Veteran Liberian Educator Jessie Wah King (May 25, 1919-July 22, 2020): A Memoir & Tribute Of An “Academic Son/Mentee”

By Samuel G. Dweh, President—Liberia Association of Writers (LAW) +231 (0)886618906/776583266/samuelosophy@yahoo.com/samuelosophy1@gmail.com

The late Veteran Educator Jessie Wah King

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

The photos featured in this memoiric article are those featured in the Author’s published news stories and articles  on his “Academic Mother/Mentor” throughout their mentor-mentee relationship between 2017 and 2020

Memory: The longest of her teaching life was at the College of West Africa (CWA), Liberia’s oldest High School, between the 1950s and 1970s And some of her former students became Head of State of Liberia—2006-2017 (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf), Vice President of Liberia—2006-2017 (Joseph Nyumah Boakai), and Minister of Education of Liberia—1997-2006  (Dwaboyea Evelyn S. Kandakair)…..(many more) Class level of each person: Ellen Johnson—10th grade class), Joseph h Nyumah Boakai—7th grade class); and Dwaboyea Evelyn S. White—7th grade class. She picked Music and Religious Education here (CWA)

MY FIRST MEETING WITH THE “VETERAN EDUCATOR”

On Saturday, December 9, 2017, I embarked on a search for a renowned Liberian educator feature under a column, titled “A Ride With The Educationalist”, for my Education newspaper named Edu-Diary. The condition for appearing in this Column is you should possess a physical proof of being in teaching profession for at least 10 unbroken years, or at least five persons should have knowledge about your being a teacher in this time.

The production of Edu-Diary (first edition) was scheduled for Monday, December 15. I felt time running against me, so I began hurrying with the search—putting  telephone calls to acquaintances I felt knew any “Veteran Educator”, and toured my community (named Lakpazee), situated in a political division named Sinkor in Liberia’s capital. But I found nobody—a person who squarely fits into the “at least ten unbroken teaching years” condition. I retired to my house, to continue the search on another day.

By 3pm of Sunday (December 10), I continued the search—on leg, as it was on Day One—but my ‘luck’ couldn’t come, until 5pm.

The main business: Interview for the “A Ride with the Educationalist” Column of “Edu-Diary” (Newspaper), Sunday, December 10, 2027. Photo taken by Alfred L.M. Gezaye—who provided the voice recorder for the interview

After almost four hours of moving around on legs, asking people sitting in front their houses or passing by me, I finally decided ending the “fruitless searching tours” at the home of a friend named Naomi Harris—president of the National Union of Organizations of the Disabled (NUOD)—in the Sophie’s Community of Congotown (another political division)

“I know about one very old woman who is a teacher and owns a Kindergarten School on the Old Road. Some people say she taught Ellen, Liberia’s current President,” one of Ms. Harris’ son, Solomon Garduah, of the Mary Brownel Junior High School (located on the 12th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia), interrupted when I was explaining my mission to his mother.

Solomon’s information instantly infused spiritual energy into me and pushed me into flight to find the house of the “old teacher”.

I found the house! It was—and still is (at the time I was writing this article—Sunday, August 9, 2020)

But I didn’t have a voice recorder. I had only a notepad and a pen.

In her compound for interview for Edu-Diary (2017): Veteran Educator (age 98) being led to the interview spot. Mentee/Author holding mentor’s great-great grandson. Far right: 0ne of her great-great grand children. Photo taken by Alfred L.M. Gezaye—who provided the voice recorder for the interview

“Veteran, please excuse me to get a voice recorder,” I said to Madam King, after I had informed her about my mission. “Your presence is very important to the face of my educational newspaper on the newsstand for Monday,” I added.

“Ok, Mr. freelance development journalist,” Madam King responded, not knowing the time I will spend on getting a voice recorder—I didn’t personally own.

Mentee’s published article’s photo: Dr. Evelyn Kandakai (left) with her former teacher, Jessie Wah King at the Kandakai Family’s Nursery School closing program (Friday, March 2. 2018)

I raced off to the house of my media colleague, Alfred L.M. Gezaye, former reporter of Radio Veritas, who was then living in Old Matadi Estate—a 70-minute walk from Madam King’s house.

