Last Canal Builder Dies
by William Donadío

Alexander Bernard Heron was born on the 16th of February, 1894, on San Andres Island, Colombia. On January 24 he passed away in Colon, at the age of 105. He had three children, Lillita (deceased), Earl and Alex, plus 11 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

One of his most fervent wishes was to live long enough to see the United States transfer the Panama Canal to the Republic of Panama. He got his wish-he saw it on television.

Heron was invited to the transfer ceremony, but the last participant in the building of the great accomplishment of modern engineering was disappointed. He got all dressed up for the occasion, but the ride to the ceremony that had been arranged [by the Panamanian government - Editor] never materialized, leaving one sad old man to watch the proceedings on TV.  Alexander Heron came to the isthmus of Panama in 1908, at the tender age of 14, and got a job as a waterboy in Gatun, where the locks and the dams were being built. He worked at this task until he was 18, then traded it for a construction job. As Theodore Roosevelt had urged the canal builders to do, Heron "made the dirt fly."

After the canal was built, he stayed on the canal's labor force, working at the Cristobal Coaling Station, an old canal landmark that's now called Pier 16. He worked for a total of 48 years for the Panama Canal. His final job there was at the Canal Zone Post Office in Cristobal. In 1956 he was obliged to retire from the Canal Zone's employ and receive what was called Disability Relief Pay under the arbitrary and revocable system that Silver Roll employees were afforded, in lieu of the vested retirement pensions to which American canal workers were entitled.

Heron was one of the many brave men of many races who, with their courage, sweat, and in many cases their lives, dug in to make the monumental undertaking a reality. Though a shameful omission kept him out of the transition ceremonies, he was recently interviewed by the Discovery Channel, for a documentary entitled The Panama Canal: The Eighth Wonder of the World.

Although Alexander Heron was the last of his colleagues, their legacy lives and works. No matter who is in charge, it will always belong to humanity.

from:  The Panama News

February 15, 2000

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