Liberia: “Philip Wesseh Didn’t Exist, He Lived”

--- “How can dying be gainful?” Dr. Bropleh asked rhetorically, as he began to roll out the answer. “With the boldness of your life, live because you have the opportunity to live. For Philip, living was an impartation of knowledge and skills in order to empower others to become their best.”  

It might be an indication of ‘legend’ status when your professional colleagues refer to you by a term denoting a mystical character — ‘Gina’. Properly known as Atty. Philip Nimeneh Wesseh, the journalist and publisher of The Inquirer newspaper was laid to rest on Friday, October 28, following a deeply emotional service of hymns and tributes from numerous dimensions of his life. 

It was every bit a celebration of a life truly well lived — a solid five hours of instruction through tributes and testimonies to the man. One might have thought he was just a journalist who simply poured all of himself into this single craft. Yet, each tribute delivered over the mortal remains of Philip Wesseh illustrated with incredible detail the life of a man who answered to various names, wore various hats and waxed various professions. Moreover, to quote Rudyard Kipling, Wesseh talked with crowds and kept his virtue; walked with [presidents] — and spoke truth to power — yet he did not lose the common touch

At the Trinity United Methodist Church, New Kru Town, Monrovia, where the funeral was held, the Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Emmanuel S. Saywon, opted to forgo his sermon, instead delegating that particular function to the choir. “Philip loved music,” the priest reasoned to the congregation, and said that it would only be appropriate that the sermon at this homegoing service be done through hymns, especially the ones that were dear to his heart. 

So, to honor their fallen staunch Methodist and active member of Trinity UMC, the choir sprang into action with hymns, including: It is well with my soul; God will take care of you; God moves in a mysterious way; Amazing Grace; From every stormy wind that blows; as well as Wesseh’s ultimate favorite, sung in the Kru dialect: “I will extol thee”. 

For those who still needed a sermon, it was delivered by Rev. Dr. Laurence K. Bropeh during a night of wake-keeping held on Thursday, October 27, at the Monrovia CIty Hall. Speaking on the theme: “Dying with a Living Hope”, Dr. Bropleh referenced the scripture from Philippians 1:20-23. 

The most well-known part of that passage is verse 21, which says: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

“How can dying be gainful?” Dr. Bropleh asked rhetorically, as he began to roll out the answer. “With the boldness of your life, live because you have the opportunity to live,” Bropleh said. “For Philip, living was an impartation of knowledge and skills in order to empower others to become their best.”  

It was true. Most of the tributes delivered during the wake told of how Wesseh helped young journalists, students and a host of ordinary people find their paths in life under his tutelage, mentorship, counsel, friendship and, for some, fatherhood. Wesseh had a knack for taking a young person under his wing and helping them grow wings of their own, through discovery of their own strengths and limitations. Yet, with him it was no clinical exercise, but more of a sagely, allegorical style. 

“There are some of us who are existing but not living,” Bropleh continued. “When you exist you are individualistic, selfish such that, ‘among my mother's children, I love myself the best’. Philip lived, he didn't exist. Because he lived, there are others who will find their tomorrow. 

“For me to live is Christ. “Dying with a living Hope was the expression of Philip’s life — to empower young women and men in this country. He did not care much about how much money he made. Ultimately he cared about the Republic of Liberia. Let us do what we can with the life that we have,” Dr. Bropleh said in closing.  

At the funeral, tributes were opened with a song by Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, “When the storms of life are raging stand by me”. But instead of the words, ‘stand by me’, he inserted, “I rest my case,” a phrase with which Wesseh always ended his articles. 

Former Vice President of Liberia, Amb. Joseph N. Boakai, said Liberia has lost somebody of dignity. “He served his country under the most difficult circumstances with dignity and respect.”  

The University of Liberia, of which Wesseh was an alumnus and a faculty member, announced in their tribute the establishment of the Philip N. Wesseh academic award for excellence in journalism. 

Speaking for the Liberia Crusaders for Peace and the Liberia Women Mass Action for Peace, Liberia’s Cultural Ambassador Juli Endee named Wesseh as one of the finest editorial writers, and “one of those who made me who I am today.” She added that he was also a strong pillar and a supporter of women’s movements. 

The DuPort Road & Zubah Town community said Wesseh, through his life and example, has taught them to cherish even the smallest moments with each other, for it just might be the last. “His willingness to listen and contribute meaningfully to the community in spite of limited resources,” they said, was profound. 

Other tributes were given by the General Auditing Commission, where his daughter, Mary N. Wesseh, is a staff member; the United Methodist University, where Wesseh was a faculty member; D. Twe Memorial High School Alumni Association, his alma mater; the Liberia National Bar Association and the Maryland County Bar Association, where he was licensed as an attorney-at-law; the Trinity United Methodist Church and its auxiliaries; the Press Union of Liberia and its auxiliaries; the Association of Liberian Journalists in America. 

During the Press Union’s tribute, Wesseh’s first mentor, Kenneth Y. Best, and Maureen Sieh, gave a moving and tearful tribute to Philip’s excellent and patriotic work ethic as a journalist who began his career at the Daily Observer. He urged all to learn from Wesseh’s example as a man who did all he could to help move Liberia forward. 

The Inquirer staff tribute was probably the most difficult, since they had been with Wesseh day-in and day-out, literally for decades. A tribute too heavy for words, it was thankfully published in that day's edition of The Inquirer, read by its Editor, Winnie S. Jimmy. 

Among a slew of tributes from the family, one of Wesseh’s daughters, Patience, read a piece she wrote about the special bond she shared with her father. “This tribute isn't about the Attorney, Journalist, Professor, Media Icon, or Radio Personality most people knew. This tribute is about my dad in his best form, ‘papa’, as I called him. My father was a provider, teacher, educator, comedian, go-getter, and cheerful giver,” she said. She promised to establish a foundation in her father’s name. 

Wesseh’s Widow, Mrs. Teplah Toe Wesseh, used the occasion to express thanks and appreciation to President George Manneh Weah for all the support during Philip’s time of illness, as well as in his passing. To her deceased husband, she said: “I loved you in life and I will love you in death. Even if you come back, I will still love you.” She fondly recalled some of their moments together and expressed admiration at his ability to provide for his family, while always seeking the welfare of others.