Liberia has been a historic nation popularly known for procreating genuine voices and iconic advocates, some of whom have engraved an immaculate legacy of heroism throughout human history. It is with this pride and elation I have chosen to pay homage to a fallen heroine – a HEROINE par excellence.
We become guilty and even pierce our consciences with sharp instruments of ingratitude whenever we refuse to reverently honor our heroes and heroines who stood in defense of liberty, justice, equality, peace and unity yesteryear. Though she is now in martyrdom, but we owe it to Mother Mary Nema Brownell – a luminary of women’s advocacy in Liberia and beyond.
The true essence of our longstanding and collective struggle for an equal and just society would have no meaning if our nation cannot celebrate this LEGEND. The accuracy of our history would be questioned if an entire chapter or more is not apportioned to vividly account for her outstanding legacy. Surely, this eminent stateswoman and famous feminist who led a life of integrity, humility and advocacy deserves a special place in our nation’s archive. We have no choice as a nation, but to position an enchanting POTRAIT of this fearless voice in our museum. History has absorbed her not as an object, but a subject.
Mother Brownell will forever remain an emblem of feminism and a symbol of heroism for generations yet unborn. It is difficult to imagine and comprehend that this heroine par excellence is no more. This loss is too grave to bear. It has left us in a state of disbelief and grief. We have every reason to mourn the demise of this phenomenal icon.
How we hope God could have given us an opportunity to drink from this fountain of wisdom for another decade. Contrary to our hope and in accordance with God’s own will, she had to go and rest after completing a tough, but victorious mission on earth. Mother Mary Brownell led an exemplary struggle for women to have a space in politics and decision-making.
All through her lifetime, she was more passionate about promoting women’s rights and ensuring they have a voice in whatever decision that affects them directly or indirectly. Her vocal stance on issues inspired the hope, confidence and self-worth of thousands of women across Liberia, Africa and the World.
Her persistent opposition to the primitive belief that women were never created to lead, but to always be led by their male counterparts ignited an evolution of CHANGE and infused a new set of DYNAMICS into women’s advocacy. In the lenses of mother Brownell, this ancient belief was not only flawed, but had no genuine basis especially so when women too were created in God’s image and endowed with great talents.
Grandma Brownell was truly a woman destined to impact her nation and inspire many lives. Born on March 12, 1929 in Cavalla, Maryland County, she came to Monrovia at age 5 and began pursuing primary education in 1937 at Suehn Baptist Mission in Bomi County. When women could not easily be seen in classrooms, mother Brownell proudly obtained a high school diploma from Liberia College which later became known as Laboratory High School and Martha Tubman Academy.
Cognizant of the challenges ahead and the need to pursue higher education in order to confront those challenges, mother Brownell enrolled at the University of Liberia and obtained a BSc. Degree in Primary Education in 1960. Still not satisfied with her educational status, she matriculated at San Francisco University in the USA and obtained an M.Sc Degree in School Supervision. She reached these enviable heights when many thought that a woman could not.
Our nation has lost a fountain of wisdom, brilliance and intelligence. We have lost a voice of consciousness and enlightenment. Women of Liberia and Africa have lost an articulate advocate and a courageous champion of women’s rights. Young women and girls have lost a mentor and a role model. Our generation has lost a mother, a disciplinarian, a teacher and a reservoir of exceptional values.
This fallen heroine was an enthusiastic seeker of knowledge, a goal-getter and an enterprising exemplar who never allowed her condition as a woman to hinder her dream. Her dream was to educate, mentor and advocate for those in need, especially vulnerable women and girls. She began pursuing this dream as a teacher of St. Patricks School and later as an administrator of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) and the Catholic School System. She served as President of the University of Liberia Alumni Association (ULAA).
Due to her outstanding performance as a seasoned administrator and a renowned educator, she became Principal of Boatswain School and Bong Mines School in Bong County. What has even inspired me more to memorialize mother Brownell is that she directly impacted my biological mother (Rachel Welleh Kollie) who graduated from Bong Mines School in 1982.
