The Panama Canal Review - August 7, 1953

When Enrique de la Ossa entered the service of the Panama Railroad on July 12, 1911, he was assistant freight clerk in the Receiving and Forwarding Agency at the French pier in la Boca (now Balboa). Now, after 42 busy years in many positions of trust and responsibility, he has been assigned to still another new job. Effective this month he became Special Agent for the Panama Railroad. In this new post his long and thorough knowledge of the Railroad's relations with business activities in Panama can be of great value.

Mr. de la Ossa's service was commended in a recent letter from A.C. Medinger, Railroad and Terminals Director, when he said:

"Effective August 1, 1953, you will be appointed to the position of Special Agent for the Railroad Division. This position has been authorized by the President in recognition of your long and loyal service to theRailroad. The position of Special Agent is also a very important one and while the duties are not so arduous, it is expected that your knowledge of local conditions and railroad freight operations will be of special value to the Railroad Division.

"Please accept my congratulations on your having completed 42 years of service on July 12th, and of course, the best satisfaction we get out of a life-long career is the knowledge of a job well done."


Enrique de la Ossa's family is well known in the history of the Republic of Panama. Born in Panama City on February 23, 1888, he is the nephew of Dr. Manuel Amador, who became Panama's first president, and son of J.F. de la Ossa, Alcalde of Panama. His father later became Supreme Court Justice, a post which he held until his death in 1936. In his honor Panama City named one of its busiest streets, J.F. de la Ossa Avenue, which most people know as "Automobile Row."

Although he was very young, the younger de la Ossa fought for his country's independence. Then, with Panama safely a sovereign nation he was sent to complete his education in the United States where he quickly ahd to learn a language he had never spoken before. After finishing his schooling in 1908, and in order to have a practical knowledge of commercial activites, he worked at the Panama Consulate in new York City and then for two export firms. In 1911 he returend to the Isthmus where he entered the service of the Panama Railroad. He had then, and has since, many opportunities to work elsewhere but he turned down all offers, to continue his railroad service.


In his first job as way-bill clerk, he was closely in touch with the thousands of tons of cargo which were discharged in Balboa each month from South or Central America or the Far East for transshipment across the Isthmus by rail. For some time he was specie clerk, responsible for gold or other precious material which came in cargo.

Day after day, he took part in the cargo movements on the pier, receiving and forwarding freight as the Canal neared completion. In 1911, 1,871,076 tons of freight crossed the Isthmus by railroad; the following year the figure was well above the two million mark. Shipments from the Pacific side out-weighed those southbound.

The year after the Canal was opened, slides blocked it completely for several months. Shipowners hastily arranged for a transfer of bottoms; cargo which had been destined for transit throught the Canal was trasshipped by rail and reloaded into ships on the other side of the Isthmus. Pier and shipping facilities were strained.


When Pier 18 was opened, on April 1, 1916, Mr. de la Ossa's office was transferred there and in 1922 he was made cargo clerk in charge of the piers. His job also involved boarding and doing agency work for all lines for which the Panama Railroad was agent.

In 1928 he was promoted to stevedore foreman and in 1934 was made head stevedore foreman. He held this post only a few months when he was made Assistant to the Receiving and Forwarding Agent. Early in 1941 he was transferred to Panama City as Local Agent at a time when the Panama terminal was completely congested. He succeeded in relieving this situation, and maintained it.

"I've been through two wars with the Panama Railroad," Mr. de la Ossa said the other day. "World War I came along while I was at Pier 18; I served the second World War in the Panama freight yards."

Busy years they were too, then and afterward. In 1941, when he was transferred to Panama City, trans-Isthmian revenue freight was 1,073,767 tons in a year, almost double normal shipments. In all these busy years, Mr. de la Ossa has handled all of this volume of freight.  Now, after 42 years, he will have a chance to take things a little easier.

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December 23, 1998
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