Clyde Stephens: Scientist, Bocas Historian and Local Storyteller

by Allene Blaker

Some folks in Panama look forward to the return of whales every July so they can go whale-watching. Bird enthusiasts can’t wait for winter when the bird variety and population increases due to the migrating avians. And
of course, sea turtle lovers know when to expect and where to see every species of these majestic animals.

As for us, my husband Clay and I look forward to Clyde and Phyllis Stephens’ annual return from Florida to their home in Bocas. They divide their time between the two residences for many reasons, mainly because their family lives in Florida.


When they come to Bocas, we like to hang out with them at their Hospital Point home, drinking pipas and urging Clyde to tell us a story. Any story, one after another.

Want to hear about birds? Oh, he knows birds. In Florida he works with the Audubon Society as a bird guide.

You like insects? He knows all about insects, having graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in entomology. He once had a key role in discovering the cause of a big banana blight in
Central America—a certain moth—and helped in its control.

As for bananas, Clyde knows everything about bananas. With his university degree in hand in 1959, Clyde was hired by the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) and held a position there for 32 years in banana research and technical services. His first posting was in Bocas del Toro, which he immediately fell in love with and eventually called home. His career also took him to the Philippines, Taiwan, and nearly every banana-producing country in Central and South America and the Caribbean.


Clyde met Phyllis in Honduras, where she was a teacher for the children of UFC employees. They fell in love and married in 1963. Their two children were born in Almirante.

Interested in all things Bocas del Toro? Get Clyde to tell stories. He has so many—having been here for 57 years—and is a gifted storyteller. He has graciously shared his knowledge by offering presentations to the public in Bocastown; many were held at the old shorefront IPAT building but recently they have been given at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). Subjects have included “The History of the Province of Bocas del Toro,” “The Banana Story,” and “Nature’s Way to Control Insect Pests.”

On August 17, he gave a Power Point program entitled “The History of Bocas del Toro as Seen Through Postcards.”The show was to begin at 2 p.m. but the audience soon doubled, and then tripled everyone’s expectations.

The STRI staff had to raid several classrooms and science labs to find enough chairs for all the guests.


With over 150 photographs from 1890 through the 1940s, he captivated the assembly, and of course Clyde accompanied the photos and postcards with engaging tales and explanations of the scenes.

The 90-minute presentation was over much too soon. I think we all could have listened to Bocas history for as long as Clyde was willing to talk.

We’ll get more chances though. Clyde keeps coming back.

And he has so many good stories.


The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

One Comment

  1. Carole Wilson Reply

    HELLO, My name is Carole Wilson, I live in Guatemala, and am a descendant of Capt. John”Jamaica” Wilson of the American Café in Bocas del Toro. I would like to contact Mr. Stephens if possible. I would appreciate your help. Thanks.

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