By Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D |
Good evening Excellencies, families, and friends.
It is hard to bid final good bye to a longtime friend, undergraduate and graduate school mate, Dean and professional colleague.Our relationship was contextual, self-reinforcing, and professional. William Shakespeare reminds us in the Tempest that ” What is Past is Prologue,” meaning, in the sense used here,that the historical context of one’s upbringing and school days,determine the successesof his or her career in the future, a future that I shared with my departed friend, who I came personally to know as Boy Boko or Dave.
The context began in 1974, when Dave and I became friends. This was the era when our nation offered a plethora of opportunities to its youth to dream and grow. The government of President Tolbert expected Liberian youths to be good citizens: imaginative, creative, productive, and useful to themselves as well as to their country.Dave met all these criteria.
Our initial contact was ignited by two mutual friends, one of whom was a UL Senior I came to befriend after removing my blindfold at the 1974 University of Liberia’s Freshman Debut, due to his torment. The other I met, also in 1974,during an afterschool freshman algebra preparatory class. As fate would have it, my two new friends were tenants of Dave’s aunt on Lynch Street, Monrovia, where Dave resided.I lived with my Grandmother on Duncan’s Alley, which was a walking distance from Aunt Powell’s house on Lynch Street, where I was a frequent visitor to study with my friends.
We developed a tripartite bond that cemented our ties, while each of us pursued his dream during what we conceptualized as a New Republic. Because of his initial chosen vocation in the field of science education, we thought at once that Dave would one day be an engineer. His dedication and discipline of studying hard was unsurpassed in our cohort.
We watched as he flowed with the opportunities of the times, exemplifying his leadership and talents, as a bass voice in the University Choir, his pan-Africanism demonstrated by his leadership in the Mano River Union Students Association, his devotion to community duties in the Bassa University Students Association, andas a continuity announcer on the Liberia Broadcasting Corporation (ELBC) radio. His extracurricular activities seemed limitless.
I remember a memorable road trip with Dave and other close friends that our UL student group took to Freetown in 1976, with the support of President Tolbert,on the then exquisite Tommy Bernard YES Transport bus,to present a statement to President Siaka Stevens, and participate in a colloquium on the Mano River Union at Fourah Bay College. Dave and other student leaders were very instrumental in bringing the students of UL and Fourah Bay College together under the MRU banner much to the delight of Presidents Tolbert and Stevens.
Our prophesy proved false when he chose a career in law rather than education. Or perhaps, we did not pay attention closely, quite characteristic of teen our age minds. On retrospect, and on close reflection, his choice would have been predictable, because he always asked for evidence during discourses, when the rest of us made ceteris paribus assumptions about the then, many paradoxical issues affecting our New Republic and its role in Africa and the comity of nations.
We all went our separate ways after graduating from our beloved UL: some to the land of the Pharaohs and others to the Big Apple and elsewhere. Boy Boko stayed on the ground to work for the Government of Liberia. We later reconnected at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where I was pursuing graduate studies, and had encouraged him to apply when his law firm decided to sponsor his graduate education.
He became a veritable Penn Law student under the watchful supervision of some of America’s best legal minds and World class faculty. At Penn, he participated stridently in students’ legal activities and took advantage of the legal programs at other professional schools such as Wharton, to obtain a cross disciplinary and well-rounded education. During our breaks at Penn, we frequently met at a favorable spot at the law school called “The Goat,” to compare notes and discuss developments back home.
I believe it was at Penn that Dave’s disposition in jurisprudence was acquired from his very tough professors, who he frequently talked about. We spent memorable times together on Chester Avenue, in Southwest Philadelphia, where I lived, off campus, and at his cousins’, the Montgomery’s residence, in West Philadelphia, where we often got together over some weekend to socialize with friends and families.
After graduate studies, we returned home to serve. When the UL was searching for a President at the dawn of the 21st Century, fate would again bring me and Dave in full circle, this time with him serving on the Search Committee that interviewed me for the post of President.
The National Transitional Government of Liberia at the time, under the able leadership of Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant, had no funds to bring home the applicants who applied from abroad for a campus visit. I can still vividly remember seeing Dave and other recruiters’ image on the video screen at the United States Department of State in Washington, DC, where I had gone to be interviewed by satellite, videoconferencing.
This is part of my recruitment story as the 12th President of our great Alma Matter, the University of Liberia. After my inauguration as President of the UL, I offered Dave the position of Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. His answer initially was a frantic “NO,” because he did not have time to take from his very successful Law office, the David A.B. Jallah Law Firm.
It took a long period of cajoling and reminding, that we should give something back to our beloved Alma Mater, for Dave to accept the offer, whose duties were indeed sacrificial, because of the very low remuneration and nonexistent benefits for services. I am indeed proud to say, that when the modern history of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law shall have been written, the name of Dean David A.B. Jallah will be ingrained eternally in the Law School’s roll call, for laying the postwar foundation for academic excellence in legal jurisprudence in Liberia.
During the University’sCommencement Convocation in December 2015, when all Former UL Presidents were honored by the Administration of Dr. Emmet Dennis, Dean Jallah took out time fromhis busy schedule to give me and President Dennis a tour of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law.
It was my great pleasure to reconnect with Dean Jallah and his dedicated staff. During a sumptuous lunch he hosted in our honor with members of his staff, I had the distinctive honor to congratulate him for his accomplishments, exemplary and sterling leadership qualities that had brought many innovations to our premier law school. Graduates under the UL’s partnership with Indiana University are now substantive assets to the Law School and the Government of Liberia.
The Liberia Legal Information Institute (LiberLII) has become an innovative, treasure trove of legal resources that enhance research and information dissemination on current and rare legal materials. These achievements, in addition to the face lift of the class rooms and library, the law journal and newsletter projects, did not only restore the Law School to its original high standards, but also set a new pace for the school as West Africa’s leading school of jurisprudence.
Finally, I would like, on behalf of my family, to extend to the family of Counselor Jallahmy deepest and heartfelt condolences. May the Good Lord give them the strength, courage and fortitude to bear his great loss.
May the soul of my dear friend and colleague, Cllr., Dean David A.B. Jallah, rest in perfect peace. And may light perpetual shine on him in Bliss.
I thank you.
 Republic of Liberia. 1974. Presidential Papers: Documents, Diary, and Record of Activities of the Chief Executive. Monrovia: The Executive Mansion, Press Division, P.196.
Ambassador of Liberia to Nigeria Delivered at the Wake/Vigil Service for Cllr. David A.B. Jallah Trinity Cathedral Episcopal Church, Monrovia
(June 15, 2018)