By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
For the first time, today, I refer to him as “BOY Willis.” Throughout, my interaction with him, as a young reporter with the DAILY OBSERVER in the mid 80’s and from thereon, not a single day I ever referred to him by this appellation. Today, I decided to refer to him in this manner, not in derogatory or disparaging manner, but to show how this son of the soil, the late Willis D. Knuckles, a man who exhibited multiple talents and skills, for which he was affectionately called by many of his admirers for being someone who was down-to-earth and also for being as a person who was approachable and accommodating. Besides, it shows that the late Knuckles was “never too big” to interact with people and take on any task given him.
Imbued with talents and skills of organizing, planning and attaining a specific goal for whatever activity or project he was involved in while on earth, the deceased endeared himself to his colleagues, friends, associates, co-workers and the general public by exhibiting steering qualities, exemplifying his sound character and leadership skills. Her Excellency, the President, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, once described Mr. Knuckles to a foreign business associate as “one of the most trusted men in Liberia”; and another respected Liberian and former co-worker, the veteran journalist Kenneth Y. Best, described Mr. Knuckles as “the most organized person I know”.
Indeed, these characterizations of Mr. Knuckles by Mr. Best and the President of Liberia are not hyperbolical or overstated, least to say an exaggeration, but fair statements about the activities of this great man who I interacted with over the years. In my interaction with him over the years, I found him to be someone with a sense of humanity and wanted things done in the proper and scrupulous manner.
Because of his desire to see things done properly someone once said to me, “The old man hard to deal with.” This is true because the late Knuckles was someone who did not believe in things being done in flimsy manner, or business as usual and additionally, he was an enemy of delays and unnecessary procrastinations in getting a piece of job done.
As the nation mourns the death of this man, I still give him credit for exposing me to “Investigative Journalism” and the writing of supplements or special features on projects, as well as public relations. In my first interaction, Mr. Knuckles gave me an assignment to investigate a report about the closure of a company- Blackwood Lodge- in the Gardnersville area. On that assignment, I was able to confirm the then pending closure of the company. By the time I returned and provided what I had gathered, he did a piece by incorporating what I brought from the field and what he already had before dispatching me to cross-check the story.
From that assignment, I learned that as an editor, it is always good to gather information on a piece of story, especially those centered on investigation. It means that there must always be briefing by the editor and also debriefing by the reporter upon the reporter’s return from the field, from which, it can then be determined how to strike a particular story. Based on that experience, I see it as suicidal any attempt by an editor to send a reporter on certain stories, without providing briefing on that story to adequately prepare the reporter to gather the necessary cogent facts. In short it simply requires that “before an editor assigns a reporter on certain stories, the reporter must be provided with some facts on his or her mission,” to avoid the reporter being like a greenhorn or an ill-prepared person on that assignment.
My second major task given me by Mr. Knuckles in 1984 was to do a supplement or a public relations piece on the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) in three counties. For that, the then Photo Editor of the paper, venerable Sando Moore, who now runs a major magazine in this country, and I were given the task to visit those branches in Lofa, Nimba and Bong Counties to do that piece of write off during the administration of Alexander Jeffy, then Managing Director of the LPMC.
Actually, that was a challenging assignment because that was my first time being faced with the issue of doing an advertiser’s supplements or public relations piece for a company, a subject I learned later at the University of Liberia, which I presently teach at the united Methodist University (UMU). Prior to that, most of my stories were either based on sports, crime or court. However, thank God, with the guidance of Big brother Sando Moore, who had acquired much experience, we were very successful in gathering information from the appropriate authorities, something that made our mission successful.
Noticeably, one of the things that made that assignment possible was the cooperation of the managers of the three branches in those counties. In Lofa County, we were received by the head of the LPMC branch, Mr. Prince Tamaklo, while in Nimba County, Mr. Peter Quah, commonly known as “PQ” received us. In Bong County, the central of the three counties, one Mcgill, then, head of the branch was our host.
