Durham resident looks back on life in Panama Canal Zone
With a full career in dentistry under his belt, Dr. Guillermo Evers Airall has turned his talents to writing.
The now-author examines his Panamanian roots and time in the military in his upcoming book “Silver and Gold: Untold Stories of the Immigrant Life in the Panama Canal Zone” Airall reflects on his early life and what life was like growing up while the Panama Canal was being built.
“It’s the legacy of my parents and the hard work my father did which was imparted for me to get an education and become an officer in the military. Not only me but some of my siblings to also get a better education.”
A native of the Republic of Panama, Airall earned his undergraduate degree from Panama University in 1946 before completing dental school at Howard University.
He was commissioned into the U.S. Army in 1953 where he began an international dental practice that brought preventative dentistry and small dental clinics to communities throughout the world.
“It was very gratifying (opening dental clinics), especially in Thailand where I had a dental clinic built and the Valley Forge General Hospital where I was the officer receiving the wounded and conducting background checks from Vietnam and West Point applicants.”
Airall’s 21-year military career included being promoted to colonel and witnessing that racism translated beyond America’s borders.
“The painful thing is that it’s transmitted overseas,” Airall said. “We experienced it in the Panama Canal Zone.”
As Airall’s book cover describes, “his father shared many secrets about the inequality of life during the construction of the Panama Canal due to harsh segregation” so he was acutely aware of the influence of skin color in his home country.
Airall began a private dental practice in Willingboro, N.J. after retiring from the Army. For 33 years his practice allowed him to serve both children and adults while also serving as a clinical instructor at Temple University’s Dental School, lecturing on fixed and removable prosthesis.
Airall said that he is devoted to his wife and three children and described his book as “a labor of love” that’s all about “the legacy of my parents and siblings.”
Airall has been cultivating a strong legacy of his own over the years, as he’s worked to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother.
“Any time you call him, he can tell you about what’s going on in the world,” said his daughter, Angela Airall. “He is highly dedicated to his family. We’re really proud of him.”
His wife, Clara, said that Airall is a wonderful husband, explaining, “He has to be wonderful for us to be together for 65 years.”
Now in their 90s, the Airalls call Durham home, thanks to an invitation by their eldest daughter, Zoila Airall, assistant vice president of campus life at Duke University.
Airall is active in his new community including the Beta Theta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Southwest Durham Rotary Club where he was honored as Rotarian of the Year and Epworth United Methodist Church.
Clara is an active member of the Mu Omicron Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Epworth UMC.
“I like Durham,” Clara said. “I don’t miss the cold of New Jersey. I miss the Broadway plays of New York so I’ve decided to use DPAC as my second home.”
“I like Durham very much so far,” Airall said. “The relaxation, meeting new people, I meet new people here all the time. I like the climate and the beauty of the place. One of my favorite places to visit is Duke Chapel as I enjoy the sermons and singing of Dr. Luke Powery. He reminds me of my brother, who was also a minister.”