During a formal ceremony that took place on its grounds on April 6, 2017, Abaco Central High School was renamed as the Patrick J Bethel High School in honour of long time educator, Patrick J Bethel.
The event was held during a special assembly that gathered a crowd of government officials and invited guests including: Prime Minister – The Right Honourable Perry Christie, Minister of Education, Science and Technology – the Hon. Jerome K Fitzgerald, Minister of Sports Youth and Culture – Hon. Daniel Johnson, Member of Parliament for North Abaco – Renardo Curry, Member of Parliament for Central and South Abaco – Edison Key, Island Administrator – Charles Moss, District Superintendent of Education – Dr. Lenora Black as well as many others.
The officials were saluted by a squadron of cadets as they took their seats.
As Mr. Bethel arrived, escorted by Wynsome Ferguson of the Ministry of Tourism and Dr. Black, the audience rose and applauded him as he was led to his seat next to the Prime Minister.
Moderated by Administrator Moss, the ceremony unfolded with the usual fanfare: invocation by Rev. Marie Neilly, National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance by Destiny Seymour and Lindalee Sawyer, scripture reading by Dikembe Wilkinson and welcome address by Principal Ethleen McIntosh.
McIntosh qualified Mr. Bethel as “a philanthropist who had a way of giving and encouraging others.”
Dr. Lenora Black introduced Mr. Bethel, stating: “I deem it a privilege, a distinct honour to have been afforded the opportunity to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to our honouree, Mr. Patrick J Bethel, my former Principal and mentor at the Bahamas Training College.”
Calling him a “Trail blazing giant,” she went on to say that Mr. Bethel belonged to a fraternity of educators who viewed the teaching profession as not a vocation, but a “calling.”
Mr. Bethel acknowledged the Prime Minister and expressed his gratitude for the distinction he was receiving. He thanked his family members, among them his grandson, Spencer Bethel and the friends who had come to share his recognition.
Mr. Bethel was then recognized and praised by MP Renardo Curry, Rev. Carla Culmer and Donella Bodie, before the introduction of the Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald by Charles King.
Mr. Fitzgerald gave a brief synopsis of Mr. Bethel’s career and explained in detail the process by which he had been chosen to have a school named in his honour; a process, said the Minister, that has been going on for years as schools over the country have been renamed in honour of deserving educators: only the best of the best among great educators were chosen, he said.
He praised Cherokee Sound for having produced so many influential people and congratulated Patrick Bethel and is family before introducing the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Christie stated that he had known Mr. Bethel for a long time. As a result, he said that he spent a lot of time on Abaco and knew many people here and their “spirit.”
“I know the extent to which Patrick exemplifies that spirit, a spirit that does not run away from crisis.”
“Education is in the forefront of our Government; there is no better time than present to pay tribute,” he went on. “Let the record reflect that the subject is Mr. Bethel that we honour today.”
He summarized the life of Patrick Bethel through a sentence from a poem titled ‘Unknown Citizen’:
“’For in everything he did, he served the Greater Community.’”
“… we are insuring here” the PM added, “that future generations of Bahamians are reminded of his contribution”
The Prime Minister delivered messages of support to school administrators, teachers, parents and students.
Mr. Christie then reminisced on a period of his life when, in spite of the odds, he overcame not being accepted by a well-known school in New Providence because his parents were told that he could not learn. So he became a Track and Field athlete and gained international status.
He eventually decided to become a lawyer and attended university in the UK where he excelled.
“And look where I am today”, he joked.
He told the story to urge educators not to give up on any students.
Acknowledging the Principal and the staff of the high school for their contribution to the ceremony, he concluded his address by saying: “It is with distinct pleasure and profound pride that I join the citizens of The Bahamas and the people of Abaco in renaming Abaco Central High School, Patrick J Bethel High School.
For the occasion, the staff of Patrick J Bethel High School had beautified the surroundings with flowers; the Science Department had painted and erected a large banner that had Mr. Bethel’s photograph and the present name of the school as well as the name it would have after the ceremony, hidden by a blue curtain. The Art Department’s students had painted a huge Marlin- the school mascot- on one of the walls as well as three smaller renditions on canvas that were presented to Mr. Bethel, to the Minister of Education and to the Prime Minister.
Enacted by students, a skit took place as though in a classroom of Cherokee Sound School when Patrick Bethel was a student; it was a humorous story of him getting in trouble with the Head Master for kissing a girl.
The assembly then dispersed to meet by the front door of the school for the unveiling of the sign stating the school new name: Patrick J Bethel High School.
A Junkanoo rush ended the ceremony with bright colours and music.
Mr. Patrick Bethel’s career in education spanned over thirty years. He taught in five Family Island schools – four of which were in Abaco, including: Cherokee Sound, Green Turtle Cay, Hope Town and Lake City.
After studies in London, he became a teacher at Bahamas Teacher’s College, then eventually the Principal.
He was later appointed Deputy Director of Education.
Even after retiring from the Ministry of Education, he spent time assisting with teaching in various ways such as spending time at the Crossing Rocks All Age School in the 1990s.
As a Rotarian he was awarded the Paul Harris Fellow, an honour bestowed on people recognized for service to their community.
Mr. Bethel was one of only nine educators recognized by the Government during the Silver Jubilee celebrations.
In the 1980s he helped form the Abaco Concerned Citizens Committee which would lobby the government for local causes.
His contributions were not just civic and educational. He started businesses and served as president of the Abaco Chamber of Commerce. Just as important is his dedication to the Methodist Church where he has spent time as a lay preacher.