My mother said to me a day ago “Mother Mary Brownell was a good woman, an industrious principal, a disciplinarian and a mentor. She was a leading force of my success story in school. She trained and taught us with every energy she had. This educator committed her entire life to molding Liberia’s future generation and we owe it her.” Wow, what more could grandma Brownell do for her native country? Everyone everywhere across our nation is showering eulogy of veneration and admiration on this veteran peace advocate.
Beyond this end and in pursuit of social justice, equality, freedom and peace, mother Brownell birthed and served as the National Chairperson of the Liberia Women’s Initiative (LWI), an organization established to protect women’s rights and empower them. She became President of the Women Development Association of Liberia (WODAL) and subsequently Commissioner of the National Elections Commission. Besides her active involvement with peace initiatives locally, Dr. Brownell served as Chairperson of the Universal Peace Federation and became a Global Peace Ambassador. Many days, Ma Mary led a group of determined women in white clothes to demand an end to Liberia’s bloody civil conflict. Fish Market, Sinkor was their usual meeting venue and even up to now this site remains historic and sacred.
As a founding member of the Mano River Women Peace Network (MARWOPNET), a regional organization of women in Mano River countries committed to promoting peace, Dr. Brownell was a leading voice of peace and her genuine effort led to the end of a prolonged (14 years) civil crisis in Liberia in 2003. She led a “Stay Home” Action for Disarmament on January 10, 1997 alongside with Arch Bishop Michael K. Francis, Sheikh Kafuma Konneh, Bishop Arthur F. Kulah, Arch Bishop George D. Brown, Arch Bishop William Nah Dixon and Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh. She along with other women of MARWOPNET were successful in bringing together three (3) Heads of State to negotiate a peace deal and put an end to bloodletting and mayhem across Liberia. This negotiation led to the Comprehensive Peace Accord in Accra, Ghana in 2003.
Our nation will forever miss this voice of peace. Oldma Brownell was never afraid to speak out especially against the ills of society. On one occasion, she lashed out at President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for being too sympathetic with corrupt officials of her Government. While appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in August 2008 and serving as commencement speaker of the University of Liberia’s convocation in December 2013, this vocal and iconic heroine made a brilliant case through dozens of captivating recommendations in an effort to guarantee peace, prosperity and national unity. I have since admired and followed this genuine voice.
The extent of her boldness and audacity was unmatched. It reawakened the spirit and revived the dying hope of women to venture into areas of leadership, politics, science, business and academia. Mother Brownell tirelessly worked towards and lived to see the first interim Chairwoman (Ruth Sando Perry) of the Council of State on September 3, 1996 and the first female President (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) of Liberia on January 16, 2006.
Today, women are occupying 11 out of 103 seats in the National Legislature and 2 out of 5 seats on the bench of the Supreme Court. Today, we have an Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) and a Ministry of Gender. Today, women are political leaders, standard bearers and vice standards of political parties. They now have the right to vote and be voted for. Today, Liberian women are ministers, managing directors, business leaders, heads of NGOs and INGOs. Some of them are even professors, administrators and specialists in variety of fields. Today, they are free to speak out on radios and televisions and sit at the table to decide their own destiny.
These are fulfillments mother Brownell stood up and fought for all through her lifetime. The barrier of low self-esteem was broken. She lived to fulfill this mission. This is why we owe it to her. Her legacy deserves to be celebrated by all Liberians especially women. How I hope God could have given us another chance to drink from this fountain.
Furthermore, the home of mother Brownell was a safe haven for revolutionaries and progressive forces of SUP, PAL, SISSUKU and MOJA. Progressive militants and ideologues who fought against elitism and one-party system under the moribund True Whig Party ran to her home for economic and political rescue. She was always benevolent to them as a mother, an advisor and activist. She had in mind that equality and justice for all was the basis of a peaceful and prosperous nation.
