William Collier: Synopsis of a Memoir, Pt. 35 - Panamanian Adventure

April 13, 2016


The 1980's brought a new face to the space next door to Colliers, in the same building, one door south. The incredibly modern Courreges Boutique opened, presenting a compliment to 6th Avenue, as well as our entrance. This was couture at its finest. In retrospect, Seattle was not ready for Andre Courreges. His futuristic designs were appreciated, but few could handle the "WOW" factor. I was a very big fan of the Courreges statement. Andre Courreges died at age 92 on January 7, 2016. He was considered one of the most original fashion designers in Paris.

Shortly after we opened, a travel opportunity came about through an invitation from a client, Dr. Randolph Preston Pillow. Randy, as he was referred to by friends and close associates, was a doctor at Virginia Mason Hospital. Born in Virginia, a graduate of the University of Virginia. Randy had a passion for travel, and had been invited to visit a friend from college, a native of Panama, Dr. Theodro (Teddy) Arias. Teddy was the nephew of previous three time president Arnulfo Arias. The purpose of the trip was for Randy to strategize with Teddy regarding obstacles preventing his daughter admittance to the University of Virginia.

Teddy could not leave the country upon orders of then Dictator Torrijos, accusing him of being involved in a coup to overthrow his dictatorship. To make matters worse for Teddy, one of his fighting cocks had defeated Torrijos fighting cock in a recent fight. A revenge fight had already been scheduled. Which explained the emphasis on training the fighting rooster/cock that would represent Teddy in the upcoming fight. I share this as an interesting side story. Upon arriving in Panama City, we rented a car and headed to the Pacific Coast where we would remain for a week, as guests at Teddy's summer home. On the morning of our first day, I woke to a strange rooster type noise, not the normal "cock a doodle do", it was more of a screeching noise, meant to intimidate. I can tell you it certainly got my attention. I immediately jumped out of bed, looked out the window to see what was going on. When we arrived the previous evening it was getting dark, and we were exhausted so went directly to bed, not noticing any of the landscape. In the morning light, as I looked out the window I could see a man, presumably the Panamanian caretaker, and a rooster with a sock over its head being guided in and out of the caretakers outstretched legs. I could not get out there fast enough. The caretaker introduced himself the best he could, speaking very little English. I returned the introductory greeting the best I could; he was in his early forties, slender with a big smile. I acknowledged my interruption and encouraged him to continue. It was later explained that the training was a daily routine, designed to improve agility and coordination. The sock over the roosters head help calm and minimize crowing, somewhat out of consideration of our proximity to the early morning training. The stable of roosters consisted of approximately fifteen hutches. The birds were fed raw beef daily among other nutritional supplements. To this day I remember the look of confidence in the birds eyes, as well as the "swag" in their walk. We left before the scheduled fight with General Torrijos rooster, not sure who won.

There were many experiences on this trip that were out of the ordinary. On one particular occasion we were meeting Teddy at the entrance to the Panama Canal visitors center. Teddy was there to greet us and be our personal guide. Our tour began at a theater where tourists could experience a film about the construction of the Panama Canal. Normally there would be around 30 people at a time in the theater. Teddy had his own key to the entrance and we were the only people there; Teddy suggested we take a seat anywhere we liked, and he headed upstairs to the projection room. We enjoyed a private showing of the film, which was quite interesting.

After leaving the theater, we were given brief instructions to follow him and
stay close behind. I was behind Teddy, and Randy was in the rear...Teddy was walking briskly with a distinct destination in mind. We stepped onto a board walk, with the canal on one side and a couple of bleachers on the other filled with tourists. This is where I get a little uncomfortable -- we are walking behind a gentleman who is speaking to a tour group about the canal which is just to our left. Teddy turns slightly and says, "Stay close and watch your step." I am freaking out a bit. We have turned left onto a narrower walkway and are headed towards the operations tower. I'm thinking this does not feel entirely safe or legal. We reach the entrance door and Teddy walks in like he owns the place. He is greeted with warm enthusiasm, "Como esta Theodro", we are inside the operation tower of the Panama Canal, we were introduced with full Panamanian hospitality, and I am finally able to relax. Randy is beaming, apparently quite comfortable with the "greenlight" approach. Our trip remained a "greenlight" experience whenever Teddy was present. He was gregarious, yet humble and proud; a celebrity by political association, and genuinely liked by the Panamanian business community and the people in general. I have not had an experience that exceeds the level of access afforded on that trip.


Back to blog