By Atty Philip N. Wesseh(PNW)
It is often said that “not how long one lived, but what one was able to achieve while on earth.” Seemingly, this is the case of the late Fatu Gittens-White, former chair of the Management Department and associate professor in that department at the University of Liberia, whose funeral drew a large number of persons last Saturday to bid her farewell at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Camp Johnson Road. Expecting that there would be a large turnout, canopies were constructed before the church to help with the sitting capacity.
The few tributes, including those from the Liberian government, the University of Liberia and the church, recounted the services of Madam White, as a teacher, a church member, a manager and member of the society. She was eulogized for being an antithesis of mediocrity in the educational field and also for teaching her students, especially females, basic etiquettes.
The nearly three hours funeral brought together students, friends relatives and national leaders, including Dr. Amos Sawyer, Chair of the Governance Commission, who is also former interim president; Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, senior Associate Justice Kabineh Je’neh; Liberia’s former Ambassador to the United States of America, Nathaniel Barnes; former Commerce Minister Cora Peabody, business executive, Jemama Wolokolie; the Director General of the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation NASSCORP) Dewitt Von Bamoos, Liberty Party Political leader Charles Brumskine; Police Director Chris Massaquoi, former Information Minister Reginald Goodridge and the former Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC), Dr. Paygai. Conspicuously present were officials and members of the Greater Monrovia LIONS Club, of which the deceased was the vice president up to her demise.
Upon the request of the deceased that in case of death, there should be no mourning , howling or any or any color depicting mourning, orange was chosen as the color of the day, with many of the sympathizers clad in outfits, with orange. Indeed, it was the celebration of the life of a daughter of the soil, who began impacting knowledge into future leaders at an early age. Unlike other funerals usually characterized by weeping, this one, perhaps for the wish of the deceased, was quite different, as even the mother, was able to control her grief to adhere respect to her daughter’s wish, that, “there should be no crying.”
Personally, I met “Fatu,” as she was affectionately called in the1980’s when I went to an insurance company at the Pan African Plaze opposite the Monrovia City Hall. Upon entering the office, I saw a smiling lady, who received me. Being fully aware of my mission, she asked me to wait to inform the manager for the interaction, which she did, from which I did a story.
From that time, the late Fatu took me as her brother and consulted me on media issues, including those of the LIONS Club whenever she was in charge of the media. This is why I was not surprised at the cemetery when Victor Lartey of the LIONS Club, said to me,” who will give you contract again.” Surely to his concern, Fatu really dealt with me on media issues.
At one point because some persons in society knew how Fatu was held in high esteem, when some students had a problem with her because of some allegations they made; some allegations against her, and the students were told to contact me because she respected me and would listen to me. With this, I decided to intervene, and the only thing she told me at that time was for the students to retract what she termed at the time as “falsehood.” But the students egregiously refused to accept this, thereby making my intervention difficult. Because the students did not agree, I abandoned the mediation role.
My last encounter with Fatu, who usually called me by my given name, “Philip” was about the sale of some vehicles. Since then, several weeks ago, I neither saw her, nor talk to her until I received the sad message of her death. I observed her to be someone with strong bargaining power when it comes to doing business. Whenever the bargaining got tough, she would genteelly say, “Remember I am your sister.”
Although I was not one of her students, as I studied Mass Communication and Economics, I have been lucky to have been friendly with her based on what her students told me. Many of them referred to her as a “good classroom manager,” and that she was someone who did not take her lecture and class or group presentation work lightly. One of them told me that whenever she was in class, because of her control over the class and level of discipline, there was also “pin-drop silence” during the time of her teaching.
Judging from the encomiums said during last Saturday’s jam-packed funeral, this fine daughter of the soil life impacted the lives of many persons. Her courage to work as Customs Commissioner in the midst of crisis in the country (2001-2003) was one of those accomplishments recounted about her while serving in that post. The tribute from Customs referred to her as someone “who stood the test of time.” But more importantly, she did not only use the classroom for excellence but also her place of work. At the Bureau of Customs, today, her legacy at the bureau is the introduction of the merit-based system, separating between goats and sheep, for which she had been regarded as a “role model.”
On behalf of the Liberian government, House Speaker, Alex Tyler, praised the deceased for her intelligence and for doing her job well and for serving diligently. The University of Liberia, through its president, Dr. Emmett Dennis, said the news of the death of Fatu who served the university for more than three decades was received with “shock, disbelief and bewilderment,” as she was one of the valuable assets of the university. He said her passing away has created a huge vacuum, as she was a disciplinarian and someone who did not encourage “loose dressing.”
The touching tribute came from the church which was delivered by Dr. Charles Clarke, an official of the church, who at one point almost broke down, but again, must observe the wish of the deceased that there should be nothing like sobbing, weeping or crying. He said she “distinguished herself,” and was someone with clear vision, adding that she “helped to shape and transformed the lives of students, many of whom are playing their role in society today.
As for the church, Dr. Clarke, who in the country’s history was one of the youngest cabinet ministers and founding father of the Liberia Business Association (LIBA) of which Fatu was also a former official, said the deceased was not someone who sat down and waited for things to be done, but played an active role in the activities of the church. He said the church has lost and missed a great member. But he urged her mother and family to be proud of the works, contributions and role of their fallen relative.
The family tribute referred to her as a “woman of excellence” and a woman who lived her life for her country. The family acknowledged her level of discipline, for which they said, ‘she left no stone unturned in this aspect’.
All in all, the late Fatu White’s life impacted the lives of many in this country, especially in the educational arena, where she started in her early age. She will forever be remembered for her level of discipline, good classroom management skills, interpersonal communication skills and determination to always strive for excellence. Also, Fatu will be remembered, as the preacher said, for standing her grounds against corruption that has rocked the country’s educational system, something, I am proud of being a friend of the deceased.
To her ageing mother, I say, Mom Mary, it hurts to see a shining star predeceased you, but Mom, your daughter lived a life worth emulating; she served her country with honesty, commitment, sincerity and dedication.
Today, Mama Sheriff, because of your child’s role in society, even in your agony, you can shamelessly walk shoulder high for a child that brought pride to you in a short period. I say Mom, take solace in the Lord, who has reason for this, as the song writer says, “Come ye, disconsolate. Where ‘er ye languish’ come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel. Here bring your wounded hearts here tell you anguish; Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”
With sadness, I say, indeed Fatu, not how long, but the contributions you were able to make while alive. You have left your footprints on the sand of time; my sister, you will forever be remembered for your enormous roles in society. Well done that good and faithful servant. REST IN PEACE.