two years while in the Army were in Panama There was a Mrs DeJan she was mother of. Archbishop McGrath but at that time she was Mrs DeJan She had a lot of influence with all the. Army brass and she used to live in the Atlas Brewery on top she had a suite up there where she. hosted parties Floyd my brother told one of the McGrath boys that I was stationed in the States. and told him My brother really wants to get back to Panama He replied I ll tell my mother. and two weeks later I went to Panama She had a lot of pull she was really something The best part. about it was she invited me to all the parties Here I was a 2nd Lieutenant invited with all the brass. When I was transferred back to Panama in the Army and I was in finance and was an auditor for the. military I went to several places where we closed places out We closed out a place in Costa Rica. and base in Guatemala places like that Rio Hato Panama was one and other places in Panama. I got out of the Armed Forces in 1948 and went back to work for the Panama Canal where I had. worked for a year before entering the military I worked in the inspection bureau checking accounts. which was part of the Comptroller s offices I started off as a clerk earning 131 25 a month and. retired as the Panama Canal Information Officer in the Governor s Staff I spent nearly my entire. career with the Panama Canal Company working at the Administration Building in Balboa Heights. 38 years Government service including Army time, One of the jobs that I had was Chief of the Plant Accounting Branch of the Comptroller s office. That was established because we had to inventory all the assets of the Panama Canal to establish. an interest base They wanted to raise tolls and the shipping companies asked How can you. raise tolls if you don t know if you are making money or not This was because of government. financing where appropriations came and whatever revenue came and went back and we didn t. have any profit loss statements, So we had to take an inventory to establish the interest base which was an inventory of all the. assets of the Panama Canal It took four or five years and of course it is unbelievable but for 90. of the cost we gathered we had records in big warehouses But we had to verify them to be sure. that the records were right and check any improvements We had to take an engineer and have an. estimate made It was a big job I was the Chief of the accounting section There were about 80 of. us and when it dissolved I became Chief of the whole thing Then it was down to about 10 or 12. because most of them were borrowed people It was quite an experience four or five years working. with engineers especially and being an accountant at the same time trying to keep peace between. them A man by the name of Col Jennings was a specialist and an excellent man He was really. something he was a real hard worker And we did a good job it was accepted by the Bureau of the. Budget At one time we had 15 auditors from GAO checking our stuff We did all right. There was a very famous woman around this time in Panama called Trona Lefevre She was queen. of Carnival way back in Canal Construction days I think and every year she would go on a float. in a parade during Carnival dressed in a pollera with real jewelry and everything And she was. quite influential with the big shots I was Vice President of the Union Club and the President of the. Club became President of the baseball league and went to Puerto Rico so I became President of. the Club during Carnival time They had certain restrictions if you were a resident of Panama and if. you weren t a member you couldn t go during Carnival or New Year s or any of the holidays except. if you were a bona fide visitor So you couldn t give a special complimentary card to guests like we. did at other times, So sure enough a card came from Mrs Lefevre for the Lt Governor of the Canal Zone but I turned.
him down She came in there and she couldn t even decide what I was going to die of Well. anyway when I got back to work a few weeks later I had a little note that the Lt Governor wanted. to see me as soon as I returned Oh my God Of course I went up to see him He said Oh so. you are Frank Baldwin Yes sir You heard what happened in the Union Club Yes sir I was. responsible for it Well good for you get me an application I want to be a member of that. type of club Well I almost dropped dead you know Well anyway to make a long story short. I went right out and called the Union Club and said Send me an application quick About 15. minutes later I walked in and said Here s your application How did you do that He became. a member in those days high offices of the Panama Canal and the Armed Forces were allowed to. be members for 5 a month, Then we had the new governor Governor Fleming and he wanted a bilingual Protocol Officer From. quite a few candidates he chose me I wasn t even interested I was up in El Valle with my parents. and the Comptroller Phil Steers called me in I was his candidate for that position Every Bureau. Chief nominated a candidate So the Governor chose me I was the last one to be interviewed I. knew everyone in Panama and that is what they wanted I told the Governor that I didn t know. anything about Public Relations His response was That s your problem. A year or so later I was transferred from Protocol Officer to Public Information Officer PIO I was. PIO during the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal I was in that position for 17. years under four governors When I was PIO I had a budget of 700 000 Adding Spanish to the. Panama Canal Review was my idea When I took over the office it was just in black and white and I. changed it to color The recipes in the Review I added too Fannie Hernandez did those. In 1962 we had reports that there were going to be student protests at the Thatcher Ferry Bridge. inauguration where I was to be the Master of Ceremonies So Governor Fleming decided to invite. the President of Panama Roberto Chiari to an evening cruise the night before We rode from Pedro. Miguel Locks to Galliard Cut and back on the Governor s boat the Anayansi Then the Governor. said We have a surprise for you Mr President We then took him to cross the bridge which was. going to be inaugurated the next day The Governor told the President We wanted to make sure. that you were the first government official from Panama to cross the bridge So around 9 or 10. at night the evening before the inauguration Governor Fleming President Chiari their wives and. Coqui my wife and I crossed the bridge and had champagne on the top of the bridge over the. Canal We were joined by some of the bridge construction supervisors The next day turned out to be. a mess We had to cancel the main ceremony We were suspicious something was going to happen. and had the Armed Forces on alert We had invited about 100 honored guests my father was one. of them Governor Leber who was Lieutenant Governor then was watching the ceremony from a. house near the bridge in case he had to call in the troops Mr Thatcher was there of course I took. him down to cut the ribbon and then I noticed Harmodio Arias Jr who had been printing in the. Panama American newspaper that the bridge name should be changed Bridge of the Americas and. stirring things up He had the nerve to come to the inauguration Somehow he managed to squeeze. in to where we were cutting the ribbon But I saw him and I gave him a push to one side and threw. him on the ground I guess he left because I didn t see him anymore. developed by some of the politicians and the rise of the Arnulfistas he resigned and went back to work for the Panama Canal starting again as an Accounting Clerk but retiring as the General Auditor and at several times serving as Acting Comptroller He was the last American employed by the Panamanian government After he retired he returned

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