Arnold E. van Beverhoudt Jr., former chief of the U.S. Interior Department’s Inspector General’s Office in the Virgin Islands, has just completed his autobiography, “Island Boy: My Life on the Rock.”
Born in 1950, the author traces his life growing up on St. Thomas and his subsequent career, and along the way provides a glimpse of the social, economic, cultural and physical changes that took place on the island over the last 60-plus years.
He also provides a smattering of historical research on the colonial Caribbean.
One Claudius van Beverhoudt, born about 1670, was the first of that surname to call St. Thomas home, though he didn’t establish a permanent line on the island. Rather, as the book details, members of succeeding generations crisscrossed the Caribbean, living in Venezuela and on various islands, popping in and out of the Danish West Indies.
By the early 1900s, however, the van Beverhoudt name was well established locally. The author’s grandfather ran a dry goods store on Main Street. And in the 1930s, his father, Arnold Sr., opened an auto repair shop, “Your Service Station,” in Charlotte Amalie. As a sideline, he filmed local events, including Carnival parades.
Arnold Sr. married and had three daughters by his first wife, Olga Creque. After he was widowed, he married Herminia Benvenuti and had two sons, Arnold Jr. and Steven van Beverhoudt.
Both boys showed an aptitude for numbers, both developed careers in auditing, and both distinguished themselves as government watchdogs – Arnold with the federal government and Steven as the first Virgin Islands inspector general.
“I want to say it was perhaps the influence of our father” that steered them, van Beverhoudt said. “He kept meticulous records” and was an outstanding bookkeeper for his own business.
Van Beverhoudt’s school days at Sts. Peter and Paul High School are documented in the book with a generous supply of photos that include some shots of classmates and schoolmates who went on to distinguish themselves in V.I. politics, business and community affairs.
After graduation, van Beverhoudt attended the College of the Virgin Islands (now UVI.) He spent a summer in Washington D.C., as an intern and got his first real taste of auditing. His project was to classify the findings of some 384 audit reports of the Office of the Auditor General of the Agency for International Development. He was hooked.
In 1971 he went to work on St. Thomas in what was then known as the Office of the Comptroller; it later became the U.S. Interior Department’s Inspector General Office in the territory. A federal agency, it had oversight for federal funding in local programs and for local government agencies. Van Beverhoudt worked there for 35 years and was the man in charge for the last 15 years, from 1991 until his retirement in 2006.
Over that span, he headed up or participated in audits of virtually every aspect of the Virgin Islands government, often documenting waste and mismanagement, sometimes uncovering fraud and public corruption, and occasionally revealing information that eventually led Justice officials to undertake successful prosecutions. For five years, from 1997-2001, he was also responsible for Interior’s IG office in the Pacific territories.
“It was always my feeling that, ultimately, the residents of the Virgin Islands, and for a brief time the Pacific Islands, were my customers,” he said.
But not everyone was always happy with his work. The official responses to audits – usually made by the sitting governor – were not generally thank you notes for pointing out problems in their administrations. Some accused him of bias or his auditors of incompetence. And one former lieutenant governor threatened to sue him personally.
One of the biggest fights he had, van Beverhoudt said, was not with the executive branch, but with the former presiding judge of the Territorial Court (now Superior Court) who claimed the IG Office didn’t have jurisdiction over the judicial branch. But he was able to audit both the court and the Legislature as well as executive branch departments and agencies.
In general, van Beverhoudt said the office tried to conduct audits on a rotating basis, so that they were just a matter of course; the stated purpose was not to catch wrongdoing but to identify operations problems and thus help agencies run more smoothly. But sometimes an audit was the result of a complaint or of a tip the office had received.
What was the most egregious thing the auditors uncovered?
Van Beverhoudt thought for a minute and then said probably the most blatant case was that of a woman working at the V.I. public television station WTJX who used a station credit card to pay for her wedding and honeymoon.
“They (who abuse their positions) figure no one is going to look over their shoulder,” he said. And some believe that no one really cares about white collar crime.
Clearly van Beverhoudt did care. He devotes a large section of the book to his work. But he also includes chapters on his courtship and marriage to Helena Perkins, the joys of fatherhood, his hobbies, music (he played guitar with the Screamin’ Eagles in high school), travel, hurricane, and the changing scene in the Virgin Islands.
“Island Boy: My Life on the Rock” is self-published. It is available online at Lulu.com. Van Beverhoudt also plans to sell it via Amazon.com and hopes to sell a paperback version from Barnes & Noble.
“I don’t expect it to hit the New York Times bestsellers list,” he laughed. But he does believe it has enough local interest to appeal to a substantial number of readers both in and outside the Virgin Islands.