Liberia: Eulogy by Former Vice President Joseph Boakai to Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale

Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale.   

 

It is with a heavy heart I stand here today to say farewell to my Nephew, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, a distinguished son of Bong County, but even more importantly, a Liberian citizen of patriotic distinction. Kartumu and I, along with our children, would like to convey to you, Carmen, his widow of nearly 52 years; their sons, Walter Jr., Cllr. Raymond and daughter, Carmen Louiza, Michael Gwenigale, Jr, his brother’s son, whom he reared; and to the other members of the Gwenigale family, our deepest condolences for the irreparable loss of this national icon.

Dr. Gwenigale, affectionately known by people from all walks of life as Dr. G, was without question, one of Liberia’s brilliant medical doctors, and practiced for over 40 years as an excellent Surgeon, thereby making his name a household word around Liberia.

To eulogize Dr. Gwenigale, I have the honor and privilege of speaking about him both personally and professionally: as a nephew and a political colleague.  However, it is really not an onerous task to do so because his character, personality, and work ethic merged seamlessly in both roles.

Then came 2006, ushering in our first post-conflict government after 14 years of a brutal, senseless fratricidal civil war.  We elected the first woman President in our country, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and I was most fortunate to be her running mate, becoming Vice President, and as we formed the government, how glad I was that Dr. Gwenigale joined the Cabinet as our Minister of Health and Social Welfare.  

So, for nine years, I had a front row view of watching this distinguished son of Liberia perform an extraordinary feat in revitalizing the broken and devastated health system we inherited from our civil war years.

Dr. Gwenigale did not allow anything to stand between him and his service to the country. At a heated meeting with one of his ministers whom he considered a distraction, he called me, “VP, if you people don’t transfer this man, I will resign.”

He served as Health Minister with diligence and exemplary commitment, including representing the government on the Executive Board of the World Health Organization, always striving for excellence at every level of his performance. During the years he served in our Unity Party-led government, he was greatly instrumental in helping to rebuild and strengthen a health system devastated by our 14-year civil war and the 2-year Ebola crisis the nation experienced.  

His dedication to service was rightfully recognized by the Government of Liberia when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf honored him at his retirement ceremony in 2015.  She described him then as “a symbolic icon with a commitment and duty to public service that we all must endeavor to emulate in upholding the public trust that has been bestowed upon us as a government.”

Before coming to government or public service, however, Dr. Gwenigale did what he loved the best – practicing medicine and managing medical facilities, which included more than 30 years when he served as Bong County Health Officer, Director of Phebe Hospital, and President of the Christian Health Association of Liberia.

Dr. Gwenigale was destined for greatness.

Dr. Gwenigale demonstrated academic prowess from his elementary school days at the Lutheran Mission School in Sanoyea and graduated from LTI then matriculated to the University of Puerto Rico, University School of Medicine in the USA.  He was also a man of immense intellect about human conditions, and he utilized this talent well in dealing with people both in the medical arena and the political landscape of our dear Country.

Dr. Gwenigale gave his life for Liberia, and Phebe Hospital was his home and work place.

When he was retired, he took residence in the hospital compound; with that move, I knew Dr. Gwenigale was retired but not tired.

Dr. Gwenigale was a man of self-denial who could have acquired wealth or distinction in his profession outside Liberia, but cheerfully sacrificed all that the world held for him to plead the cause of humanity in his homeland.  

For example, during the heat of our civil conflict when various Liberian professionals, including doctors, were fleeing for their lives, Dr. Gwenigale remained to be of service to his country, administering medical services to save lives at Phebe Hospital, rather than to abandon his people.

Now, to you, Gwenigale Jr., you kept in touch with me every time you were around when I had not even met you in person. It said much to me that your dad kept you informed of our traditional relationship.  

I was his uncle and also yours — as he reminded me and you few days to his unexpected rush to the hospital. I want you to know that Dr. Gwenigale is gone, but Uncle Boakai is still here! 

I would like to end this tribute by reciting a notable epitaph by Pope Francis, which exemplified the life philosophy that reminds me of Dr. Gwenigale:

“Rivers do not drink their own water;

Trees do not eat their own fruit;

The sun does not shine on itself and

Flowers do not spread their fragrance

for themselves.  

Living for others is a rule of nature.  

We are all born to help each other.

No matter how difficult it is…

Life is good when you are happy; but

much better when others are happy

because of you.”

— Pope Francis

Dr. Gwenigale, these words of wisdom are a salute to you from your Uncle for all your efforts to make Liberia better.

May you Rest in Perfect Peace, my nephew, friend, and colleague!