Who was Abel Bravo?

Don Abel Bravo in two different periods of his life.  Image thanks to La Prensa.

Don Abel Bravo in two different periods of his life. Image thanks to La Prensa.

Let me take some time to discuss the life of a brilliant man who impacted the lives of many of us Westindian youths, both in Colon and Panama City as his life and work helped to unite us as Abel Bravistas, even when we found ourselves living in the States and other overseas locations. 

Who was this person, Abel Bravo, whose name officially graces our old Alma Mater in the City of Colon? By the time that I came to attend Abel Bravo in 1954 as a very troubled teenager, the school had already been in existence twelve years as it opened its door to students in 1942.  Don Abel Bravo was probably one of Panama’s most brilliant and unrecognized intellectuals and an all around “Renaissance Man.” He was always an outstanding public figure thanks to his great and constant love for study. He was a mathematician, a writer, a historian, geographer, politician, engineer, diplomat and consultant to the government.

Abel Bravo was born on January 12, 1861 and he died on September 15, 1934, two years before I was born. His parents were Doña Mercedes Martínez and Don Valentín Bravo. As a young man he held the post of professor of mathematics at the Normal School for Girls and in the Seminary. He traveled to Colombia where he studied at the School of Civil Engineering and Military Science in Bogotá. While there he became Professor of Spanish (Castellano), and also came to replace the highly distinguished professor, Don Manuel Antonio Rueda in the Departments of rectilinear and spherical Trigonometry and Analytical Geometry. As might be expected, he graduated as a civil engineer with outstanding grades.

He continued to advance in his studies in England, France and Germany. He excelled in various fields such as Engineering, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Geography, History, Literature, etc.. In addition, he served in various public offices such as Secretary of Education, Secretary of Finance and as Minister of Government during the Ricardo Arango administration.

Other biographers agree that by the end of his life he had been one of the outspoken  architects of the idea of a modern interoceanic canal, and the reorganization of Panama’s primary school instruction and the creator of one of the important stages of Panama’s normal education. A true scholar, it is said that he died of a stroke while at his desk writing another text.

In 1906, he entered the political arena by earning a seat as a deputy to the National Assembly and authored Bill # 22, 1907, which led to the building of The National Institute, El Instituto Nacional. He also served as Professor of Surveying and Topography. His best known written works were Programa de Aritmética Analítica y Comercial and Programa de Geometría Plana.  He translated into Spanish and added to Benjamin Greenleaf ‘s Treatice on Elementary Algebra. In his honor the first official High School in the City of Colon was founded which continues to bear his name today, Colegio Abel Bravo.

With this glimpse at the life of a remarkable man and its brilliant proponent, in our next post we will review the birth of Colegio Abel Bravo.

This story continues.

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