Tears In Enchanting Rhetoric -Dr. Mayson’s Gets Congregants Spellbound in Tribute to Dr. Sawyer

In traditional Liberia, when an eminent villager dies and is being process for burial, it takes the legends of zoes and bodios of the community to take the center stage in conducting the appropriate rituals. They are the master of the traditions and the language that go with it. The passing of Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer and the quality of language wrapped in tributes offered by well-wishers, mainly by the intellectual class, invokes the reminiscence of traditional village people in such doleful circumstances. By all account, Dr. Sawyer’s widely acclaimed strength as an educator, politician and public servant lied in his unwatched intellectual prowess, his power to weave words with much wit and style lubricated by his bewitching voice. As mourners came forward to present tributes, therefore, it was like a competition of rhetorical presentations or ornamental speeches had broken out. One must have thought the competition had come and gone until Dr. Dew Tuan-Wreh Mayson, another Liberia who, like Dr. Sawyer, is celebrated for his superb eloquence took the podium. Every phrase and line poured out by Dr. Wreh, and accompanied by strong histrionics, kept the throngs of dignitaries and ordinary well-wishers at the state funeral of Dr. Sawyer on Saturday, April 3, on the edge of their seats, spellbound, and endlessly applauding.

The President of the Republic, Your Excellency Gbekubeh Dr. George Maneh Weah, under whose direction these solemn ceremonies are taking place—we salute you, Sir, and thank you for your presence and your generous support. Well done, Sir.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Brothers and Sisters:

There are days which, by the alarm they send of the sudden death of a beloved personality, a man of the people, compel us all to meditate on the meaning of life, the certainty of death, and our individual and collective calling as we sojourn here on earth.

Yes, there are days when the cloud of sadness descends on a community, a circle of progressives, relatives and friends—and indeed on an entire nation—making joyless and meaningless the usual rhythms which characterize our collective existence.

We, relatives, comrades, friends and acquaintances of Professor Dr. Amos Claudius Nagbe Sawyer, we have lived through such days. Since that …..night when news of Sawyer’s death was proclaimed to the world, sadness—like a sharp sword—has wounded our hearts—things have fallen apart, as it were—and we are deeply aggrieved.

And rightly so.  Because the loss we mourn today is monumental.

Sawyer was one of those rare individuals who was both intelligent and honest—two qualities which are rarely found in anyone individual but which are indispensable in our struggle for national development.

I have known Dr. Sawyer all my life.  From the beginning, it was clear to me and to all of our colleagues that AC, Joblo, Dip (our affectionate names for Dr. Sawyer), this colleague was destined to achieve greatness.  He was brilliant and well liked by all of us.  He was then and until his death a very generous fellow.  Generous with his time and generous with his resources.  He was not one of those Saints with an open mouth but a closed wallet.  No, Sawyer practiced the maxim that to pity distress is but human; to relieve it is God-like.

That is why so many people are today mourning Sawyer’s death –the many youths whose school expenses he defrayed; the many families whose livelihoods he supported; the many people he and his wife have reared and taken under their tutelage; and the all and sundry for whom Sawyer has always had a smile and a word of encouragement.

In the early 60s, Sawyer was selected from among equally brilliant colleagues to represent Liberia at an international forum in the United States. We in Sinoe assumed that this honor was also bestowed on each of us.

Sawyer’s photo with the late US President John F. Kennedy was carried aloft by us to every house in Torbornyen.  “See our man”—we shouted to the people.

At the University of Liberia where he attained his bachelor’s degree, Dr. Sawyer was a sort of celebrity, particularly for his work as a radio and TV personality.

Matriculating to Northwestern University in the United States, Sawyer completed a doctoral degree in Political Science, defending an outstanding thesis on Social Stratification in Liberia.

Upon graduation, Sawyer, rejecting many lucrative offers for employment at American universities, Sawyer immediately returned home.  It would seem that, like so many of us, he was bitten by that bug contained in Marx 11th thesis on Feuerbach.  We remember that thesis: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Sawyer decided that his education would not be applied to only “interpreting the world” but, more importantly, education was to be used to change the world.

And so, upon his return, Sawyer plunged himself in the budding struggle for greater freedom in our country. This struggle was being led by Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh who was, and continues to be, a paragon of commitment, modesty and brutal honesty. What he may have missed in stature, Sawyer certainly made up for it in his Einstein+Blyden sized brain, his engaging personality and his strategic thinking—all of which was put at the disposal of the struggle thus enhancing it and giving it a big boost. Sawyer was thus a leading force in our establishment of MOJA AND SUSUKUU.

In November, 1979, Sawyer, already prominent in the leadership of MOJA and SUSUKUU, launched a campaign to contest the mayorship of Monrovia.  Our objective was two fold: to test the political system and its capacity to accommodate opposition and to mobilize against that outmoded law which stipulated that only property owners could vote.  The Sawyer for Mayor Campaign was so successful that the Government, sensing certain defeat, autocratically postponed the election, thus confirming to us our ability to mobilize our people and to replace the Government at the ballot box.

