August 20th, 1950 – Philbert Cleofoster Mason was born to Samuel and Ina Mason in Golden Grove (Avondale) and was raised at Edwards Street, Ottos, in the vicinity of the Robinson’s Service Station. Hard work and social involvement were not in short supply in his household with his father being a machinist at the Antigua Sugar Factory and organist at the Lebanon Moravian Church, and his mother a housewife and seamstress who played an active role in the Moravian church as president of the Women’s fellowship and a general ardent supporter.
Philbert was the fifth of eight children and considered quite a special one indeed having been born in the midst of two hurricanes. Hurricane Baker struck first with winds up to 120 mph and then a few days later came Hurricane Dog with winds up to 130 mph, both causing extensive damage, however, in the midst of all this, a ‘weather prodigy’ was born.
His early education was at the Ottos Government School after which he proceeded to the Princess Margaret School. Upon leaving school, Mason initially leaned towards becoming trained in Civil Engineering having been influenced by B.T. Lewis and Henderson Simon who were engineers, however, he got wind of an opportunity for meteorological training taking place in England and since he had the requisite subjects, he applied.
His initial studies in meteorology took place at the University of Redding, England and then UWI Cave Hill complements a full scholarship from the World Meteorological Services. He completed postgraduate studies at the University of Florida.
Mason served the Antigua Meteorological Services for 39 years with distinction rising to the post of Director. Prior to assuming the role of Director of Meteorological services, Mason had become a household name in weather, not only in Antigua and Barbuda, but across the region.
He has seen the people of the region, in particular the Leewards and Dominica through major storms such as Hugo (1989) and Luis (1995). He became the go to expert voice for analysis of storms and providing directives to minimize the loss of life and damage to property. For many, the storm wasn’t serious nor was the all clear accepted until “Philbert said so”.
Mr. Dale Destin, Director Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Service shared his reflections on Mr Mason’s impact on the culture at the division during his tenure: “He (Mr Mason) was exceptional at communicating the very complicated science of meteorology to the layperson. His contribution is mainly in the inspiration he provided for many of the current crop of meteorologists. We all wanted to be Philbert Mason, like all basketball players wanted to be Mike; we all wanted to be able to deliver as freely as he did, especially when it became crunch time, when the pressure was greatest, and the lights were brightest. He was like the superstar player that all successful teams need; you knew the toughest job was going to him and he welcomed it and thrived under it.”
During the 1995 independence celebrations the Government of Antigua and Barbuda bestowed the Grand Officer of the Most Illustrious Order of Merit (GOM) on Mr. Philbert Mason for national services in Meteorology. His regional influence was of such that he was awarded the highest national honour in the Dutch Isle of Saba (1996) for his outstanding contributions of meteorological services rendered during the passage of Hurricane Luis resulting in the heightened awareness and the taking of necessary precautions to minimize loss of life and property damage to for the people of Saba and the Dutch Caribbean.
Apart from being a renowned meteorologist, Mason also made his mark as a businessman. His interest in entrepreneurship was piqued while in Barbados where his exposure led to the idea of a license plate production operation. He also pioneered the 24 hour gas station enterprise ‘M&M 24 hours’ which is still located on Old Parham Road. The business still operates today offering other services, besides fuel refill, such as a money transfer services operation.
Mason is also passionate about the Culture and The Arts; in particular calypso. He remains a contributor to various calypsonians across the island. He has also been a Calypso judge and commentator for decades. He has sponsored the Best Social Commentary Award for the Annual Calypso Competition for more than three (3) decades.
2010 Introduction of Soca Artist Tian Winter ‘Hurricane Tian’ by Meteorologist Philbert Mason. A testament to his iconic legacy, some 15 years after Hurricane Luis. He was still the voice most listened to when difficult, weather related challenges loomed.
Mr Philbert Mason GOM continues to do his part even in retirement, he considers himself ‘a practicing retiree!’