“Gezaye, I’ve found the best person for my education newspaper’s special column—A Ride with the Educationalist!” I began with Alfred at his house. I had told him about the paper and the column a week before my search.

“Have you conducted the interview?” Alfred inquired.

“No. I didn’t have a voice recorder. That’s why I’m at your house—to borrow yours,” I narrated.

“Wait for me,” Alfred said, and marched into his house. In quarter of a minute, Alfred appeared with an ash-color SONY voice recorder. “You may use this as long as you wish to spend on the exclusive interview with that veteran educator.”

“Thank you, but I don’t know how to operate this other voice recorder,”  I admitted, after collecting the gadget from its owner.

“Dweh, you can find another person to help you operate it” Alfred said.

“It’s you, its owner, I need to help me on operating it,” I replied.

“Let’s go!” Alfred said.

We left to the veteran Educator’s house.

Teacher Jessie Wah King with her 99th birthday cake at her home

During the interview, Madam King took her guests down memory lane of her personal life: Her parentage and birth; her personal education; her teaching days (at the College of West Africa—CWA—a High School and fond memories of some of her students (“Ellen Johnson…was academically brilliant but a tomboy, excessively active,” she had told this writer in the interview for the educational newspaper); her worries about Liberia’s current educational system and concerns over students’ performances in class work; and many more. (See the rest in the December 15, 2017 edition of Edu-Diary) 

At the Closing Program of the Family Nursery School (in Madam King’s Family compound), owned by the family of Mrs. (Dr.) Dwaboyea Evelyn Kandakai, former Education Minister of Liberia (1997-2006), I had the opportunity to see the former teacher with one of her former students (pictured above) I did an article about their emotional meeting titled: “Liberia: When A Former Minister of Education Meets Her Former Teacher”, which was published in the FrontPage Africa newspaper of Liberia. The photo above is the same with that article.

2018: Mentor & Mentee: Having lunch with food from her former student (President Ellen Sirleaf) on 10th Grade at the College of West Africa (CWA)

I was the “Special Guest of Honor” at Veteran Educator Jessie Wah King’s 99th birthday celebration held at her residence. Physically strong, intellectually alert, and vocally sharp, she personally cut her birthday cake. The birthday coincided with the Closing Program of the

THROUGH HER, I TASTED FOOD FROM HEAD OF STATE ELLEN SIRLEAF’S HOME

On a writing project on a Sunday, in 2018, my mobile phone rang. I looked at the phone’s screen and heartily responded. “Veteran Educator, Jessie Wah King!”

“Sam, where are you?” Madam King said.

“At my home, Veteran,” I answered.

“What are you doing?”

“Writing, Veteran!”

“Please drop the pen and paper, or the computer, and come to my house now!” she stressed.

“Ok, Veteran. I’m on my way right away,” I responded to the ‘command’

Saturday, May 30, 2020: Veteran Educator & ‘Academic Mentee’ observing the COVID-19 ‘Protocol’ at her house

I met my Academic Mentor sitting behind her food table in the piazza. “Veteran!” I said, announcing my presence—the way chose to inform her about my presence anytime I was in her private residence.

She looked up to my face and laughed. “Sam, I called you only for us to have dinner from the home of my former student, Liberia’s current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” she told me, her smiles refusing to go away. She removed a white cloth over two glass bowls, served me first, and put hers into another bowl.

The food was nutritiously rich, but it wasn’t pepperish—I mean with enough pepper. My system had got used to plenty pepper. But, I later realized the main person (President Sirleaf or Mrs. Jessie Wah King) the food was prepared for didn’t have the kind of ‘pepper system’ I had.

TOGETHER AT PUBLIC FUNCTIONS

At age 99, my Academic Mother/Mentor graced the induction ceremony of my Leadership of the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW), held in the Park of the Main Campus of the University of Liberia on Saturday, February 28, 2017. She joined me on the stage during part of my inaugural address.

I escorted my Academic Mother the celebration of the 2018’s International Women’s Day (IWD), held at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex, where she was honored on “Education” by the Ministry of Gender, through First Lady Clar Marie Weah. My  news stories and articles on her attracted the Ministry’s attention to her. In 2017, she told me: “You are the first writer that published me in a newspaper, since I started teaching.”

