A tribute to the life and work of the late Karlie Menzies

The death of the late Karl H.Menzies, at the age of 86, has evoked a flood of tributes from the business community of Belize City, where he was well known and greatly appreciated at every social level. The following nostalgic tribute was prepared and delivered by Mr. Marion Usher, his lifelong friend.

“Mr Karlie may not have written any works that made it into the Harvard Business Review, the Economist or the Wall Street Journal, but there was no need to publish his words of wisdom.

“We all knew. He had a stellar set of core and common sense values, which he developed in the Belize school of hard knocks, and which he willingly shared with all of us.
“When he spoke his words of wisdom I listened. I will always remember my discussions with him and his response as I considered venturing into business. He raised his head slowly, looked me squarely in the eyes and said: “My brother, measure twice and cut once”.

“At first I was taken aback, but those words have stuck with me. I remember his deep, inner wolfish, chuckle that accompanied this and most of his words of wisdom, punctuating his point and softening his message.

“Mr. Karlie was a strong person through and through, in character, in personality and in presence. I believe that he would have been a master at whatever dream he pursued: Imagine Mr Karlie a superb lawyer or a formidable politician. But no, His passion was commerce.

“Karl Hugh Joseph Menzies, or Mr. Karlie, always spoke of counting his blessings. Those blessings were many, including a beautiful wife, three loving daughters, and a successful business. But, it did not start out that way for … he grew up poor, one of eight children born to Dolly and Edwin Menzies.

“Mr. Karlie loved to tell stories of his upbringing in extreme poverty, with outdoor latrines and hand-me-down shoes. One story he loved to tell is of his first foray into entrepreneurship. At the age of seven, he began picking up horse and mule dung from the streets, selling it as fertilizer, but keeping some and using it to fertilize his okra patch, then selling the okra.

“Combining his flair for entrepreneurship and his love of pranks, he also told the story of selling iguanas. He caught the iguanas, stuffed them with small guavas so that it appeared they had eggs, because the ones with eggs fetched a higher price.

“Needless to say, he didn’t get away with this for very long. One customer almost delivered him a very harsh lesson in customer service and quality control, but fortunately young Menzies was a fast runner.

“Never afraid of hard work, Mr. Karlie always talked proudly about riding 9 miles each way daily to AgStock to earn 30 cents a day. He worked on the Shulister, he drove a taxi in partnership with his brother, and he taught many people to drive. Mr Karlie never forgot his humble beginnings, and in fact spoke of them with pride.

“We all admired Mr Karlie for never hiding anything about himself. What others treated with shame, he boasted about with pride. For example, his formal education ended at Standard Six, and he often joked that this was his key to success. In response to queries about where higher education would have taken him, he said he would likely have been a civil servant.

“At the age of 17, he began his career in commerce at John Harley & Co., earning five dollars a week, and climbed his way up the ladder from grocery clerk to travelling salesman to warehouse manager.

“He took a pay cut and left John Harley to go work at British Honduras Distributors, and became the company’s first local sales manager.

“Recruited by Hofius Ltd, Mr Karlie informed Heineken he was leaving B H Distributors. Heineken, recognizing that he was the person who put their beer on the market, offered him the distributorship if he wished to go into business for himself.
“So it was, that Karl H Menzies Co. Ltd. was founded, 45 years ago this month (on 2nd October, 1969) with nothing more than a small loan from HRCU, an overdraft facility, and an old truck. That loan from HRCU, which started his business, was given on the strength of his consistent record of saving.
“He always reminded all of us, that “a penny saved is a penny earned”. He practiced what he preached, even when he was earning $5 a week. Mr Karlie saved faithfully.

In time, because of his loyalty and strong involvement with HRCU, Henry ‘Eagle’ Usher recruited him to the Board of Directors in 1989. He eventually succeeded Mr. Henry as President, becoming the longest-serving President in HRCU’s history, from April 1997 to August 2014, when he stepped down due to health reasons.

“Everyone who attended an AGM, remembers his jokes and rousing announcements of prize winners.
“Mr. Karlie had a strong loyalty to his country. He firmly believed that for all that he was given, he must give back. He was known for his public service, illustrated by his appointments to serve on numerous boards, including the Belize Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Belize, the Sugar Board, the Citrus Control Board, BTL, Protected Areas Conservation Trust, Chairman of the Elections & Boundaries Commission, to just name a few.

“He was, however, best known for chairing the then Belize Electricity Board and bringing it back to solvency, remaining on the board of the new entity, Belize Electricity Limited, for many years.

