By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
As a student in the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS), three of the female principals I admired were Madam Mary N. Brownell, now Dr. Mother Mary N. Brownell, of Boatswain School on Jamaica Road, the late Clara Havens, mother of the present Mayor of Monrovia, Clara Doe-Mvogo, of the now not-existing William V. S. Tubman Elementary School and Madam Rebecca Wilson of the Monrovia Demonstration Elementary School on Clay Street.
My admiration for them stemmed from the fact that they were not only interested in providing sound education to their students, but were equally concerned about hygiene, sanitation and discipline. Those who attended Boatswain, including Prof Wilson Tarpeh, one of those who drank from the fountain of Dr. Mother Brownell can vaingloriously attest to this fact when Dr. Mother Brownell was then the Principal of that school where he graduated in 1970 before proceeding to the William V.S. Tubman High School in Sinkor.
As for the late Clara Havens, my former Principal of the William V.S. Tubman Elementary School in Point Four, I, as a former student of that institution is a living witness of the works of this late disciplinarian and educator, who also prioritized cleanliness. This is why when her daughter became Mayor of the City of Monrovia, I wrote an article reminding her of the virtues of her late mother whose name she bears.My main focus was on the issue of sanitation which is one of the major challenges of any city corporation. The late Havens was sometimes referred to by some of her friends as “Mamie Pepper,” an idiom for someone who does not compromise generally acceptable principles of life, or a ‘no nonsense person’.
Because of the role of these two, I would continue to reflect on the good deeds of these two.
Although Mother Havens has gone to rest with the Lord, Mother Brownell is still around, making contributions to society, even in her old age. I do not know whether Mother Wilson is still around.
Today, as Mother Brownell observes or celebrates her 85th birth anniversary, I find it befitting to reflect on some of her contributions to the Liberian society, especially so during the heat of the civil conflict.
As seen in the headline, I jokingly refer to Mother Brownell as the “woman on the ground” because when others were leaving the country because of the breakdown of law and order, this great daughter of the soil was able to rally women who stood the test of time in the midst of flying bullets by making significant contributions to the peace that we enjoy today, which unfortunately, some of us, sometimes threaten by saying, “we will go back to war.”
Because of the role Mother Brownell and other women under the banner of Liberian Women Initiative played to get this country where it is today, they command the respect of the Liberian people especially for pursuing the non-violent approach to ending the conflict, as they believe that “fire cannot put off fire.”
The women, under the leadership of Madam Brownell became the voice in the wilderness for peace. They carried out many activities that significantly contributed to obtaining peace. Today, this leader, now an octogenarian turns 86, I cannot let this day go by without reflecting on some of the contributions of Mother Brownell, who has been on the ground contributing to national development. Noticeably, because of her role, she has received many awards.
This is why I was not surprised of the characterization given her by the University of Liberia. The University of Liberia’s Citation in awarding an honorary doctorate degree on her, rightly described Mother Brownell, when it said, “The name Mary N. Brownell personifies the attributes of indefatigability, consistency, candor perceptiveness and fearlessness. For more than six decades you have labored tirelessly from the entry level of your professional life as a classroom teacher to champion causes for the transformation of Liberia into an oasis of peace and tranquility, social justice and progress.”
The institution also noted: “You were in the vanguard, advocating for a peaceful resolution of the Liberian fratricidal war. This spurred you to spearhead the founding of the Liberia Women Initiative. You became chairperson and spokesperson, and led a delegation to umpteen peace conferences in sub-regional capitals including Cotonou, Accra, Abuja and Monrovia. Other peace conferences attended were held at The Hague, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, in addition to meetings on Gender Equity convened in Beijing, Pretoria, Kigali and Johannesburg.”
Furthermore, it said in the citation: “You also organized demonstrations and peace marches, and picketed against the atrocities committed by combatants. Because of the pivotal role you played in restoring sanity to Liberia, you were honored with a plethora of distinctions. These include the Grand Commander in the Order of the Star of Africa; Liberia Women Achievers Award; Lifetime Achievement Award; Woman of the Year Award from the Inquirer and News newspapers; One of the Heroines of the World — 100 Heroines Project, Rochester, New York, USA; Democracy Activist Awards — Charity International, Inc.; Area of Women Advocacy and Peace— Interfaith Mediation Council of Liberia, Inc. and the Timbuktu Peace Awards presented by FAS in Mali.”
Indeed, no one can rule out the fact that this great daughter of the soil made significant contributions to the society in the area of education and peace building. Although of senile, she remains a strong voice, as the university noted, “For the transformation of Liberia into an oasis of peace and tranquility, social justice and progress.”
Mother Brownell, you may not be as active as you were many years ago, yet, you are one of those Liberian women who people hold in high esteem for your role in the Liberian society. Thank God for being on the ground; thank God rallying women for advocating for peace. Thank God for promoting sound education and hygiene. Today the country’s educational system is in a mess; I know this hurts you whenever you reflect on your days of excellence and these days of mediocrity.
Yes, in all fairness, “The name Mary N. Brownell personifies the attributes of indefatigability, consistency, candor perceptiveness and fearlessness. For more than six decades you labored tirelessly from the entry level of your professional life as a classroom teacher to champion causes for the transformation of Liberia into an oasis of peace and tranquility, social justice and progress.”
Happy Birthday, Ma Mary! Dr. Mother Mary Brownell continue to impact the lives of Liberians and as you celebrate or observe today, let upcoming women emulate your good examples to move this country from backwaters to prosperity.
I Rest My Encomium.