At the IWD celebration, she, at age 99, she shocked watchers, who had gathered around her, with aerobics (fast bend of the body lower, touch the toes with tips of fingers, and fast straightening of the body) This was her proof of “physical fitness” to one of the watchers who had remarked: “Mama is not physically fit, to walk long distance, as she used to be forty years ago.” Before the acrobatic, she said to the speaker: “You think I’m not strong like a younger person, now watch me show you I’m as strong as you or another young person.”

Before the IWD celebration, she had exhibited similar physical strength: she walked without any aid (stick or human being) she mounted commercial motorcycles (She didn’t have a personal car—even in her advanced age) whenever she was going to Church (Sometime President Sirleaf sent a Government’s car and a driver to take her to Church)

CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) & 101-YEAR-OLD JESSIE WAH KING

My last meeting with veteran Educator Jessie Wah King—before death eternally separated us—was on Saturday, May 30, 2020 (after 12 months-plus of separation) My main purpose of my visit was to know how she was coping  during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was prepared for the pandemic—evident from presence of a hand-wash bucket at the entry point of her home and a cloth mask near to her. We posed for  photos.

THE “SHOCKING NEW”

Around 2pm of July 27, I was at the Center for Media Studies & Peacebuilding (CEMESP), reading e-mails to me and responding to Social Media posts from friends when my mobile phone rang. I turned my attention to the phone. “Why is he calling me now, after almost five months of speech recess between me and me?” I said to the person whose name was attached to the phone number on my phone.

“Dweh!” the person called my surname after I opened the telephonic line.

“Yes, B,” I said with less enthusiasm toward the caller. The caller was Mr. Bai Best, Managing Director of the Daily Observer newspaper (Liberia’s oldest independent print medium found in 1982) where I worked as Proofreader for six months in 2011 (my first place of work upon my return from a 10-year refugee life in Nigeria) His father, Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, now in his advanced age, is the Founder of the newspaper, published by the Liberian Observer Corporation.

“Are you aware about the death of your oldma, Jessie King?” Mr. Bai Best inquired.

I froze, speechless over two minutes, and developed goose pimples over Bai’s comment. Suddenly, my attention left my computer on my thighs and, seconds later, my memory wandered to 99-year-old Jessie and me in 2018 (the first time we met) and rolled to Saturday, May 30, 2020 (out last meeting day)

“Ay, God! Veteran is gone!” I cried when I regained mental strength. I always called her “veteran”(due to the longer time she spent in the teaching profession and productivities—two things that determine the title “veteran”) She always called me “Sam”

Bai didn’t right away tell me when “Veteran” died. (He said he didn’t see the date in a poetic obituary by veteran Liberian economist Togbah Nah Tipoteh he had got the death news from) He gave the date to me about four hours later.

The news from Bai clicked my memory to Mrs. King’s ‘death comment’ during the final mentor-mentee meeting on Saturday, May 30, 2020. She said: “I’m now ready for death,” the centenarian said, without any comment or question from this writer on this subject. “I’m expecting to be called by the Lord anytime. She said one of her daily prayer points to God is to make her “always willing to join him when he calls.”

An elderly friend to the Family of my Late Academic Mother/Mentor told me on Sunday, August 9, 2020, that she will be buried on Monday, August 10.

May you be welcomed in the Bosom of your Creator—Jehovah.

In the Great Beyond, continue to send to Earth, in Liberia, your Quality Educational breath to clean the “Mess” (as your former student, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf described the entire Liberia’s education system in 2015)  and make it the “best”

BRIEF SELF-INTRO

The Author, without a University Degree, is a member of the Wedabo ethnic group of Grand Kru County, situated in the South-Eastern part of Liberia.

Samuel G. Dweh is a member of the Wedabo ethnic group of Grand Kru County, situated in the South-Eastern part of Liberia. He’s a member of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), and President of the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW) He can be reached via: —+231 (0)886618906/776583266/samuelosophy@yahoo.com
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About Cholo Brooks 14944 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.