March 9th was originally called Baron Bliss Day, in honor of Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss. The Englishman willed a large sum of money to Belize upon his death on March 9, 1926. In 2008, the Belizean Government opted to highlight several other people who have made an impact in the development of our little country, and so March 9th is now officially called National Heroes and Benefactors Day.
This public and bank holiday honors 11 heroes: Gwendolyn Lizarraga, Julian Armando Cho, Felipe Santiago Ricalde, Thomas Vincent Ramos, Nicholas Pollard Sr., Cleopatra White, Samuel Haynes, Phillip Stanley Wilberforce Goldson, George Cadle Price, Sir Isaiah Morter and Robert Sidney Turton.
With March 8th being International Women’s Day, we thought it would be fitting to highlight two of the women who marked Belize and left a legacy. We honor Gwen Lizarraga and Cleopatra White.
Born to Sidney Smith and Guadalupe Baeza on July 11, 1901 in Maskall Village, Gwendolyn Lizarraga was a successful business owner, outspoken politician, and women’s rights activist. Madam Liz – as she is known to Belizeans – was the first woman to serve as a government minister in Belize (then British Honduras). She operated a chicle and mahogany farm, eschewing convention by driving a land rover, wearing pants, carrying a gun and smoking cigarettes. Can you imagine what a sight that must have been? Talk about a trailblazer!
As an outspoken woman, she dealt with large companies like Wrigley’s, Castillo and Thurton without hesitation and with authority. In her dealings with employees however, her compassion was notable. She supported equal pay for equal work, particularly urging the protection of women workers.
The 1950s were the beginning of her work for women’s rights. In 1953, she was hired as a female parole officer, and the following year she began organizing women politically. By 1959, she had formed the United Women’s Group with 900 women throughout Belize, aiming to empower Belizean women culturally, economically and politically. She even co-founded the United Women’s Credit Union. She pushed for women to acquire property, surveying swamp lands and creating a map of parcels for women so they could become eligible to vote. Those parcels are now known as the Collet Constituency, between Curassow, Elston Kerr and Gibnut Streets, bounded by North Creek.
When Madam Liz noted that children couldn’t get an education because there were no schools in working-class neighborhoods, she and the women from the UWG got down to work, physically clearing mangrove swamps. Their efforts drew attention from the Publics Works Department, resulting in two new schools: Belize Junior Secondary Schools N° 1 and N° 2. Those schools are now known as Edward P. Yorke School and Gwen Lizarraga High School.
In April, 1961, the first year women were allowed to run in the country’s national elections, Gwendolyn Lizarraga became the first woman elected to the National Assembly of British Honduras. She won the Pickstock division with 69% of the votes, after which she was appointed as Minister of Education, Housing and Social Services, making her the first female Minister in the country.. She was reelected in 1965 and 1969, both times reappointed to her ministry. Her final run as Minister saw her spearheading a project to build low-cost housing in the neighborhoods of King’s Park, Lake Independence and Queen’s Square. (Fun fact: this writer lived on Lizarraga Avenue while studying at Junior College!). On June 9, 1975, after building an unimaginable legacy, Madam Liz passed away after battling illness.
By contrast, we have a hero in Nurse Cleopatra White, who was born in June 1898 in British Honduras. Following the death of her mother, she would be raised by her father until she entered school for nursing.
A dedicated community helper all her life, White became inspired by Nurse Vivian Seay’s work, and the two were instrumental in forming the Belizean branch of the Black Cross Nurses. White’s system for village councils in the management of hurricane preparations have been a model for villages across Belize. Her leadership and nursing skills, as well as her social work made her a leader in her country, and deserving of the honor of being a Belizean Hero.
For almost 20 years, Cleopatra White was a rural nurse, having worked alongside other nurses following a devastating hurricane in 1931. Their combined efforts established nursing and supply stations, and this experience pushed White toward social work. She went so far as to set up village council plans and organizing frontline emergency response in Gales Point (a true hidden gem of Belize). Her community development work nabbed her the Victoria Medal in 1953. During relief efforts after Hurricane Janet in 1955, the emergency plans she had worked on became a standard, and the model is still applied in Belize today. She was further awarded with the Member of the Order of the British Empire medal in 1958. In 1961, during Hurricane Hattie, she worked at the Hattieville Clinic, where she remained until she retired before the decade was over.
