An interview with Roberta Williamson-Musco


Material Information

An interview with Roberta Williamson-Musco
Physical Description:
29 minutes
Roberta Williamson-Musco
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Paul Ortiz

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 036 Roberta Williamson-Musco 7-8-2011
PCM 036
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Full Text


The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix 241 Pugh Hall PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 Phone 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when c onducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SP OHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interview ee; subjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers ref er to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


PCM 036 Interviewee: Roberta Williamson Musco Interviewer: Paul Ortiz Date: July 8, 2011 O: I wonder if we could start by having you give me your full name. W: a Adele Hollander, and ma rried, unhyphenated, Williamson Musco. My father was Charles Sanford Hollander, born in 1892; came to the Zone the first time in February of 1918. Daddy was one of the founders of the Canal Zone Credit Union. Daddy also was a Boy Scout leader, and I have his card from the registration in August of 1918 with the Boy Scout Troop 1. Aft er his time in the Zone, Daddy was a not a Roosevelt Medal Holder. He did leave the Zone, but he went back in 1929. He was there, one of his position s was working with three different divisions: he worked with the M unicipal Engineers and two other division s. I think he was one of the few people that ever worked at three different divisions. One of his jobs was to supervise was the mess and the construction at Madden Dam. He met my mother who was a nurse, who came down. Her name was Eleanor Freund Hollander, and she came to the Zone in 1929 as a nurse Gorgas They married in August 15, 1931, and I was born on July 18, 1932. We left from Pedro Miguel when I was born. We lived in a hut in Madden Dam, which was a very small community of probably five or six fam ilies, max. They no longer family named Klotz, Kathy Klotz. My mother being a former nurse, was friends


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 2 [19]50 of Balboa High School. Our class, this year incidentally, is having what niners, fifties, fifty one s, fifty twos, and fifty threes. O: W: sister, incidentally, who is also attending. Her name is Rosemary Louise Hollander, and she will be here t oday. Her married name is McCorkle. Rosemary was born in 1936, and we moved from Madden Dam in 1936 and moved t o the Heights. We lived on Mindee Street, which overlooked what was the airport, and were there until 1937, moved to Florida, moved back in 1940. But Daddy stayed on with the Zone at the beginning of World War II getting primed up for the war. My mother, little sister, and I were stuck in Jacksonville from 1941 until 1945. O: Jacksonville, Florida? W: Jacksonville, Florida. But Daddy was in the Zo ne the whole time. During that period, he worked on the messes for the troops coming through, and of course continued his work with the M.E. division. During that period, he still and was one of the founders of the Canal Zone Credit Union. I was telling my granddaughter that Daddy had the safe in his room, and people would come who had a death in the States, and they would ask Daddy for money. Dr. Sampson was one of the people that had initiated the founding of the Canal Zone Credit Union. Daddy had


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page.3 some pr ior banking experience, and he continued with that until he retired in 1953. They built a beautiful building, what used to be Fourth of July Avenue, but before Daddy retired, a nd he went on to do six or seven other credit unions after O: What was the high school like during those years? W: never land. We never had a d irty street. Everything was immaculate. It was run by the military, and we had several generals that handled things. If the kid was bad, the kid was deported. our little sail boats. At Balboa High School I was make up editor of the Parakeet If you know what the Parakeet was, the Parakeet was our high school newspaper. During the year that I was a senior, Burt Page was one of our artists with the Parakeet. Mary S. Brigham was t got with the Ambassador Murray Wise we went to the museum, and we went out in the boonies to place I had never been and featured Panama First in the high conditioned in those days. [Laughter] The year that was an eighth grader was the year the Yankees came, and we had Joe DiMaggio outside. I was taking eighth grade Spanish; it was seventh grade Spanish b ut I was an eighth grader that year and I was on the second floor. We


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 4 could look out and see the football stadium and where the ball field was. We did have Joe DiMaggio and all the Yankees there, which would have been right after World War II, probably [19 ]45 to [19]46. As I say, the high school was not air conditioned; things were pretty hot. We had an ROTC: the kids would parade out on the parade grounds. There were girls who are classmates who were the sponsors of the guys. They had an excellent ROTC. I also was in theater, which was called the Balboa Theater. The director was S c hubert Turpeyfell, and we called him Turpey, or Mr. Turpey. Actually, we had some pretty good plays. They were done through the high school, and we also had music, which was Mr. B ramstedter, and we called him Brammy. One of the nice things was at Christmastime, the old Balboa Elementary School was the site of Christmas carols. The girls would be dressed in long, white dresses and carry candles. The chorus for the high school would sing at that, including the Hallelujah C horus. O: [Laughter] Right. W: What else about the high school? We had touch football. It was the first year when I was there that we brought down Miami High School, and the boys got really muddy out there. They onl y other competitors, of course, were the junior college and the Cristobal Bugs [laughter] We also had Caribbean Girls State. Are you familiar with Boys and Girls State? O:


