Liberia: Liberia Loses Pioneering Librarian
— “She taught us how to hold our own spoon,” says Satta Sonie, one of her protegés
Williette Bryant Porte, one of Liberia’s pioneering librarians, has died.
The deceased was instrumental in establishing libraries at the National Bank of Liberia, now the Central Bank of Liberia, and the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs and systematizing the library at the University of Liberia.
She died on May 5, at the ELWA Hospital after a protracted illness at the age of 87. During her 50-year career, Porte trained generations of librarians. She also consulted with other organizations and institutions including the U.S. Peace Corps, the former St. Patrick’s High School, St. Stephen’s Church, and the Daily Observer, to curate their collections.
Satta Sonie, the librarian at the Daily Observer newspaper, was one of her protegés. Sonie recalled Porte encouraging her to study library science and later introduced her to the Library Science School at the College of West Africa, where Sonie obtained an associate degree in 1978.
After graduation, Porte gave her an old typewriter, allowing her to hone her skills in card cataloging. Sonie would go on to work at the National Public Library and the National Bank under Porte’s supervision. The bank was renamed the Central Bank of Liberia in 1999.
“She had a great impact on my life,’ said Sonie, who has known Mrs. Porte since the 1960s. “She was a disciplinarian who pushed us to learn. She never spoon-fed us. She taught us how to hold our own spoon. She guided me, and educated me, so I could stand on my own feet. When Mrs. Porte retired, I took her place as acting head librarian.’’
Professor Wilson K. Tarpeh met Porte when he joined the NBL in 1978, shortly after graduating from the University of Liberia. Porte was an invaluable resource for research on the economy, banking, and finance sectors, said Tarpeh, now executive director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Mrs. Porte took a warehouse of documents and turned it into a functional reference library where you could find anything you wanted in an orderly fashion,’’ Tarpeh said. “She was helpful. The woman knew her job and was passionate about it. She would be on her way home and when you called her, she was ready to help. She knew deadlines.’’
James B. Dennis, former operations manager at the National Bank of Liberia, now a member of the Central Bank of Liberia board, said the bank recruited Porte in 1974 to establish its library but before then, bank employees and university students had no access to economic and financial data.
Porte turned the National Bank Library into a repository of financial and economic data and research materials, Dennis said.
“Mrs. Porte was the consummate and well-trained professional with professional background in library science,” he said. “She carried out her duty with excellent professional skills. After her departure from the NBL, her active presence was sorely missed by the employees and professional staff she left in the library section.’’
Porte’s love of books and reading inspired her to create the Albert and Bertha Porte Memorial Library (2010), honoring her parents-in-law (the legendary political journalist, who edited the Crozierville Observer, and his wife). The Albert and Bertha Porte Library featured a collection of Albert Porte’s publications. She was married to the couple’s oldest son Elfric K. Porte on June 24, 1962.
In addition to Albert Porte’s work, the library featured a variety of periodicals, newspapers, children’s books, textbooks, and medical books and journals. The library attracted children from Paynesville and other parts of Monrovia.
During the war and early post-war years, doctors and medical students used the library for research. Students from neighboring schools also came to do assignments and research papers.
The library also ran a summer reading program for children. More than 50 children came to learn phonics and read. A few years into its existence, Porte initiated an adult literacy program through Alfalit Liberia, to support residents in the community.
Porte was also an entrepreneur. Over the years, she operated DelTous Catering & Decorating Services where she was known for organizing weddings during the war years. People have fond memories of her delicious fruit punches and ginger beer.
Leonard Greene recalled the splendid wedding reception Porte planned for him and his late wife, Jackie, on December 28, 1991.
“We only paid US$500, but the food was more than enough; and it was delicious,” Greene said. “Porte was the premier caterer during the early 1990s,” catering for international organizations.
Greene was working at Lutheran World Service when the organization hired Porte to cater for an event. “The food was so good that some of the people went to the kitchen to ask for more food,” he said.
The relationship turned into a beautiful friendship. Leonard and Jackie Greene visited the Portes on Sundays at their home in Paynesville, Red-light. The Portes also visited the young couple, sometimes bringing them gifts.
In addition to the catering, Porte also processed Liberian foods, including dried fish, for export. She was one of the few people who packaged dried cassava leaves when Liberia lost electricity because of the war. She also owned the Impact Children and Video Entertainment Center in Paynesville Red Light. It was a major gathering spot for children and young adults during the war years.
MPorte was born on Dec. 1, 1935, in Lofa County. She is a graduate of the former Laboratory High School at the University of Liberia and had advanced library science studies in Nigeria and England.
She met Elfric and formed a bond that resulted in 62 years of marriage. Their union was blessed with three children, Velmer, Hassatous (Samuel) and Koi-Koi (Patricia); 12 grandchildren, Velmer and Crystal (Iman, Ayo, Omar, and Mina), Samuel and Hassatous Subah (Benji, Shadrach and Ladelle), Koi-Koi and Patricia (Brittany, Katelyn, Iceline and I-Netta), Kormasah (Tous and Eve) and one great grandchild, Zayreric (Koi-Koi and Patricia via Brittany). This is in addition to the numerous lives she impacted.
Homegoing services for Porte are planned for May 20. Removal from the A. B. Anderson Funeral Home at 8:00 a.m. The body will be taken to Christ Episcopal Church in Crozierville for wake-keeping and funeral service, starting at 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., respectively.