Retirement wasn’t about languishing, as White continued to train future nurses through the Black Cross Nurses. She was an art advocate, and a gifted songwriter and storyteller too. Despite all of her works to serve Belize, at the age of 89, Cleopatra White died poor in 1987, after several years in the Belize Old Folks Home. Following her death, The Cleopatra White Polyclinic in Belize City was opened in her honor.
So on March 9th, as you enjoy the holiday, I hope you can reflect on the impact made by these two amazing women. They, alongside nine distinguished gentlemen, are an invaluable part of the fabric of our Belizean society. May we honor them always.
The many magnificent Maya sites that scatter the landscape of Belize are testament to this incredible civilization. The Maya built amazing cities, they traded in jade and obsidian, they had their own calendar, they were arguably the inventors of chocolate in the form of a spicy drink and wait for it…. they were the inventors of chewing gum…
Chewing gum as we know it was originally a white rubbery sap known as chicle, that came from the Sapodilla tree that was common in Belize and Central America. The Maya used this chicle to help keep their breath fresh and to stop hunger and thirst.
In 1866 a certain American called Thomas Adams was introduced to Chicle in Mexico and thus began the chewing gum industry. In Belize there were four types of chicle, Female, crown gum, male and Bull. Female was considered the best and was more abundant in Northern Belize. The ‘chiclero’ was the man responsible for extracting this precious resin. It was an arduous and dangerous task, involving camping out during rainy season and climbing huge trees before cutting grooves in the bark and collecting the sap in bags. The chicle was then cooked in iron pots to the required consistency and then poured into moulds and shipped to Belize City, where companies such as Wrigleys would import it to America. The chewing gum industry reached its height in the 1930s and 40s. However over production eventually led to its demise. Each chicle producing tree needed 3- 8 years before it could be tapped again and it became unsustainable. As a result companies started looking for an alternative in artificial gum and sadly the chicle industry along with its chicleros became defunct.
March 9th is a National Holiday in Belize. Formerly Baron Bliss Day, it is now known as National Heroes and Benefactors Day to honor all those who have contributed to the greatness that is Belize. So, who was Baron Bliss and what makes him so special?
Baron Bliss is widely considered to be Belize’s biggest benefactor. Born Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss in England in 1869, he inherited the title 4th Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal. Bliss was an avid traveller and sailor with a significant fortune. At the age of 42 he is thought to have contracted polio which led to his paralysis. This didn’t restrict him from sailing his yacht Sea King II to the Bahamas in 1920 where he lived for 5 years. From here he sailed to Trinidad before arriving in Belize or British Honduras as it was known then, in 1926. At this time Baron Bliss was in a poor state of health, having contracted food poisoning in Trinidad. He spent the next few weeks aboard his yacht fishing the tranquil and abundant waters of Belize and his health seemed to improve. Nevertheless, a few days before his 57th birthday he was informed by physicians that he was in fact dying. Although he hadn’t actually set foot on mainland Belize, so impressed had he been with the country and its people who he had met whilst fishing the waters and visiting the Cayes, that he summoned Sir John Burdon the then, Governor of Belize to board his yacht, to inform him of his wishes to leave the majority of his estate to Belize. In his will he asked that a trust be formed and the money invested for the benefit of the country and its citizens.
The estate was estimated at 1.8million Belize dollars. Baron Bliss died 9th March 1926 and was subsequently buried as per his wishes near the sea in a granite tomb with a lighthouse erected nearby. This lighthouse still stands and a restored Sea King II is resident in the grounds of Government House. The Bliss Trust has over the ensuing years used this money for various projects across Belize including The Bliss Institute, The Bliss School of Nursing ,a library in Santa Elena and a leisure centre in Punta Gorda.
Sailing was such an integral part of Baron Bliss’s life that he also specified a sum of 100 pounds be used annually to set up regattas in towns within Belize. Countrywide this holiday which this year is held on Monday 7th is celebrated with regattas and other events to honor Baron Bliss and other heroes of Belize. The 88th Baron Bliss Regatta takes place in Belize City harbor on March 6th this year.
In San Ignacio, on March 4th, La Ruta Maya River Challenge is an annual 180 mile long ,4 day canoe race finishing in Belize City. Where ever you decide to honor Belize’s biggest benefactor, this year, let Tropic Air take you there.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.