The Ghost That Dares

Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale.   


Tribute from the Traub Family

Liberia is again in mourning. We have in the past two months lost three key icons, Dr. Emmet Dennis, Dr. Amos Sawyer, and now Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale. These were citizens who embodied the ideals and values that we need to redeem our nation. We are talking about the fundamental pillars that uphold ours and any other nation. When these pillars are weak, worn or cracked, the people suffer, the nation is weak, we become the pity of other citizens of the world who have many strong pillars and we are reduced to beggars. It is a sad situation to be in. That is why we mourn the passing of yet another of these pillars, Dr. Walter Traub Gwenigale.  

He stood tall in many characteristics that build the pillars.

 Dr. Gwenigale was a man of INTEGRITY

He was clear about his values and principles. He did not have to think twice and debate about the rightness or wrongness of an issue. His background, his upbringing had already instilled that in him. His religion had taught him that stealing and lying were fundamental flaws. He followed these guidelines very closely without compromise. They were part of him and came naturally to him. You could depend on him to tell the truth and you could trust him with your resources, even with your life because he was also a doctor. You knew better than to try to include him in a crooked deal, so you would not even try him. He was not greedy for money and material things and therefore did not compromise himself attempting to amass wealth through ill-gotten means. He lived within his means and acquired what he earned honestly from his own hard work.    

These are not attributes that are easy to acquire and maintain in our times. Lying comes so easily to justify our bad behavior. Stealing satisfies our untamed desires, our insecurities and massages our ego to make us appear what we are not. It was hard to catch Dr. Gwenigale doing these two things because he was quite clear about who he was and was satisfied with his principles. His self -awareness was a great strength. Because he could be trusted not to misuse or just take for himself resources of the nation, donors trusted him. When he became Minister of Health in three years the resources of the Ministry of Health rose from 7 million USD to 100 USD. In 2015 the Ministry of Health passed 17 different audits of various donor ministries. How many audits can our ministries pass today? Can someone give you their money to hold or their child to keep and come back to find that you have not eaten the money or abused the child? Despite having the power and the money you do not pay your debts, you expect to get things free even in the market. Dare to answer these questions for yourself no matter your position. Dr. Gwenigale had a Zero tolerance for corruption. Do we?  

Dr. Gwenigale had the Courage and Strength to speak truth to power 

In her statement on his passing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said “Dr. Gwenigale will be remembered as one of my best serving cabinet ministers that I could count on for sound judgment and profoundly good advice”. This means he would not lie to her; he would present her with the facts and guide her to make the right decisions. I remember in my early days with the UN, he called me one day and asked how the UN works. He said that he had found out that the representative of a UN agency which had allocated a grant to Phebe was not giving the amount in US dollars as granted but was instead giving him the same, not equivalent figure, in Liberian dollars which turned out to be far less. He wrote to the UN and reported the matter. As a result the representative was recalled, demoted and later dismissed. He was not afraid to let those in power know when things were off track. It takes courage to speak truth to power. Often the repercussions can be harsh, but courage to speak the truth is the foundation of greatness.   

A Life of service to the people of Liberia

Dr. G, as he was affectionately known, grew up in an environment that believed in serving the people of Liberia. The Lutheran church of which he was a member preached and lived this approach to its followers. They moved their mission station from Harrisburg to Totota where they would be near the less privileged and neglected. They set up hospitals and schools, literacy programs that would reach out to people and give them a chance to benefit. So Walter, growing up in that environment, became a doctor in order to serve his people. After graduating from medical school in Puerto Rico, he preferred to work at Phebe hospital where he became medical director instead of working in Monrovia. While there he held the feet of President Tolbert to the fire until government put money in the budget of Phoebe so that the hospital would continue to operate. Being a brilliant visionary, he built that hospital into a regional referral hospital, working with Cuttington College, he upgraded the nursing school to train graduate nurses that went out to serve hospitals in the country. His wife Carmen began to train some of the first anesthesiologist in the country. During the war he stayed at Phebe to serve the people.  He was one of several Liberian doctors who remained in-country to serve the people during the worse times.

Even when called upon for higher duties as Minister of Health, he continued to practice his belief in service to the people. At the Ministry of Health he took the rare decision to contract NGOs and county health services in order to get basic health services nearer to the people. In the ministry itself he emphasized training of staff so that Liberians would be able to carry out their duties efficiently. When he established the Office of Financial Management, he hired Price Waterhouse, an international accounting firm, not just to bring in their accountants but to set up systems and train the ministry staff. Many who worked with him can tell their stories of how their performance changed and expanded. Ask his cook how his life changed working with Dr. G. and why he loved Doc so much. Doc loved the people of Liberia. To love is to serve.

Responsible parenting

You had to know Dr. G personally to get a hint of the personal challenges he faced. He married a Puerto Rican anesthesiologist while in medical school. During the war, the Americans evacuated his wife Carmen and children to the United States.  Despite all of those circumstances, Dr. G struggled to keep his family together, to be a good husband and a good father to his children and make a home for them in Liberia. Even to his last days he was bringing them home as best as he could. HE loved his children and they loved him. One of his sons now serves as legal counsel for Firestone Rubber Company and the elder has returned to Liberia to continue his father’s work. How we are missing good fathers in our society now. Doc G is daring every father in the nation to be a good father and take care of your children up to your dying day. In the Traub family he was a true elder brother, the go to person for good advice. 

Dr. G has sadly left us now. Our appreciation for his contribution to Liberia is profound. We can only thank him for his great legacy and the example he set that dares us to strengthen our integrity, our courage to speak truth to power, our desire for excellence in public service and our capacity to be responsible parents. 

Fare thee well, our beloved Dr. G. May Light perpetual shine upon you as your soul rests in eternal peace. You played your part. Thank you plenty, Dr. G, for daring us. Thank you plenty.