He was a staunch and vocal supporter of its debenture program to the very end of his life.
“The organization that he served the longest with, and to which he was most devoted, was the 4 H Foundation. He always felt that it was an excellent way to educate our nation’s youth in entrepreneurship. He freely and generously shared his wisdom with the 4H youth, telling them that 4H was about ‘helping the needy and not the greedy’, and encouraging them to “learn to earn and save.” He urged them to ‘work and save your money when you are young, so that when you get old, your money will work for you’.

“He served at 4H for 58 years, until declining health forced him to retire.
Mr Karlie also served as a Senior Justice of the Peace and a Commissioner of the Supreme Court. In 2003 at the annual Tribute to Belizean Patriots, he was recognized with a Meritorious Service Award for the long years of service he has given to his beloved Belize.
THAT was what MrKarlie did, but we are also celebrating his life today because of who he was.

For many, MrKarlie was a financial advisor and a mentor. If you had an entrepreneurial idea, you could count on his enthusiastic encouragement and support, promptly followed by him asking whether you save at HRCU. He was the credit union’s biggest fan, never shy about telling anyone that his business success was made possible by the credit union. His persistence was legendary, and one frequent piece of advice was “don’t ever give up.”

Notwithstanding his youthfully misguided iguana sales efforts, MrKarlie was a champion of integrity and ethical business. In all the business advice he gave, he invariably advocated against compromising moral integrity in order to succeed. He never felt that success by cutting corners was truly success.

There was also a lighter side, as we all knew. MrKarlie had the largest collection of fax numbers in the country. How many of you were lucky enough to be on the list for his jokes? He was also an early adopter of technology and when the internet came to town he promptly moved to e-mail circulation.

Many of the jokes were, of course, not for discussion in this forum, but they often arrived in the middle of a hard day, never failing to provide much-needed comic relief.
“No one loved the sea and the cayes more than Mr Karlie. He always joked if anyone heard that a Menzies was lost in the bush, it wasn’t him. But if a Menzies was lost at sea, it could be him! He used to run away to sail as a young boy, and often raced sailboats with, and against his friends, Barney Mahler, Denys Bradley, Willie Longsworth, and many others. He even apprenticed for a short time as a ship’s pilot before being bitten by the Commerce bug.

“Hard work afforded him the privilege of owning a boat and a house at the caye. This was a great source of happiness and relaxation for him during the most stressful years of growing and running his business. On virtually every weekend, Mr.Karlie could be found at St George’s Caye with his family, fishing for kingfish, waterskiing, or just lying in the hammock sipping gin and coconut water…or a Heineken beer, of course.

“Mr Karlie was born on February 14, Valentine’s Day. This gave him bragging rights to be Valentino, of which he boasted frequently. During his last hospital stay, he continued to show his appreciation for the ladies and would still be heard calling them “Dawling”.

“He was, of course, completely devoted to Ms Dorothy, yet never failed to appreciate a good looking woman, saying, he could ‘look, but not touch.’ Valentino set his heart to capture Ms Dorothy, and gleefully told the story, that because of his reputation, she declared, she would have nothing to do with him, saying: ‘I could never love a man like you.’

However, his response was, “what Menzies wants, Menzies gets”. Sure enough, Ms Dorothy eventually gave in to his charm. Four decades later, Mr Karlie was very fond of saying: ‘I was her boss for four years; and now, she has been my boss for over forty.’

“Mr Karlie greeted everyone with a smile, a laugh and a joke. He never failed to find the right joke to relieve a tense moment. During his last term on the BEL board, it became the ritual for meetings to begin with one of his jokes. He was a legendary prankster, and a great storyteller.

“Despite that, Mr Karlie was no clown. He was also a repository of great wisdom, having benefitted from his own life’s lessons as well as experiences of his elders. He was deadly serious when it came to his family, his business and his service to his country.

He knew when it was time to play and when it was time to work, and could do both equally well.
“Belize has lost one of her most devoted citizens, one who never wanted to leave her for even a moment, until such time he had no choice. He served his country in more ways than we can count, and believed in her potential to the very end of his life.

“He lived, he loved, and he enjoyed life to the fullest. He taught us that laughter truly is the best medicine. We will need to remember his lessons in these moments. Ms Dolly pickney has left us, but we are all the better for having known him.

“In 1982, my father, Henry “Eagle” Usher, shared with me a poem by Bessie Anderson Stanley. He must have had a premonition, that I would have the honor of speaking to you today, and have the opportunity to present this poem about his friend. The poem is titled Success, and my mentor and my role model Mr Karlie, was a success.
In closing, I will read this poem.

He has achieved success
who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.
Mr Karlie truly believed that if you worked hard, laughed daily, saved faithfully, treated people humanely, with a little help from God, you could enjoy the blessings of this life.

Recognizing his life could easily have taken a different path, he often dclared :
‘Me da God pickney.’ Mr Karlie is indeed, truly, a child of God. Rest in peace, Mr. Karlie, and rise in glory.

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