Othon Lynch Bezerra de Mello was one of the leading industrials of Brazil. He was born on 9 February 1880 in the city of Limoeiro, in the State of Pernambuco, son of José Clemente Bezerra de Mello, a descendant of Bernardo Vieira de Mello, hero of the Mascate War, and Ama Lynch Bezerra de Mello, a descendant from an English family.
He studied at Colégio Onze de Agosto, in Recife. Othon had literary tendencies, however his father preferred to guide him towards business, making him learn French and English and familiarising him with the large European companies. In 1913 he married Maria Amália de Araújo Brito, the daughter of engineer Luís Correia de Brito, with whom he had eleven children.
His life of running businesses began in 1905, and eight years later he was already the first secretary of the Commercial Association. In 1921 he stood out as a member of an official commission sent to the President of the Republic to resolve serious problems relating to the commerce of Pernambuco. A dynamic man, at this point he was already a leader in national commerce and industry.
He began his commercial activities in a store on da Cadeia St, today Marquês de Olinda, later opening another on Duque de Caxias St and yet another on Imperador St. In 1924, Othon bought the Apipucos Fabric factory, transforming into the Othon Bezerra de Mello S.A cotton mill, and sought to adopt new techniques imported from Europe in order to obtain a better quality of fabric.
With new technology in the textile industry, English and German specialists also came with their progressive ideas, especially in administration, fighting for better salaries for the workers, for leisure and better food. They even advocated for the creation of a Factory Society.
After the consolidation of these establishments, Othon Bezerra de Mello opened the Amalita Fabric Factory, in honour of his wife, and years later acquired the Várzea Factory, which was offered to him by the owner, Count Pereira Carneiro, modernising it and transforming it into a new emporium, the Anita Factory.
Othon was also a Municipal Councillor and State Representative, but his passion was for enterprises in the textile industry. He encouraged his sons and heirs to be interested in this field of activity.
In 1941 he founded the ‘Companhia Fiação e Tecelagem Bezerra de Mello’ (Bezerra de Mello Thread and Fabric Company), incorporating the Éster Factory, in Santo Aleixo, in the Magé municipality in Rio de Janeiro State. In the same year, he set up the Maria Amália Factory in Curvelo, Minas Gerais.
In 1943, the Othon Bezerra de Mello industries extended to the state of Alagoas with the purchase of the Fernão Velho and Carmem Factories located in Maceió, creating the Sociedade Anônima Othon Bezerra de Mello, Fiação e Tecelagem (Othon Bezerra Anonymous Society, Thread and Fabric).
These new stitching units were given to his sons who, already experts because of studies in Europe and guidance from their father, continued to develop the business. Expanding his area of operations, Othon Bezerra de Mello entered the sugarcane industry, purchasing and modernising the Una Factory, which had been annexed by the Santo André Sugarcane Factory, forming the Companhia Açucareira Santo André do Rio Una (St André of the Una River Sugarcane Company).
While expanding his endeavours, Othon was also analysing and dissecting Brazilian problems through clear and opportune articles in magazines and newspapers.
Aware of the importance for hydroelectricity in Brazil, he bought the majority of shares in the Minas Gerais electric company Companhia Luz e Força Hulha Branca, reorganising it, modernising it and doubling the capacity of its principal supplier: the Baraúna Plant.
A sociable, well-travelled and communicative man, he understood the tourist potential of Brazil. He then launched himself into a new business: the hotelier industry. As early as 1916 he founded the Recife-Hotel.
Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were the most favourable centres for the development of this type of enterprise. He chose appropriate locations in those cities for the construction of grand hotels and created the Companhia Brasileira de Novos Hotéis (Brazilian Company of New Hotels), whose corporate name was later changed to Hotéis Othon S.A. Coming from this was the Aeroporto Hotel, the Castro Alves, the Olinda, the Lancaster, the Califórnia, the São Paulo and the majestic Othon Palace, in the São Paulo city centre, among others.
Concerned about his employees, Othon opened schools for them with medical and dental assistance, and raffled off land to build their houses. He was also an art appreciator. His residences, São José dos Manguinhos in Recife, and Cosme Velho and Petrópolis in Rio de Janeiro, were fine examples of good taste.
In Pernambuco, he instituted the Othon Bezerra de Mello Literary Award, presented by the Pernambuco Academy of Letters for the best books published annually. Identical awards were adopted in Alagoas and Minas Gerais, which gave him the title of Brazilian Maecenas of the 20th Century. He was also given similar awards by the Recife Faculty of Economic Sciences and the Álvares Penteado School of Commerce in São Paulo.
Othon donated an enormous area with water springs in Alagoas to Catolé da Rocha, to supply the city. The governor of Alagoas set up the Othon L. Bezerra de Mello Park there, erecting a bust of its donor. He was known and respected nationally and internationally, having participated on various official Brazilian commissions sent abroad.
With the passing of time and the aging process, the physical resistance of the great businessman was reduced. Sick, he came to stay at his São José dos Manguinhos residence in Recife. Thin and debilitated, he requested to be transported through the bridges and streets, to revisit the places he had run and the city he had helped to make greater.
Othon Bezerra de Mello died on 8 February 1970.
Recife, 31 August 2005.
(Updated on 14 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
SILVA, Jorge Fernandes da. Vidas que não morrem. Recife: Secretaria de educação de Pernambuco. Departamento de Cultura, 1982.
VERAS, Lúcia Maria de Siqueira Cavalcanti. De Apé-puc a Apipucos: numa encruzilhada, a construção e permanência de um lugar urbano. Recife: Bagaço, 1999.
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Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Othon Bezerra de Mello. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.