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 5 W: Okay. In the United States, a certain junior is invited, a re presentative of his area, represent Florida in Titusville at the Boys State here in the Florida. Anyway, we had Caribbean Girls State. It was the first year we ever had it, and we ha d it out and they had to put canvas up for us. The first year, we lived in cabins. The second year, we were junior counselors for that. It was fun because we had generals. I wro te the newsletter, and I wrote what was it? Something about munitions, and the word that I put I spelled the word wrong, and everybody was hysterical because instead of going to the lecture on the guns, I wrote it in writing. Everybody said, hey, you didn the word at all. O: Oh, no. W: the representatives of either high school. They elected a president, vice president, senators, etcetera. Still have the little pin from that. What else would you like? O: You had mentioned on our way over, what was life like for women? W: Nursing School in Birmingham the week of the ending of World War I. She had


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 6 had a career; she was born in 1896. She got her appointment to the Zone from Senator Lester Hill of Alabama. She was a private duty nurse, and she learned had an unhappy romance, so she came down to the Zone. I have her letters. My aunt in Alabama kept every letter from my mother, and she dolled those out to me when I would go visit and held them in Cullman, which is actually this tornado that hit? O: Oh, Cu llman? I know where that Springville, yeah. W: The tornado hit the homestead that my grandfather built in 1900. Survived. My O: Newer home? W: In a newer home on th e more fancier end of Cullman, but the old place did not get. Anyway, Aunt Hilda dol ed out letters, so I have the letters. There was a gentleman from Florida State who did do a dissertation on, not more discrimination but snobbishness of American women toward the Panamanians. I ion, but I have a feeling that -was going to meet the queen of the carnival, who was black. Did she have to get in 1929, [19]30, [19]31, before she married, those nurses had a ball. What she


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 7 writes, granted there was some disadvantages the weather they went horseback riding, she was in a horse race. They were partied, they were f ted S he rode on a seaplane to the S an Blas Islands. As you know, there was a long period when white people were not allowed to stay overnight. Between that period and lately, now you can. But at one time, you could not go to the islands. But she flew in a sea plane with pontoons, and I brou ght a piece of the mola that she brought at that time with me today for the mola lady. I think they had a wonderful time as nurses. One of the interesting things they had was that she wrote, the a dmiral that was down at the South Pole? O: Oh yeah. W: Okay. She was a dental nurse at the hospital. Nurses did a lot of things; she took were in bad shape. My mom wrote in her letter how they cared for these men who had just stopped from the South Pole, had come up to Gorgas Hospital for care. Gorgas, a few years ago, did feature th e nurses at Gorgas and the staff. All of us who were Gorgas babies got a little nametag at one of the reunions: a little pink one if we were a baby girl or a li ttle blue one. [Laughter] I have the nametag with me, too. O:


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 8 W: I think for my mom, she did contract pneumonia. The dampness did get her. She felt she was more comfortable in the States, which is why in 1940 when we decided to go back, in fa ll of [19]41 we left from the Zone and went back to the States and were stuck during World War II. Daddy was in the middle of the Caribbean going back to the Zone when Pearl Harbor was bombed. We were, of course, forced to stay in Jacksonville. Daddy came Zone people got four month vacations. You could save up your two months, and then you could come every couple years instead. Daddy was a scout counselor at the local Boy Scout camp, and she was camp nurse during part of [19]44. She died in 1947; she contracted pancreatic cancer. Her nurse friends were still supportive, they were still there, many of them. As far as she was concerned as a young, single woman, I think they had a wonderful time as far as women in the Zone. Being ma ny officers, they had the pick of the crop. [Laughter] O: Now when you were in high school, you mentioned it was very high caliber of a school. W: mainly the word I understood. Mr. Holtz was our principal at the time. The kids that I ran with all went to college; most of them did go to school in the States, not all of them. They had to take the big exams just like th ey take SATs now. I know when I went to I


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 9 because my scores were so good. I be a teacher, so I transferred to Florida State. I think that the education that we received in the Zone we had many friends. I was in the United Nations Club. A student whose parents were willing to pay the tuition from outside of the Zone I think it was forty dollars a month did pay tuition. We would get kids come from of the kids would go to boarding schools up north if they were upper class daughters come to our school; our ho mecoming queen, Jacklyn Blough she wonderful. There were about thirty or forty of them, and I was the only American girl in the club. There was a great bit of patriotism at that time and international fellowship among us. O: You mentioned teaching earlier. Were you beginning to think about a career in high school? W: I wanted to be a fifth grade teacher, and I fell in love, and the guy that I fell in love with is a senior, could not teach because had papi l loma of the larynx. I said, tested me with round pegs and square holes, and I went into business. I ended up with a degree in personnel administratio n, was a management trainee for Sears, ended up in the ninety ninth percentile of Sears employees as far as


