Former Health Minister Dr. Walter Traub Gwenigale, who was one of the longest serving Ministers in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led government, has been honorably released into retirement after over forty two years of astute, invaluable and dedicated services to his country and humanity in the medical field.
Dr. Gwenigale, who is affectionately called Dr. G, was given what many believe was a deserving send off by President Sirleaf during a well-attended special convocation held last Friday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to acknowledge his outstanding accomplishments and long service to his country and people.
Members of the National Legislature, Cabinet Ministers and members of the Diplomatic Corps, medical practitioners, family and friends who were in full attendance also witnessed the commissioning subsequently of Dr. Gwenigale’s successor, Mrs. Bernice T. Dahn.
Dr. Gwenigale was admitted into the Most Venerable Order of the Pioneers with the Grade of Knight Grand Commander, one of the nation’s highest distinctions, by President Sirleaf who is Grand Master of the Orders of Distinction.
The President extolled Dr. Gwenigale, whom she referred to as “a symbolic icon with a commitment and duty to public service that all must endeavor to emulate in upholding the public trust that has been bestowed upon us as a government.”
She described Dr. G’s life and service as “a masterful manifestation of a humble and exemplary life that comes on par with nothing short of unassuming excellence.” She added, “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.”
She noted that Dr. G is one man who epitomizes the philosophy of “doing for his country and not asking what his country can do for him. “Imagine the nightmare in the heat of our conflict when various Liberian professionals, including doctors, were fleeing for their lives. Dr. Gwenigale remained to be of service to his country, saving lives at Phebe Hospital when he could have fled,” President Sirleaf said.
During those critical days, which meant that he was separated from his family, Dr. Gwenigale placed an inclined patriotic pride in service and duty before family, which she referred to as indeed a mark of inherent selflessness and devotion to humanity. “We can all appreciate the daring risk he took serving and saving the lives of people, some of whom could put his life in danger,” she stressed.
“Our nation,” President Sirleaf underscored, “has an obligation to venerate our distinguished honoree who throughout more than a decade of civil strife defied the odds and served the country – focusing on practicing his noble profession by saving lives even after Liberia’s post-war quasi-democratic political transition.”
“We as a people must adore his nationalism and acceptance to work in Liberia’s first post-conflict truly elected democratic administration. In his statesmanlike persona he has never shied away from the principles that have always guided his sense of judgment and belonging. Such principles have always been informed by fairness, hard work, free will, free expression, honesty and bluntness,” said the President.
To laughter and applause, she said Dr. Gwenigale dared to disagree with her, was sometimes cantankerous and often meddlesome.
President Sirleaf told the audience that during Dr. Gwenigale’s last Cabinet meeting, where he seized the opportunity to say goodbye to his colleagues, he received a tumultuous standing ovation, attesting to the respect and admiration of his colleagues.
“I must say Dr. Gwenigale is not retiring for vacation but is returning to his roots where he has become known as a household farming name as one of the biggest farmers growing a variety of staples not only for sustenance but creating employment opportunities for fellow Liberians who now have profitable livelihoods. You can now go on your farm and drink your palm wine,” the President told her highly appreciated Health Minister amid more applause.
In closing, President Sirleaf quoted the late U.S. Major General George S. Patton, who said: “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking. Surely, that aptly suits your outspokenness,” she concluded.
A statement of appreciation was also made by a representative of the World Health Organization.
Dr. Gwenigale extended his honor and appreciation to the many health workers who worked with him during his career, lauding them for helping to make him successful. He said the distinction he received was also for them.
“Madam, I want to thank you for this great honor, but I want to receive it not just for myself but all the health workers and my staff who have worked with me, both at Phebe, and at the Health Ministry. I could not have done anything by myself except with the people that worked with me.”
He paid homage to his departed parents and expressed appreciation to his family particularly his wife, Carmen. She raised and educated our children while I served in Liberia and for standing by me when I made those difficult decisions that affected them. Among the audience was Dr. Gwenigale’s younger son, Raymond Gwenigale, Esquire and legal counsel at International Bank (Liberia) Limited. His siblings are Walter Gwenigale, Jr. and Mrs. Carmen Ogoli.
Dr. Gwenigale also lauded the Lutheran Church of Liberia for educating him. “I’m a medical doctor today because other people invested in me. And the people that did the most investment in me are the Lutheran Church people. All of what I am could not have been without this great church,” Dr. Gwenigale declared.
He thanked President Sirleaf for her leadership during the most difficult time in Liberia’s history, and for her resilience to remain steadfast, especially during the Ebola crisis.
The Doyen of the Cabinet, Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan, speaking on behalf of that group, said though they had drunk greatly from the fountain of knowledge of their veteran colleague, they will surely miss his presence during their meetings.
Presenting gifts on behalf of the cabinet was the Minister of Gender and Children, Madam Julia Duncan Cassell, who shared some of Dr. G’s famous lines, among them his advice to them to sometimes say no to the President.
The convocation ended and was followed by a commissioning ceremony for the new Ministers of Education, Health and Public Works and Ambassadors to Sierra Leone and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.