Following the Coup d’etat in 1980, Sawyer , like most members of the progressive forces, lent his support to the Military Junta. He was made Chairman of the Commission charged with authoring a new Constitution.  That Constitution, even after it was retrogressively butchered by the Interim Assembly—that Constitution remains one of the most advanced and most progressive Constitution in our one world.  And after all these years!

To the great disappointment and chagrin of Dr. Sawyer and the progressive forces, the new Military regime, whilst sporting what may be called a “populist ideology”, this Junta –lumpenproletariat in its outlook—embarked on a regime of plunder and repression. Most of the progressives were expelled from Government and hounded into exile.

Our dream of a Liberia free, united, progressive and under the leadership of the majority of its people—that dream was not to be realized under the Military regime.

When Dr. Sawyer and the Liberian Peoples Party contested the excesses of the Military regime, he and so many comrades were jailed and subjected to all kinds of abuses. In solidarity with them, I resigned my post as Ambassador to France and went into exile.

In the crucible of time and almost as with the inexorable force of logic, Dr. Sawyer was to become President of the Interim Government of Liberia which was established as an instrument of peace during our long and brutal fratricidal  war.  Karma?

As Interim President, Sawyer was relentless in his pursuit for peace in our  country.  He endured so many attacks by various factions, all the time refusing,   rebuffing so many attempts to turn the Interim Government into another Armed Political faction, another instrument for violence.  And he succeeded—not without many setbacks, not without many difficulties—he succeeded in pacifying the country culminating in the  election of 1997.

At the Governance Commission which he headed during the Administration of President Sirleaf, Sawyer promulgated a most progressive Code of Conduct for Government officials.  Every time we succeed in enforcing that Code, we render honor to Sawyer as we also strengthen the rule of law in our country.


Brothers and Sisters, Ladies and Gentlemen:

When a person dies in our Liberia, it is usual to make speeches, to emphasize their virtues, but rarely can we say of a person, with greater justice, with greater accuracy, what we say of Dr. Sawyer:  that he was a shining example of a good human being.

And so we are aggrieved: aggrieved at having lost a moral man, a man of extraordinary human sensitivity.  We are aggrieved  when we consider that Sawyer has died at a time when our country could  continue to benefit from his intelligence and his even richer experience.

But Sawyer has left us a  heritage, a fine heritage, and we his relatives, friends and colleagues—we who knew him so well—we are duty bound to promote this heritage.

And what is this heritage?  It is to be found in Sawyer’s progressive thinking, his moral values, his courage in the face of political oppression. It is to be found in his good character, his tenacity, his capacity for hard work. That is why, today as in the future, when an example of a good person is spoken of, when an example of a progressive Liberian, a progressive African is sought, that example, unsurpassed by any other, will be Sawyer’s example.

Tribal prejudices, chauvinism, and egoism had disappeared from his mind and heart.  And he was ready to share his generosity spontaneously and immediately with any person.  That is why we must not hesitate to launch the Amos Claudius Nagbe Sawyer Foundation when we celebrate Sawyer’s birthday on 15th June.

Alas! Ayah! Death is still inevitable and one can only live once, but if you live right, once is enough.  Sawyer lived well and right, and it is for this reason that we must face the future with optimism.  And in Sawyer’s example, we will always find inspiration, inspiration in his devotion to the cause of the people and the service of the State; inspiration in tenacity, inspiration in his patriotism, inspiration in his life of work and responsibility.

And so, whenever the heroes and sheroes of our people are listed,  Sawyer’s name will be in a place of honor alongside Juah Nimley, Madam Suacoco, Albert Porte, Bacchus Mathews, to name only a few of our departed comrades.

And when the names of Liberian intellectuals and authors are called, again Dr. Sawyer’s name will be mentioned with high honors. His many books and articles on the Liberian situation are indispensable for understanding our country, its politics and its people. In his last days, he authored a series of civic books which would mark a great contribution to the education of our people, both young and old. And who will ever forget Sawyer’s contribution  to the political lexicon of our country by a single word—concomitant—which he used in negotiations leading to the establishment of peace in our country. If for no other reason, Sawyer will not be forgotten. Benjamin Franklin assures us that “if you would not be forgotten either write things worth reading or do things worth writing about.” Sawyer did both.  And we shall remember him.

I am about to conclude.  Words are inadequate to express our grief, and it’s no use blabbing.

So, AC, Joblo, DIP., You have done well.  You have run the race, you have fought the fight.  Along with Sister Comfort, your beautiful and indomitable spouse, you have inspired so many young comrades to whom the responsibility has now been given to lead the struggle for rice and rights in our beloved Liberia.

As you, dear Brother, depart these earthly shores, remember that many of us with whom you began the struggle—many of us are retired or on the road to retirement.  But we can never be tired when it comes to standing up in defense of the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden in our country.

Sorry, Brother,  the tears won’t permit me to continue.  So let me conclude with these lines from Tennyson’s Ulysees:

Though much is taken , much abides;

And though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, One equal temper of heroic hearts  Made weak by time and fate, but strong In will to strive, to seek , to find, and not to yield.

Fare thee well, my comrade, my friend, my brother. May the Angels come to meet you.  As we Catholics would say: Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum. May the peace of God remain always with you.

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