I remarked in Part 13 of this series (published on March 21) that several people Mabel Wagner mentioned in her 2007 book Lest I Forget reappear later in their lives in Judith Towle’s new book A Caribbean Awakening. For example, in summer 1950, Ralph and Isador Paiewonsky joined their father in welcoming a request from Ms. Wagner’s Polish husband Wladek to dismantle an old marine railway, as Poland bordered Ukraine, their ancestral homeland. That led to Mr. Wagner being invited to remove a wharf on Hassel Island in the United States Virgin Islands. Ms. Towle mentions that most of Hassel Island had been donated to the USVI National Park by the Paiewonsky brothers (by which time Ralph had become the USVI governor.)



Ms. Towle and her husband Edward founded the Island Resources Foundation (IRF). At the time of his death in September 2006, they were working on a conservation project aimed at transferring Sandy Cay to the National Parks Trust of the VI. Since writing Part 13 of this series, I’ve discovered that Dr. Towle’s life was celebrated at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College on Dec. 2, 2006 under the theme “Remembering Ed Towle.”

The IRF’s archives are held in the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

The VI Studies Institute at HLSCC should offer to house the large collection of documents that Ms. Wagner left in Winter Park, Florida, when she died on Feb. 17, 2022.



While chronicling the exploits of her project-driven husband in developing Trellis Bay, Ms. Wagner occasionally hints that her life in such a remote spot was sometimes quite challenging. For example, she says early on that in any competition between buying a bag of cement or a new dress, the construction material always won. And although she enjoyed entertaining Puerto Rican visitors on the piano Mr. Wagner had bought her, she comments wistfully that he never asked her to play.

Not all the activities of yachtsmen from Puerto Rico were welcomed. Little Michael Wagner complained to his parents about a group who came to Trellis Bay to shoot ducks, and Mr. Wagner ordered them off their land.



However, it was through their shared love of music that Ceci Cromwell, the Dodge heiress, had invited Ms. Wagner to bring her family to spend Christmas 1952 with her husband Raymond Asserson (also known as Bob Ellis, his stage name). Their families became such good friends that the Wagners were proud of being asked to berth the 90-foot yacht Lystria in Trellis Bay (as recounted in Part Nine of this series, published on Jan. 11). Mr. Wagner advised Mr. Asserson, by letter, to have the Lystria’s bow plates mended at the dry dock in Puerto Rico, but they were surprised to receive no reply.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wagner bought a diesel generator for Lystria on St. Thomas, along with a set of tools in case of any emergency.

Mr. Asserson’s silence was explained when Ceci brought her new husband to meet them. He wanted the yacht to be berthed at St. Thomas and ignored any reference to Mr. Wagner’s letter to the previous husband.

Later, the Wagners were upset to hear that Lystria had sunk off St. Thomas after an inexperienced crew had left its anchor unsecured and banging against weakened bow plates.

In the classroom

The Wagners, looking forward to spending Christmas 1954 in Tamarind House, were being exhorted by their Zenith radio to shop early. However, their trip to St. Thomas was constrained by a tight budget.

Their son Michael was bowled over by an expensive little pedal car, but he loved his Christmas present: a small stuffed chimp with “Zip” printed on its shirt-tail. Ms. Wagner looked forward to teaching her children in the schoolroom that Mr. Wagner had built for them. On Jan 11, 1955, their daughter Suzanna was enrolled with the Schoolroom Parents Union, which was founded in 1891 for families posted to far-flung areas of the British Empire.

The books and other material they posted eventually arrived on March 4, 1955. Meanwhile, Ms. Wagner set Suzanna some simple, practical exercises, like counting pebbles on the beach. Michael was too young to be enrolled but eager to join the preparatory work, like reading by phonics and writing in capitals. Even Mr. Wagner joined in, chanting music out of the workers’ sight. Visitors were impressed and brought their children along. Mr. Wagner built swings in a yard off the children’s bedrooms.


Pet sheep

After a couple of particularly rewarding long charter cruises had enabled Mr. Wagner to clear all their remaining debts, he brought back several presents, including an English tea service, so Ms. Wagner could entertain in style. Meanwhile, Louis and Beth Bigelow, their neighbours on Guana Island, gave the family a pet baby lamb they named Meadow, but as it grew up it embarrassed Ms. Wagner by trying to follow her everywhere, like Mary in the nursery rhyme. After Meadow was found grazing with other sheep on a far side of Beef Island, they asked Hugh Varlack to take her to join a flock on Tortola.