Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2022. 7:49 am CST.
By Hugh O’Brien: On Independence eve night before going to bed, apart from thinking about Independence day celebrations, two (2) things were on my mind. I could not get the loss of two (2) stalwart Belizeans off my mind – fellow agriculturalist Wilmot Simmons and Owen Morrison, former Principal of the Belize Technical College. Wilmot, ‘Mot’, or ‘Motivos’ is a personal friend, he is a little older than I am, and he is ‘Gone too Soon’. He was two (2) years ahead of me in High School, Belize Technical College Sixth Form and we both studied agriculture, Mot at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and myself at the University of the West Indies. Mot was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which from all that I had read, was one of the cancers that is almost impossible to recover from. I had promised to visit him after I found out about his diagnosis, but I never did, so I was psychologically hammering myself for not doing so.
Owen Morrison on the other hand, was an elder. He lived out more than his three scores and ten. In this piece, I wanted to share a bit of how this man influenced my life with small decisions he made that were big for me.
Sometime in the summer of 1982 after finishing Sacred Heart College, I told my dad that I wanted to go to Sixth Form at the Belize Technical College in Belize City. My dad smiled and said he loved my ambition to want to further my education, and that he would sacrifice and support me in any way he can. My dad knew his limitations though, and said “Son I do not have the money to send you to sixth form. My salary as a teacher is not enough to pay the account at Mr. Castillo’s grocery shop. Every month my full pay goes to pay the account (meaning the credit he had there) and am still not able to bring down the balance.”
I still applied to attend the Belize Technical College and was accepted and my dad supported me in many ways but this piece is not about my dad, it is about Mr. Morrison.
Before school began in September 1982, I decided to go and see Mr. Owen Morrison, Principal of ‘Technical’. I was 15 years old at the time, and was both nervous and afraid to meet Mr. Morrison but I still went. Mr. Morrison welcomed me into his office and within a few minutes we were having a good casual conversation, a conversation that would lay the foundation, give me a solid education that would change my life forever.
I told Mr. Morrison my story. I told him that I do not know if I will be able to begin school and told him the plight of my father and how his salary could not meet not even the food bill at home. I told him that I am a hard worker, that am not ashamed to do any kind of work, and that I wanted to work for the school, chop the school yard, pick up the garbage or anything that was available for me to do to earn a little income so that I could pay for my school fees, books, food and other education expenses.
Mr. Morrison said to me “young man do not worry. This is a school for poor people. This is a school for young under-privileged Belizeans, especially if you are black.” Mr. Morrison opened up even further, “If you were privileged you would have applied to go to St. John’s College, that is where the rich send their kids”.
On that fateful day, Mr. Morrison promised to get a scholarship for me so that I did not have to pay any school fees and also qualified me for a bursar of $75 per month. Mr. Morrison gave me the keys for three (3) laboratories – the biology, chemistry and physics lab. He said I am going to give you a job young man. Your job is to keep these labs clean, wipe down the tables and the walls, sweep and mop the floor, mix the chemicals used in the chemistry lab, obtain samples of insects for the biology lab etc.
Mr. Morrison paid me $85 per month to take care of these labs, and with the scholarship he assisted me with, I was able to finish Sixth Form. The biology and chemistry labs in particular became the place where I studied late into the night. The lab tables were also the place I took my power naps to rejuvenate and a few times when I studied very late, I even slept through the night at school. Since I could not pay the $125 per month for lodging, I was unable to burn the midnight lamp where I was staying for free.
Mr. Morrison and I had met endless times after, and we spoke on numerous occasions while I was at Technical and after. He also taught me at least one biology course at Belize Technical College.
I will always cherish meeting Mr. Morrison for the role he played in my education and my life. We never spoke about that first meeting, but like me, am sure that he did not forget as he never failed to commend me and to let me know that he was proud, very proud of me.
Mr. Owen Morrison was a humble man with a big heart for education.
Rest in peace Mr. Morrison and continue educating those you meet in the heavens.
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