Speech: The Official Renaming Of Marsh Harbour Airport

ADDRESS BY THE RT. HON. PERRY G. CHRISTIE,

THE OFFICIAL RENAMING OF MARSH HARBOUR AIRPORT TO THE LEONARD M. THOMPSON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Salutations
It is my pleasure to be with all of you here in Marsh Harbour as we participate in this official renaming ceremony of the Marsh Harbour Airport to the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport. It is fitting that I should begin by extending my congratulations and best wishes to the family of Captain Leonard Thompson and his late wife, Mary, represented by his children and grandchildren and other members of the extended family and to the many Abaconians who have come from far and near to be a part of this special event in the life of Abaco.
You would have heard much about Captain Leonard Thompson and his remarkable and colourful life which reads like the stuff of novels in terms of its twists and turns and the sheer force of its dramatics but with a positive and inspiring ending. We know that he was born in Hope Town to ordinary folks and I am certain that the Hope Town in which he was born in 1917 was not the Hope Town of today which is a bustling, thriving and prosperous community that it is today. The young Leonard Thompson would have suffered deprivations that were common to that bygone era but he was clearly determined to better his condition and this he did. His early education was at various Abaco Public Schools and from there he entered the Government High School, which I believe was rare for a young man from Hope Town, Abaco in those days. It would appear as if this was the sum total of his educational development but it was sufficient to take him to higher heights.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and at the tender age of twenty-two he left the safe and friendly confines of The Bahamas and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, overcoming some resistance part of which, I believe, would have stemmed from him being a small island boy Captain Leonard Thompson flew 25 combat missions and his active service ended when his aircraft was shot down over Germany in 1944. The story has it that on his 25th bombing operation, his aircraft was struck by two missiles and he and the crew had to bail out. As he was about to bail out there was another explosion and Captain Thompson lost consciousness.
When he regained consciousness he was hanging in a tree a few feet from the ground. Here was a man falling out of the sky while unconscious. Under normal circumstances that was a sure death. Not so for Captain Thompson, because by divine intervention, and it only could have been divine intervention, his parachute caught in the tree branches, saving him. He was eventually captured by the Germans and was a prisoner of war for about 18 months until the war ended in April of 1945.
He was a genuine war hero who faced the enemy fire and who placed himself in danger and in this act alone, it was the stuff of heroes. His post war years saw him turning to commercial flying all over The Bahamas at a time when the aviation business was in its infancy and this was his career for some thirty years, travelling throughout The Bahamas and between Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Florida. Captain Thompson also made countless medical emergency flights late in the night when one had to know the areas as visibility was limited. He was a pioneer in aviation locally and also started several airline companies. He, also, very carefully built diverse business holdings and at the same time he was attracted to politics as were many young men of that era and entered the House of Assembly in 1949 for his beloved Abaco where he served until 1967. Captain Thompson would have seen the beauty of Abaco having to fly so frequently over its pristine waters and coves with some of the most beautiful beaches to be found anywhere and it was not surprising when he turned to resort development and started the Treasure Cay
Resort and the rest is history. He eventually went on to build the Great Abaco Beach Hotel and so from this standpoint he was a pioneer in the tourism and resort business and his efforts opened up Abaco to that which it is today, attracting thousands of visitors and boaters and now it can lay claim to having some of the most distinctive and high end real estate development anywhere in The Bahamas.

