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Irving Plantz was a through and through good man

At the book launching of Ole Tales, Sweet Memories by Maria Christiana Plantz and Charles Irving Plantz, at the Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary of St. Maarten, The Hague, September 22, 2021.

by Gilbert Wawoe
The past weeks took my mind  back to a few decades ago. Reading the book we are launching brought back many memories, and also a large number of discoveries. I will attempt to share some of those with you.

Irving Plantz, 1949

But first and foremost this: when I summarize my description of the Irving I have been working with, I can be very brief: Irving was a quiet man, of great – 100 % – integrity and fully professional. He knew finances, he was trustworthy and gentle. As such, he was an exception to many persons I had to deal with when negotiating with the Island Government in the seventies.
At the time I was a member of the Shell Curaçao management and I was also responsible for the Government and Public Relations.  During that period, multinationals were not very popular with most politicians on the island, especially not as the Shell Company was such a dominant factor in the economy of the Island. Can I remind you of the fact that more than two third ( 80 percent) of the oil products used by the Allied Forces in their liberating battles in Europe, originated from the two refineries in the Dutch Caribbean, Shell Curaçao and Lago Oil Aruba (an Exxon Company). The company was what we nowadays call the  elephant in the room. Huge and dominant! In the seventies , with the strong anti-multinational storm blowing in Europe, our company was having a hard time from many activists and the press.

Irving at the time was the Head of Finance for the Island Government. A well known man, descendant as he was from a well known family in the Netherlands Antilles. His father had had a successful career in the colonial Government and was also a well known politician after the decolonization, mainly representing the Windward Islands. A privileged position he had handled very skillfully.

At least once year Irving and I would have to sit down and negotiate the supply of fuel oil to the KAE, which was then the utility company  producing   all the water and electricity for the Island of Curaçao. Irving would be accompanied by the Island Secretary, the flamboyant Boeli van Leeuwen, famous writer of many bestselling novels. One of the top three Antillean writers. A nice man, but not really a friend of multinationals. And he would voice his opinion loud and clear.
During these rounds of negotiations the professionalism of Irving manifested itself very clearly. Calm, well briefed and determined we would arrive at a deal which was satisfactory to all involved. Although these negotiations were difficult, it was a pleasure having those discussions with Irving and Boeli van Leeuwen. One had a lot of respect for the two because they were of high integrity. Especially knowing that that they were surrounded by politicians who at times behaved very much like the South Americans, with norms and standards which deviated from our, let us say European standards – you will understand what I mean. Let me just say that in the past ten years several ministers and civil servants from the Dutch Caribbean have been sentenced to many years in prison, including a prime minister who spent about 3 years in jail!

Maria Plantz offering a copy of the book to the minister plenipotentiary of Sint-Maartin, René Violenus, The Hague, September 22, 2021 / photo Paul Comenencia.

Enjoyable reading
It is odd that Irving and I never discussed his years as a student. It was only when Jos de Roo published his findings, that I found out that Irving was one of my predecessors with the talks for Radio Nederland Wereldomroep. More than 15 years before!
Somewhere during the sixties when studying in Delft to become a Chemical Technologist, I was elected to become President of VASIN, the student Association for the Academic students from the Antilles, including Aruba (Vereniging van Antilliaanse Studenten in Nederland). One of the duties of our Association was to provide a speaker for the Wereldomroep every month. He or she would send a message to the people back home on how we students were faring in Holland. The audience were the family and friends back home who were curious about our whereabouts. Just as in Irving’s case the contact with parents and friends was sparse. There was no internet, skype, whatsapp or whatsoever. And even the telephone was difficult to utilize and expensive. Even in my time you would not call home more than once a year.
Irving’s Talks, Ole Tales, are impressive and read as intriguing stories. The way stories are told back home in the Caribbean. Very enjoyable reading. Apparently Irving took this task, as always, very seriously, and also with a lot of creativity. That he chose to broadcast these stories is characteristic of him. He was a person who would always  be people oriented.

Irving Plantz and his wife at a Kiwanis meeting

Antilliaanse academici
In Curaçao he joined the Kiwanis Club which on our islands, more than in other locations is focused on the community. A real Service Club with projects for  those groups on the island which are in need.
This was also the case with Irving’s role in the NAGA, Nederlands Antilliaans Genootschap voor Academici. This  association of Antilleans, who had graduated from an European university, was very conscious of their role in the community, for a major part Dutch expatriates and an increasing number of locals who had finished their degrees on a scholarship – received after the Kingdom Charter had come into effect in 1954 – marking the real end of the Colony Curaçao and onderhorige eilanden. Irving was one of the few who had received his degree long before that period in 1952.

But that is how I first met Irving: this Association had organized an information evening – in Avila Hotel – for all students who had signed up for a study in Holland that year 1955. The Association goal was  specifically to give information on not only the studies, but also the dramatic change in  our life, once we had embarked on this study in Holland.  Till this day we can be grateful for that gesture. We owe him and the other members a lot!

ir. Gilbert Wawoe

Un bon hende!
Irving himself had not been that fortunate, as he was send to Holland in 1938, at the age of 14 years, to the famous Rolduc boarding school in Limburg, formerly a monastery of the monks of the Capucijner order (established  already in 11th century). There was no secondary educational school on the islands before the war. It must have been a dramatic transition! But that is where he was trained in how to live and behave and where he acquired the high standards of morality, which he exercised during his career and of which the Curaçao community later benefitted from.
I will stop here, although there is a lot more to say about Irving. I think that we can summarize a description of his personality, utilizing a real expression in our local language of Papiamento:  Irving tabata UN BON HENDE. A through and through Good Man.

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