Maurice Connor: The Fast and the Tireless

It is difficult to describe Maurice Connor to someone who never has seen him – fortunately, that will be the great minority of our readers. But just for fun, let’s try this for measure: both serene and vibrant at the same time, Maurice Connor’s attitude hangs precariously between the enthusiasm of an eager man willing to try it all, and the impassiveness of one who has tried it all, already. In his 60’s (I won’t divulge more than that) a touch of white adorns his head, but he remains well built, vigorous and decidedly in charge.His office, sparsely decorated with photos and souvenirs of his various incarnations, attests to all the claims brought forward during the presentation speech delivered at the Gala, where he was described as a commercial pilot, entrepreneur, realtor, developer and politician.

 

Maurice, the pilot.

Starting, like everything must, from the beginning, we discuss his career as a pilot. Maurice never says so much, but he is clearly proud, as well as immensely fond, of his time as one. “I got my license in Florida in 1968,” and, uncannily, he produces a bruised but perfectly recognizable card from his wallet to confirm this statement with real proof, “and by the time I was finished with it, 17 years later, I had logged in over 34,000 hours of flight.” No mean feat.


Maurice learned to fly in St. Croix, where he obtained his private pilot license, before traveling to the American Aviation School in Opaloca to carry out his training as a commercial pilot. At this stage he was brought into Anguilla Airways by Jeremiah Gumbs to operate the airline’s Piper Aztec. Soon thereafter he would jump boats (or planes) and join Clayton Lloyd’s Valley Air Services. I ask him what prompted him to make the move but he will not be drawn into a discussion about it – he makes no mention of the breaking problems he experienced with Anguilla Airways’ Aztec in St Eustatius in 1969, nor of anything else, really, other than his ambition, together with Mr Lloyd’s and Michael Hughes’ to make something bigger, brighter, altogether better with V.A.S.

 

Beech Twin Bonanza in full flight. Photo: westin553.net.

The race for air-space supremacy was on in Anguilla: Valley Air Services acquired a Piper Navajo, which still features prominently among Mr. Connor’s photographs; Fleming Air Transport joined the battle with a Twin Bonanza; and Anguilla Airways threatened to trump all cards with the acquisition of a DC-3. But the DC-3 never materialized, and Fleming was unable to compete against Valley Air Service’s fleet, which eventually grew to four planes. There would still be a particularly tense impasse, when a crisis was triggered between Dutch St Martin and Anguillian authorities after WinAir flights were boycotted in Anguilla, but it all was resolved swiftly, and V.A.S. seemed to have gone on to win the war, until the fateful accident that took Mr Lloyd’s life on Christmas Day, 1977. “I was the one supposed to do that flight, you know,” Mr. Connor says ponderously, “not with that plane – with the plane I was flying. But I was coming in from St. Kitts and we got delayed, so Clayton took care of the flight to Anguilla.” He was carrying six passengers, full capacity for his Beech Twin Bonanza, when a manufacturing design led the engines to catch fire during take-off. All seven people perished in the accident.

 

“But long before that,” Mr. Connor continues, shifting the tone of the conversation, “I opened a bar.” Now, I’m really curious about this: I haven’t heard anything about a bar in any of the speeches or articles I have heard or read about Maurice Connor. When I opened this bar, there was nowhere else to go. I had the first generator in the area, and I had a black & white TV. The amount of people that came when there was boxing on, it was like a cinema!” It was the Easy Corner Bar, on the corner opposite Connor’s Car Rental, by the intersection between South Hill and the Blowing Point road.“You see, I’ve always been an active man. I always need something to do. So I would spend the day flying, all day, I would be between Anguilla and St Martin, back and forward, but I could only do that until 5 pm. At 5 o’clock you had to be in at Wallblake, because the sun would go down and we didn’t have any electricity. But I wouldn’t go to bed until about 11pm, so I needed something to do, somewhere to go between 5 and 11 pm. So I decided to open my own place: the first burger joint in the island!” Thanks, Mr. Connor – you’ve just provided me with the perfect sketch to illustrate the enterprise, the pragmatism, the restlessness that shape your character. But Easy Corner Bar was only the beginning. Then came the car rental business. It all started on Boxing Day 1970. Maurice Connor had flown some people into the island and they needed a car. He was not going to use his Volkswagen Beetle, so offered them it for rent. When they took it, they changed the landscape of South Hill forever. Soon enough, Connor brought the next Beetle from St Martin (for somewhere between $500 and $600 US); and then the next one. His fleet would grow to 60 cars at its peak, and it would remain steady at 50 from the mid-90’s until this very day.

 

And then there was the real estate business, which started in 1971 with a modest villa for rental on the road to Blowing Point, and grew to become fourteen units. “I can still remember the first guest we ever had, a gentleman by the name of Milton Osgood. We had him booked to come down for a specific date, but we couldn’t get the house finished on time. So I spoke to his taxi driver, told him to take him to a small guesthouse to stay there for three days and then to bring him to the villa. But the guy must have spoken to the driver, because he came to see the villa. When he saw it, he just said ‘oh, my God’. But I told him we would need no more than three days.” Maurice Connor called upon his family to help him with the finishing touches of the house. They worked for two full days and nights straight, until they could bring Mr. Osgood into the villa. “When he saw it again, he just said ‘Impossible. You couldn’t have done this in two days.’ But we did. And he continued to come every year after that, for a long time.” Maliciously, I ask him if he remembers who was the taxi driver: “I’m not sure, but I think it was Brodz.” You’ll read a lot more about that fellow some other time.

 

But before that, the anecdote that best epitomizes the personality of Maurice Connor: From 1981 to 1984, Maurice was part of the government, acting as Deputy Chairman of the Tourist Board. The question, however, must be – how, exactly, does a pilot get into politics? “Well,” he says, with a knowing smile in his face, “I have always been really good friends with Victor Gumbs and Osbourne Fleming, since we were children.

 

Left to right: Ronald Webster, Victor Gumbs, Osbourne Fleming, Coleville Petty, Nashville Webster & Maurice Connor. Anguilla, 1981.

“So one day we’re sitting, talking, whatever, and they tell me ‘Why don’t we run?’ And I was not too interested, I said I didn’t know anything about politics, or something like that, and they just thought ‘yeah, but we could win, you know.’ And we were back and forward with this for some time until one day Victor said to me, ‘Look, win, draw or lose, we can’t lose,’ and that was that. We ran and we won.” Indeed they did, and so would they in the vast majority of the elections that have taken place since. But not Maurice, because Maurice was not at home behind a desk discussing matters and taking part in meetings all day long. Maurice Connor was, still is, a man of action. He would not run for the following elections, nor would he fly as a commercial pilot anymore. Instead, he would devote his time and energy to his real estate and car rental businesses, consolidating a remarkable career and becoming a perfect example of Anguillian resilience and, because of it, success.

 

 

PUBLISHED BY ANGUILLA LIFE MAGAZINE (VOL. XXII, # 3) IN FEBRUARY 2010.

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