Paul Garner Clement Foster has lived a remarkable life of love and leadership, dedication and hard work. When I think of the many things Paul has done in his long life, his many achievements and awards, and most important of all, to him, his family life, I realise that this quiet hero of mine needs a full biography.
He’s been one of those people with a sense of mission, who once setting heart on a great goal for the good of Barbados, worked until it was achieved. He has been the Father, godfather and master-builder of Tourism and of Historic Preservation.
Paul lived his early life in Hastings, not far from the sea, and bonded with the sea. He became a first-class swimmer, and he was just as at home in the water as on land. He was the star of the water polo games played off the pier at the old Aquatic Club (now the Radisson Aquatica) in the era when the water there was deep, before the influx of sand that made Carlisle Bay Beach one of the best in the Caribbean.
He helped form the Barbados Water Polo Association, now the Swimming Association of Barbados; he was the first Secretary and then the President; and President of the Amateur Swimming Association of the West Indies. His role in swimming –– teamwork and leadership – honed the skills he needed for the rest of his life –– perhaps even more than his education at Harrison College, where he was taught by a great Barbadian, who preceded him as President of the Barbados National Trust –– Sir Donald Wiles.
Athletic, bright, fluent and film-star-handsome, he married the bright and beautiful Brenda Roberts. Fives and tens recur in his life, because he’s done the work of ten men, he’s the father of five and he has ten grandchildren and five great grands!
Paul began his working life in 1942 as a Cable and Wireless operator, serving in St Kitts, St Lucia, Guyana and Barbados, for seven years. He then joined the old lady of Fontabelle –– the Barbados Advocate –– as reporter/photo-journalist in 1949, and was promoted to News Editor and then Assistant Editor. His passion for photography ensured the very best documentation, and he developed a crisp and clear writing style that served him well, as did his understanding of the media.
When the job of Manager of the new Barbados Tourist Board was advertised in 1958, there were more than a hundred applicants and he was chosen. He gave the Board seven brilliant, dedicated years, with extraordinary results. His first year’s budget was a mere 100,000, to pay four salaries and fund marketing and promotional travel! He literally provided for thousands from five loaves and two fishes!
Within five years he trebled visitor arrivals, trebled the value of tourism to our economy, and multiplied cruise ship arrivals by six-fold. He didn’t quite cover the globe, but concentrated on the British, North American, South American and Canadian markets. He visited New York every year to develop cruise tourism. He opened offices in London and Canada.
One of my favourite photos shows Paul with Peter Morgan (then Chairman of the Tourist Board), Captain Harry Niblock and Michael Martinez, in London in winter, by a tiny car with a huge sign on top –– “Visit Sunny Barbados!”
In 1965, Paul resigned to become a leader in the travel industry, but served on the tourist board, including the role of Deputy Chair. On March 1, 1967, he opened Paul Foster Travel and The Foster Girls became the byword for arranging your travel plans. In 1989, he and Cecil Ince formed Foster and Ince Cruise Services, which has gone from strength to strength, built on the foundation he laid and continued to work for.
Paul’s passion for Barbados propelled him to become a household name in many spheres. He was founder member and first President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce –– later the Barbados Jaycees –– and President of the West Indies Chamber of Commerce. He spearheaded the first Carnival celebrations in 1958 (prelude to the rebirth of Crop Over), and was one of the founding trinity of the Rotary Club of Barbados.
But one of his greatest passions, after his Catholic faith and tourism, was the preservation of our heritage. He joined the Barbados National Trust in 1963 and Paul Foster Travel’s premises on Independence Square served as the first office of the Trust, while he was President from 1979 to 1984.
Among his major achievements were the restoration of the Gun Hill Signal Station, flagship of the Trust, restoration of the Old Eye Hospital, now scandalously derelict, and the Ronald Tree House headquarters of the National Trust in Belleville, partly funded by friends of Ronald Tree.
I first met Paul Foster in 1982, with the unbound text and paintings for the first edition of Historic Houses of Barbados. He and the Council agreed to publish it. That began a lifelong friendship, in which Paul was the master and mentor in heritage and heritage tourism, and I the student. He became Executive Director of the Trust in 1987, when I was Honorary Secretary and then President, and we made a great team. He was really the big brother I never had!
We had a fantastic working relationship, and planned many things together, including the restoration of the Old Eye Hospital with Canadian funds, planning the restoration of Morgan Lewis Mill with American Express funds largely, accepting and arranging the legacy of Andromeda Botanical Gardens from the late, great Iris Bannochie, and the legacy of Wildey House by Mrs Leacock, organising and giving educational talks in schools, and so on and so on.
But Paul was a true Renaissance man –– not only a superb sportsman, but an accomplished photographer and writer, a brilliant manager, mover and shaker in a successful diplomatic way, raconteur and speaker, and a devoted family man. He made enormous family sacrifices for the sake of Barbados, promoting Barbados around the world, and I know his enormous pride in his family.
Sadly, his beloved wife Brenda departed suddenly, before his due date. Brenda was a giant, metaphorically, and they are both mourned by their four daughters Linda Walcott, Michele Brown, Nicole Foster and Donna Deane, their son Michael, ten grans and five great grans, Paul’s brother Maurice and hundreds of friends and admirers.
Paul received the Gold Crown of Merit 31 years ago, in 1985, but to everyone’s disappointment, and in spite of repeated nominations by the National Trust and many others, he has never received the expected and obviously so well deserved ultimate honour of knighthood. But in the eyes of the nation, he is one of our most revered knights in his own right.
Among so many other achievements, doing the work of ten men, he has done more than anyone else to create our modern tourist industry, starting almost from scratch. He was also, in the words of several admirers, perhaps the last great gentleman of Barbados.