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 10 was you either had too many people on the sales floor and you were wasting get married, went to work in Jacksonville, went home to Daddy, licked my wounds. My pro s pective husband, who was a vet, Citadel grad came to see me get on the ship, so I got on the ship. Three weeks later, he went over and waited for me, and I got on the ship. We were married in Paris, France on the twelfth of October, of [19]56. After that, I stayed home. I worked for nine months in Charleston; of c ourse, his parents lived in Charleston. Then, moved to never taught, but he ended up as a teacher and an educator with an NDEA grant. O: ere the class of 1950 at Balboa High W: I flew down in 1952. Daddy retired in [19]53; I flew down my senior year from Florida State for a two week vacation. I was taking shorthand, I was flunking shorthand. My parents got ahold of the teacher with Balboa High School, had her over to dinner, she did a little tutoring. I passed the class with a C, thank you Balboa High School. They also had Miss Brigham, my teacher, over back again my faithful journa lism teacher who I adored. Then, I did not go back again


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 11 until summer of [19]90. It was right after Operation Just Cause. My oldest son Monterrey in foreign language school. His speci alty is Spanish, and he would summer replacements. Incidentally, he is still working for Department of Defense three kids. They have tried to get to Germany, and they managed to get there. But Mark has been to Nicaragua, did Panamanian vacation for some of the security people, so I went for three days in 1990 right after Operation Just Cause. guards for the e mbassy that had a house in downtown Panama, and we were in the banking quarter. Mark ran every night downtown where the statue of Balboa is. I said, I would never have gone at night as a young girl in Panama. One ery three banks. There were these young men having a party; it was right after they had had that killing for some of the embassies in France or somewhere, and they had killed the young ones at the embassy. Well, I said, where are the guards? Why are these young men about it, Anyway, they were right next door to some beautiful homes on the water. They had a pict ure of Noriega that was their target with a dartboard, and they were throwing darts at Pineapple Face, which is what they called him. We did go


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 12 walked down the hill from Quarry He ights down through the Orchid Garden and down into the Balboa Flats. Tell you the truth, when the plane landed, I cried. my parents met. My mother is buried there. Panama is a unique place. The Zone was, as I say, Never never land. One of my class reunion, probably twenty years ago but he usually comes, one of the upper class Panamanians is David Robles. He is a very wealthy, influential attorney. I said to him, well, David, how are things down in the Zone? David looks at me and he says, Panama. Every year I him at reunions. We were very, very privileged. I was privileged to have grown up in an env ironment that was so safe, so good, and so secure, and so patriotic. My father was in the American Legion: I still have his Legion hat from H.O. #1 h is little crooked hat. As a kid in the third grade, the year we were there in 1940, they had a pen pal, an d so I wrote as a result of my Canal Zone background to a girl of is, being a Girl Scout, I was selected as representative, along with a girl named Yvonne Harvey from the Cristo bal side, as a junior in high school to attend the Western Hemisphere Encampment of Girl Scouts. Lady Baden Powell was a guest; this was in Michigan, and there were girls from all over the W estern H emisphere. As I say, I was representing along with her fro m the Canal Zone. We had them from Puerto Rico, we had every South American country. The camp had been set up by the Girl Scouts from all over the United States. So that


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 13 was a great event, and the following year because I was the representative, I did work with day camp for the Girl Scouts They had a big send off tea for us. The g nd us. We were very privileged to do that. We had a Girl Scout chorus. We did H umpernick s Hansel and Gretel and I was the cookie witch. [Laughter] My little sister also was the cookie witch, and we know, nibbling, crippling mousy, who [Laughter] laughing. [Laughter ] What else? O: story. Are there any other W: I brought my husband. My f irst husband died of colorectal in 1987. I remarried three years later, and one of my classmates, Davis Stevenson, runs Condor Tours. O: W: Davis was one of my classmates. He was one of the military guys in ROTC. His wife, June anyway, I did bring my husband, and we did the fourteen day tour with Davis. We went to places. I had been to El Valle in 1944, [19]45, went up to tour, he h ad a group of about forty people. There was also a man named Horine,


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 14 H o r i n and his wife were on the bus with us. There was a guy there who was about three hundred pounds at the back of the bus, whose daddy was the architect for the Zone. Every stop because we toured all the towns he had a photo op, because his daddy lived in every town. He would rumble up from the back of that bus, hot as blue blazes. He would get up and wander up the front because he had to sit on the big seat in the back and he would go get the picture taken where he used to live. We did go by my house, as a matter of fact. When I went t possible. Davis also makes a trip to Reprosa. You know what Reprosa is? If you the pr e Columbian stuff. I have a huaca huaca and the earrings. Davis takes you to Rep r osa. His trip is urinal; they have a trough. My husband loved that. They also had ten cent beer and the bus had a ice chest. Every But Davis does a terrific tour, and the only groan I have is that I did not take the extra days and go to the San Blas Islands O: Wow. Those are beautiful.


PCM 036; Williamson M usco; Page 15 W: It was a wonderful tour. I would love to take my whole family when I turn eighty, wise I could afford it with six kids and all the grandbabies, but maybe. Again, growing up in the Zone was a privilege, and I thank you for being asked. O: Thank you. This is a wonderful story. [END OF INTERVIEW] Transcribed by: Jessica Taylor November 15, 2013 Audit Edited by Matt Simmons January 7, 2014

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