He had come a long way from the sleepy and rustic community of Hope Town. Captain Thompson was a bit of an adventurer as well, and I can well remember an iconic photo that appeared of him in an international magazine riding on the back of a shark underwater. I wonder if his family still has a copy of that magazine. But in so many ways, his life was evocative of what we are celebrating under the theme for this the 43rd Anniversary of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas – “Honouring Our People’s Excellence”. I think it is worth mentioning that Captain Thompson, for reasons peculiar to his politics at that time was among a group of Abaconians who opposed the move to Independence and made representation to the British Government for Abaco to remain out of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. But he lived long enough to see the flowering of Independence and to see the dawn of a new Bahamas which would have enabled a young man from Abaco to serve as Prime Minister.
All in all, his life embodied excellence. He had his views, some of which he was passionate about but I have no doubt that he was the full embodiment of that excellence that should be honoured and that is why we will memorialize his name and his life of distinction by re-naming this airport after him and as such we place his name in the annals of Bahamian history so that future generations will know of his life and diverse contribution to our national development. It is worth noting that the first airport to have been singled out for renaming in The Bahamas bears the name of another distinguished Bahamian, commonly referred to as the Father of the Nation, the Lynden Pindling International Airport in our capital city of Nassau. So this is a special honour for the family of Captain Leonard Thompson we congratulate them for something that is so befitting this legendary Bahamian. The Marsh Harbour Airport is among the busiest airports in The Bahamas and it is of critical importance to the economy of Abaco and to the nation.
This airport facility has been recently redeveloped at a cost of over $30 million. It is a state-of-the-art aerodrome with a unique array of Bahamian shops and restaurants. The government is now finalizing a technical cooperation agreement with Vantage Airport Group, current mangers of LPIA, to enhance the management and operational efficiency of this airport facility. We are positioning this airport to become a premiere airport facility not only in The Bahamas but in the region. It is no surprise therefore, that successive governments are in full consensus as to the appropriateness of renaming this important facility after this native son of the Abaco soil.

While focusing on this particular facility this evening, I would like to say something in general about my Government’s plan for the modernization and expansion of some additional airport facilities across The Bahamas. The Government is on an aggressive path to redevelop the 28 government owned Family Island airports. In this regard, Stantec Consulting has been contracted as Project Manager for the redevelopment of the airport in Moss Town, Exuma and North Eleuthera. The Architectural firm of Alexiou and Associates are contracted the Architect of Record for the Exuma Airport and negotiations have commenced with another architectural firm to prepare architectural designs drawings for the North Eleuthera airport. Due to the damage caused by Hurricane Joaquin significant works have been undertaken at the San Salvador airport and the terminal has doubling the size of the terminal building. It is expected that construction works at this airport will be completed shortly.
Works to extend the runway from 3000 to 4,500 feet at the Moores Island has commenced, and a cadastral and topographical is be performed, to determine a suitable
site for a new terminal building. As for the South Bimini airport, works have been ongoing for quite some time and the terminal building has been expanded and the runway will be repaved shortly. As the Rock Sound, Eleuthera airport and the Deadman’s Cay Long Island airport are prone to flooding, and in light of the significant safety concerns at Deadman’s Cay,
Stantec in close collaboration with the Ministry of Works and Urban Development and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation will facilitate a topographical and cadastral study in Long Island and South Eleuthera to determine the feasibility of constructing a new airport in Long Island and in South Eleuthera. Negotiations are ongoing with the Joint Venture firm identified to conduct the studies.

It is to be noted that the Inter American Development Bank in consultation with the Ministries of Finance and Transport and Aviation are seeking to prepare select family island airports for Public Private Partnership arrangements. An international firm, ALG Transportation Infrastructure & Logistics, has been contracted to conduct the appropriate feasibility studies, and in Report is expected by August of this year. Permit me, if you will to return to the theme for the 43rd Independence celebrations is HOPE “Honouring Our People’s Excellence”. Last week Friday we celebrated National Pride Day and the ceremony in Rawson Square that morning was led by school children. When one saw the confidence exuding from those children, their poise and articulation, it was overwhelming, and it renewed my confidence that the youth of today are very capable to become the future leaders of tomorrow.
One has to make the connection between the National Pride ceremony and what we are doing here today. It is because of the experience and accomplishments of men and women like Captain Thompson that the youth of today can have HOPE for tomorrow They can see what other Bahamians before them have been able to accomplish, locally and on the world stage, in spite of obstacles and challenges. That is why it is so important that we tell our own story.
So this evening, we have ensured that the story of Captain Leonard Thompson, is writ large in the consciousness of Abaconians and Bahamians everywhere and to those who travel from elsewhere to this place. To the thousand who will traverse this airport over the years to come, the question might be asked: who was Captain Leonard Thompson and they will be able to say he was a war hero, an aviator, a politician, a businessman but above all a Bahamian who exhibited excellence. His life story is the stuff of novels and a well written one that will leave an indelible imprint on our minds.

It is now my great pleasure and esteem to officially rename the Marsh Harbour International Airport the Leonard Thompson International Airport.
Thank you.

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