As I do this reflective piece on Mr. Knuckles, let me say that he was someone to work with if someone needed to exhibit good working ethics, something that is of problem today in the Liberian society. I saw him to be a person who despite the failure of others to work, he would quietly do the piece of job and provide the needed result. However, if it is because of other matters that he would not be too active he would state his inability.
I recalled few years ago when he was invited by a YMCA committee headed by Vice President, Joseph Boakai, to launch certain campaign in favor of the “Y.” Because of his busy schedule, he plainly told the meeting, which I also attended as a member of the committee, that because of his busy schedule, he would not be too active; notwithstanding, he pledged his support.
One of the reasons I admired this fallen son of this land is that unlike others to leave the public sector and feel that there is no life out of government; he made a difference by keeping up his business and returning to private life, since 1982.In 1988 he organized and served as Managing Director of another paper, Sports World, until the paper was forced to close down in 1990 at the onset of the civil war. Since 1992 he has been serving as President of his wholly-owned private business entity, Transglobal Express Services, with the prime function of providing a vital link between Liberians at home and their relatives in the United States, West Africa, and other parts of the world who were separated as a result of the civil conflict, consolidating and shipping packages of personal effects between the United States and Liberia.
Prior to that since 1982, he worked in the private sector. He utilized his extensive writing skills and knowledge of issues in journalism, a profession for which he had no formal training, serving as a Senior Editor at the reputable Daily Observer Newspaper from 1982-84 and as a correspondent for the BBC’s Focus on Africa program.
Like some of the vicissitudes that media practitioners faced in Africa, the deceased, also as a journalist encountered the wrath of a regime intolerant to free press and freedom of speech. And so for his work as a journalist for the Daily Observer and the BBC, in 1984 he was arrested, beaten and jailed by the PRC Government of Samuel K. Doe, and spent fifty-five days in detention at the notorious Post Stockade of the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia, where his friend, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf also spent some time during that same regime of the late Samuel K. Doe.
Because of his multiple talents and skills, for which I would posthumously refer to him as “jack-of-all trade,” whenever he associated with any group or institution; the leadership banner was always entrusted to him and expectantly, heal ways lived up to expectation. As a result of these qualities, the peers, associates, co-workers and friends of Mr. Knuckles, from his early school days to date, have consistently selected and elected him to positions of leadership, heading practically every organization of which he has been a member.
Also, among some of the more prominent positions he held were: Treasurer National Older Boys Conference (1962); President, College Of West Africa Student Senate (1963); President, College of West Africa Sports Association (1963); President, Methodist Youth Fellowship/CWA (1963); President, Cuttington College Students Association (1967); Secretary-General, Liberia Football Association (1972-1975); President, CROWD TWENTY-ONE, INC. (1973, 1975); Founder and President, Alpha Oldtimers Sports Association (1970/2006); Vice Chairman, Liberia Football Association (1984-1986); Board Chairman, Seys United Methodist Church (2000-); President, Rotary Club of Monrovia (2004/2005).
Indeed, a strong pillar in many activities has fallen. The name “Willis D. Knuckles” would forever be remembered in the annals of this nation for his active role and services in both the public and private sector. He would be remembered for being a good organizer, planner and implementer of whatever task was given him; he would be remembered too for being people-centered and an extrovert.
Personally, I will always remember him for work ethics, discipline and desire to see a piece of job done properly. Besides, I will remember him for the upbringing of his children, especially his two daughters from the J.J. Roberts Methodist School and others, including John, Cooper and Philip.
As it is said, “not how long one lived, but what one was able to achieve while on earth,” for this, I can consciously and proudly say based on my interaction with him at the Daily Observer and his private life, he played his role in the society and impacted many persons. He has left his footprints on the sand of time; it is time to rest in peace.
“Boy Willie,” rest in peace as you join others like Stanton Peabody, Rufus Darpoh, T-Max Teah, Klon Hinneh, “Old Man” Cooper, who went ahead of you. Yes, as the old song says, “How Tedious And Tasteless Hour,” but we have to accept it, as death is inevitable.