Byron La Beach and his wife Violet,
standing before his brother’s niche
Samuel La Beach and his wife, Nell
Bottom: Mr. Victor Lopez and Ricardo Sasso and his wife
holding a newspaper article highlighting
Lolyd La beach’s exploits.
I would never be able to tell the story of Lloyd La Beach were it not for a kid I grew up with in the neighborhood of Calidonia here in Panama City. The 1948 Summer Olympic Games would have passed us by just as other Olympic games of our childhood had as the Westindian community of Panama traversed through some of the worst times in our history as a community in the country of Panama. During this war and post-war period it was really a continuation of when we were still vilified in the economy of the country of Panama as “those people” whose presence was responsible for placing a burden on the country’s meager resources.
It had been three years since the end of World War II and still the rumblings in the Spanish political atmosphere of our country continued although Panama had, throughout its history, remained virtually passive to the United States occupation of the most important fringe of land in its territories. They were difficult and tense times indeed as a large number of Westindian workers on the Black Canal Zone was forced to look elsewhere for housing and even medical services as a large part of the Black Silver Roll Canal Zone was being eliminated with the availability of employment being curtailed.
The headlines of the only newspaper, The Panama Tribune, to speak to and for the Westindian people in Panama since before the turn of the century at last had something beneficial to publish to the populace. On Sunday 19 October of 1947 the Panama Tribune published a by-line that read,
“Balboa Heights opposes Alien Ouster, will take appropriate action in defense of loyal Silver Worker”
By the winter of the date of 7 November of 1948 the newspaper was still publishing disturbing by-lines that read,
“Teachers Deny Parent’s Claim of Racial Bias, in Pedro J. Sosa, Number One School in Calidonia.”
However, that summer of 1948 the kids on Mariano Arosemena Street would be all taken up with the exploits of someone they never saw in the neighborhood but who would instill pride in them as Westindians. In fact, we had quietly started to remind the whole of Panama and the world that a Westindian “Chombo” had made his mark in the Olympics for all the world, and especially racist Latin America, to take notice. In those days we ran around displaying our neighborhood athletic prowess and saying, “Just like Loyla!” But one kid in the Magnolia building crew would have the name Loyla stick with him for the rest of his life.
Only recently we, of the Silver People Chronicle, had the honor and privilege to be amongst those wanting to honor the memory of Mr. Lloyd La Beach, the very hero of our childhood dreams.
In a solemn ceremonial Mass at the National Sanctuary where the remains of the immortal Lloyd La Beach have been laid to rest, we gathered to pray with his family and friends who knew him. We, of the second generation of the Westindian families who populate the city of Panama, silently prayed as the prelate led the daily Mass and invoked the name of Lloyd La Beach, that his name be honored in Heaven as we had honored it in those crucial years of our history when, as a boy I remained in deep sadness as our people of the Silver Roll suffered exclusions because of racism. We continued to invoke our personal prayer as we joined the family and close friends of this immortal Westindian Panamanian.
That day of 29 of February 2008 marked the passing of 60 years since Lloyd La Beach had won the first and only Olympic medal for Panama brought back a treasure of memories and how one kid in the neighborhood would grow up to remind us all of how great Lloyd La Beach had been. The 29th day of February of the year of 2008 for us will remain very special as we talked and communed with Lloyd La Beach’s brothers Byron and Samuel La Beach, who had both been close to the immortal Lloyd La Beach.
That unforgettable day we also met the President of the Central American and Caribbean Confederation of Track and Field Athletes, Mr. Victor Lopez, who was instrumental in promoting the ceremony for this date in which, at last, Lloyd La Beach would be inducted into the Regional Hall of Fame. It was an election they finally made after 60 years that La Beach had been one of the most outstanding athletes in the region having won more than one Olympic medal in the same world Olympic game.
But for us, the kids at Magnolia building in the neighborhood of Calidonia, we had known it all along. Lloyd La Beach was and would continue to be one of the greatest athletes that the West Indian Panamanian community has ever given rise to and will remain our hero forever. Follow us and look for our continuing and fascinating series on Lloyd La Beach.
This story continues.