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Oct 8, 2002

Henry Fairweather: dead at 96

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He became something of a celebrity in the last few years, after toiling anonymously for a much longer time as a passionate advocate for the planting of trees–particularly mahogany. But only four years from his hundredth birthday, old age finally caught up with Henry Fairweather and he died Monday at the K.H.M.H. In February of 2000, as a veritable youngster of ninety-three, News 5′s Janelle Chanona had the privilege of visiting with him as he engaged in his favourite activity.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

Very quietly, for the past fourteen years, there’s been a man living in the jungles along the Sibun River, undertaking an incredible task. His name is Henry Fairweather. You may recognize his name, as his contributions to Belize have been enormous. Once employed as a Government Surveyor, he was a member of the 1933 survey team that defined the Belize Guatemala border and thirty years later, he picked out the spot to build Belmopan. But today, at age ninety-three, he’s not planning cities or separating countries, he’s planting Mahogany trees.

Henry Fairweather, The Mahogany Man

“I have no textbook to follow on this. It’s just my long knowledge of the forest and my desire to do something for the country.”

Up until recently, only Fairweather’s friends and neighbours knew what he was up to. By his estimation, he’s spent more than half a million dollars planting more than eighty five thousand trees in his four hundred acres of Belize.

But now Henry Fairweather is breaking the silence about the work he has been doing; simply because he has no more money or land to invest in his legacy.

Henry Fairweather

“We are out of funds completely and the time is right around the corner, if we don’t get some funds, some contribution, some aid, we’ll have to close down. I don’t think the people would like to see a move like this, close down without return. Some of my men who I had to lay off, and owe back pay are talking about taking legal action. It’s as bad as that.”

But why mahogany trees? Fairweather is holding out as long as possible because he believes that one day, his plantation will be a money making machine…an idea he wants to plant in the minds of other Belizeans.

Henry Fairweather

“I want them to plant enough mahogany for them to sell and it must be sustainable, that is, to be able to grow it continuously and live by that. And stop giving other people, particularly, those funding people, trouble or headache in helping them along.”

After dabbling in piracy and logwood cutting, it was mahogany that really put Belize on the economic map. Beginning in the 1700s, British, then American companies, set up shop and began exporting to meet the world’s demand. But the big bucks stopped when European tastes changed and the timber was no longer so easy to find. Henry Fairweather wants to change all that, and he’s willing to pay the price.

Henry Fairweather

“This business of mahogany is not play business you know. It is strictly hard work, lot of sacrifices, lot of punishment, in doing without the thing that you need.”

There have been numerous setbacks like fires and floods that have wiped out parts of the plantation. But Fairweather’s foreman, Daniel Ordonez says nature’s wrath couldn’t hold them back.

Daniel Ordonez, Plantation Foreman

“Bout five or six years ago, we had a fire that burn out the whole of the area that we had planted out, only a few plants left, so we replanted. And as soon as we replanted, we had the flood again and it wiped out everything back out again and we replanted again. These are the plants you see just coming out in this area right here.”

A community based project, the Belize River Valley Development Program, BELRIV, has already promised to find some money to keep the Fairweather plantation up and running. They also see another kind of “green” in the mahogany leaves.

Lascelle Bowen, BELRIV, Founding Coordinator

“Today the mahogany is so important, that there are organizations and people in the world, who will pay you just to plant a mahogany tree for them on their land, that they could come and visit their own mahogany tree, that you don’t even have to cut it down. So, yes, people will be able to realize financial benefits.”

Whatever happens in the end, it’s pretty obvious that Fairweather himself won’t see the fruits of his labour. But that won’t stop him from putting trees in the ground.

Henry Fairweather

“I want to continue to plant as long as I can continue. I want to leave a legacy behind. I want to be able to, when I get to St. Peter, give account of my stewardship.”

Janelle Chanona for News 5.

As Saint Peter must have surely discovered, there is now a mahogany plantation being laid out in heaven.

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