A veteran of the Student Unification Party (SUP), Richard Panton, said to some young stalwarts, “The doors of mother Brownell was opened to everyone. She treated us with a lot of respect and made us to feel at home whenever security operatives were pursing us for agitating for CHANGE. When we were hungry, we had one place to go and eat. It was mother Brownell’s home. She was really a motivation and a conduit of courage during our struggle for equal rights.” What more could a mother do? When Ebola was ravaging our land in 2014, Dr. Brownell again stood up with a group of patriotic volunteers to combat this deadly virus through an organization (Servants of Africa Fighting Ebola – SAFE) she formed.
What more could any mother do? Unarguably, mother Brownell will be remembered as THE DORCAS of our nation. Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 1:00 a.m. will remain fresh on our minds. Our heroine par excellence has gone at age 88. Her legacy embodies the true meaning of the Latin phrase “Lux in Tenebris” meaning “Light in Darkness” which was coined by a German dramatist, Bertolt Brecht in 1919. Oldma Brownell was actually a LIGHT in DARKNESS.
During this period of national mourning, we pray for God’s consolation and comfort upon her seven (7) children (Amb. Miatta Fahnbulleh, Dr. H. Boimah Fahnbulleh, Julius Boakai Fahnbulleh, Edwin Fahnbulleh, John D’Martin (Nee Edyang), George Dahn and Ernest E. Edyang*. With our heads bowed down in lamentation and grief, we share the pain of and sympathize with her 19 grandchildren (2 deceased), 12 great grand children and 3 great great grandchildren. They are not alone during this time of bereavement!!
Let us not forget that mother Brownell has left with us two (2) special gifts and geniuses who remain great admirers of this generation. Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh (National Security Advisor) and Aunty Miatta Fahnbulleh (Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal and Child Health – UNFPA). They are outstanding prototypes of mother Brownell who remain role models and admirers of thousands across our landscape. In and through them, we shall continue to see mother Brownell. They are precursors of the people’s struggle for equal rights, justice and human dignity. We stand with them during this epoch of mourning.
Without doubt, mother Mary Brownell will be remembered as:
• A Seasoned Educator and Administrator
• An Outstanding Feminist
• A Venerated Stateswoman
• A Vocal Voice of Hope and Inspiration
• A Fearless Advocate
• A Symbol of Peace and National Unity
• The Dorcas of our Nation and Mother of the Progressives
• A Disciplinarian and Mentor
• A Patriot of Humility and Integrity
And finally, she will be remembered as a HEROINE PAR EXCELLENCE for her immense contribution to nation-building. Rest in perfect peace our mother and grandmother. You served with dignity and pride. Your portrait will surely be engraved on the marble stone of history. Our nation and continent have already begun missing you. With standing ovation, we say kudos for building a legacy worthy of public emulation.
I cannot end this tribute without proffering a number of recommendations:
• That GoL name one of our public schools in honor of mother Mary Brownell as in Mary N. Brownell Public School.
• That a silver or bronze portrait of mother Brownell be engraved in our national museum.
• That the highest honor of peace and women advocacy be awarded to Dr. Brownell.
• That Mary Brownell Foundation for Peace and Women Empowerment be formed (MABRO-FOPWE).
• That a bi-annual or annual Lecture Series be launched in honor of Ma Mary as in Mary Brownell Lecture Series (MABROLES).
• That a center for women’s advocacy, peace-building and education be constructed and named in honor of Dr. Brownell as in Mary Brownell Center for Women’s Advocacy Peace-building and Education (MABRO-CEWAPE)
With this, let me finally end in Latin “Et in perpetuum missionem fecisti rem publicam si manere gratiam et exaltabitur cor tuum legatum iconicus” which means in English “You have fulfilled your mission and our nation will forever remain grateful and proud of your iconic legacy”. Until we meet again, sleep on in martyrdom Ma Mary.