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HomeNewsLocal newsOp-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 4

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 4

Guardians at the gate

For 25 years, Bill Jowers remained at his post just inside the gate at the entrance of Magens Bay Park, where he could reliably be found seated on his folding beach chair scanning the gate, the beach, and connecting with the ground crew and staff. While he was not the only guardian angel looking over Magens Bay, he was the official one.

Bill Jowers and his friend Mark Sabino. (Photo courtesy Yvonne Jowers)

“The thing about Mr. Jowers was he was fair,” head lifeguard Sherwin Milliner, who worked with Jowers for several years, said. “You could trust him always to do the right thing for Magens and for us, the employees. He was the man!” Milliner said, giving a big thumbs up.

Sherwin Milliner (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

Milliner was not the only person to use the word “fair” when speaking of Jowers.

Custodian Neville Brown, along with calling him fair, said Jowers started every single new employee out on the right foot by telling them what their job was and then trusting them to do it.

“He stood up for his workers,” Brown said. “If we made a mistake he would pull us aside and say, ‘you were wrong, don’t embarrass me,’ but always with a smile on his face.”

Neville Brown (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

Alicia George, also a long-term custodian, couldn’t wait to tell the story about the day that Jowers hired her.

“A friend had told me to go to the beach and find Mr. Jowers and ask him for a job.” She found him in the office on that fateful day. “Mr. Jowers, a friend told me that you might be able to give me a job as a cleaning woman,” she described in a casual conversation next to the office on a recent rainy day. “I had heels on,” she pointed to her foot, “and jeans and a nice blouse.”

Jowers simply smiled and told her to go down to the bathhouse at the far southwestern end of the nearly half-mile road from the office to the restrooms, “and find Mr. Joseph. Tell him I said he should show you what to do.”  Since Jowers had told Joseph what the job entailed and Joseph had been doing it successfully for years, Jowers had confidence that Mr. Joseph could competently show George what to do. That was it. Alicia’s been doing what she was shown that day with great care and commitment ever since.

Among those guardians who left soon after Jowers retired is former lifeguard Desmond Edmeade, who worked alongside Jowers for 18 years. “He was an exceptional man,” Edmeade said. “He communicated with everyone, but especially the workers.”

“I always tried to be on time for him,” Edmeade laughed in a recent phone conversation, but on the occasions that he wasn’t, “when I would go into the office he’d say ‘Desmond’ and maybe look at his watch and just smile. He knew how to attract the bees with the honey.”

Edmeade, who eventually came to serve as head lifeguard, retired one year after Jowers.

Jowers kept an eye on the water right along with the lifeguards. “He’d say to me, ‘Desmond, somebody is outside the buoys,’” and Edmeade knew exactly what he was expected to do.

Where Jowers is concerned, though, it would have been unwise to mistake his kind, laid-back, lighthearted demeanor for weakness.

When some of the taxi operators who ferry cruise ship passengers from the docks to the beach were “abusing their privileges,” as Jowers put it in the interview that took place shortly before his retirement, he filed a restraining order against them. It all worked out, he told the Source in 2007. “Triple A Taxi has been doing a terrific job since it restructured. We hope to keep them.” Triple A Taxi continues to shuttle visitors to this day.

It was not only the people who worked under Jowers’ leadership who expressed respect for him.

The late Edmund Penn, who served on the Magens Bay Authority Board for nearly 50 years, 23 of them as chairman, said in 2007 that Jowers “worked 10 to 12 hours a day to keep things going for years.” He credited Jowers for being instrumental in bringing the park to self-sufficiency.

As he was looking down the road to his retirement, Jowers said the board was going to ask the government for $200,000 to lay a new road to run behind the sheds on the southwestern side of the bridge that runs across the mangrove swamp. He envisioned a time when the original road between the beach and the sheds would be covered with sand and thus completely closed to vehicular traffic “to protect people, especially children,” when they were crossing between the beach, sheds and parking areas.

The road on the arboretum side of the sheds was built, but it would take a major force of nature in the form of dramatic swells resulting from a nor’easter in March of 2018 to firmly and completely cover the old road in deep sand. (See “Extraordinary Weather Has Dramatic Effect on St.Thomas Shorelines”)

Magens Bay bridge after 2018 massive storm swells. (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

Like the native sons and daughters and “guardians” referred to in earlier episodes and those who will appear in future parts of this saga, Jowers, who was born in a 200-year-old house on Seventh Day Street, spent his youth rambling carefree through the verdant hills and playing on the pristine beaches of St. Thomas.

“A fun day was a hike. You could go from Mafolie to Lindbergh and get water from the springs we had then. My brothers and I would explore all over the island. It was a whole different environment then,” he said in 2007.

Z Spring on the Donkey trail to Magens Bay (Photo courtesy Keanu Bryan)

In the interview shortly before his departure as manager, Jowers articulated his love for Magens Bay, expressing the joy that he found there that kept him going for those 25 years. “To be able to walk the whole beach early in the morning before anyone is here and see the beauty of the place, to see a pure white pigeon out my window.”

His understanding: “I am always aware of Mr. Fairchild’s wisdom when he deeded the beach to the people and not the government. It is truly the people’s beach.”

His directive: “We have to remember every person living on St. Thomas has to help preserve Magens, that’s the key.”

Bill Jowers died on Sept. 27, 2021, but his guardianship did not.

View from Jowers’ post. (Source photo by Shaun A. Pennington)

Editor’s note: The next Magens Bay Authority Board meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 16 at Shed 4 at Magens Bay Park.

Related Links:

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay, Part I: Fairchild’s Dream

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 2

Op-Ed: A Brief History of Magens Bay: Part 3

 

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