The Rev. Dr. Walter D. Richards, Sr. has been described by many as a national hero.
At his funeral at the First Baptist Church in Clay Ashland last Saturday, attended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, other dignitaries and hundreds of sympathizers, Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, Chairman of the National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL), said in the early 1990’s when Liberians were fleeing their country by hundreds of thousand, it was DR. Richards and his darling wife, Ora, who worked tirelessly to establish to establish the the Buduburam Refugee Camp near Accra, Ghana. The camp became the largest haven for Liberians who were in the desperation at the pinnacle of the Liberian civil war.
According to Sheikh Kafumba, “Dr. Richards’ life was full of services to mankind. He was a champion of peace and his service to the inter- Religious Council was marked with integrity,” Sheikh Kafumba added.
The Liberian Official Gazette, signed by President Sirleaf and Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan and read by Chief of Protocol Rufus Neufville, said Dr. Richards served the nation and his people with distinction.
“With the untimely and shocking home-going of Rev. Richards,” Mr. Neufville said, the family has suffered the loss of a true and gracious loved one, his church an outstanding prelate and preacher of the Word, the Liberian people have lost a resilient advocate, tower of strength and support; his comrades and associates, a reliable companion and the Government of Liberia a dedicated public servant and committed patriot.”
Chief of Protocol Neufville recalled that for Dr. Richards’ commitment and distinguished service to humanity the government of Liberia decorated him with the distinction of Knight Commander of the Humane Order of African Redemption.
Many Baptists saw him as a ‘hero’ but Cambridge University Scholar, Dr. Paul Gifford, in his book,
Christianity and Politics in Doe’s Liberia: 1980-1990 lauded Dr. Richards as Liberia’s preeminent Christian Leader of his time.
The Ralph Bunch Award was conferred on Dr. Richards by Dr. Leon Sullivan, founder of Opportunities Industrialization Center International (OIC) in recognition of Dr. Richards’ outstanding service to the OIC, which Richards was responsible for establishing in Liberia. LOIC has trained thousands of Liberians in vocational and technical fields and the program is still ongoing today.
It was under Rev. Richards’ pastoral leadership at the First Baptist Church in Clay Ashland, which lasted for approximately four decades that the new church edifice was built and dedicated in January 1975.
Dr. Richards worked for numerous institutions. As an educator, following his graduation from the University of Liberia, he served as principal of the Student Union Institute, a night high school run by the Liberia National Student Union (LINSU).
He later served as principal of Rick’s Institute, a premier Liberian high school run by the Liberian Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention (LBMEC). Dr. Richards once served as Deputy Minister of Education and former president of LBMEC. He was a founding member of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) and pastor for several decades of the Salem Baptist Church in Brewerville.
Paying tribute on behalf of the University of Liberia (UL) was the vice president for academic affairs, Dr. Momolu Getaweh. He said Dr. Richards’ service as Chairman of the Board of Trustees during some of UL’s most difficult periods was marked with dedication and hard work and his impact on the institution would not be forgotten.
“This man you see lying here helped to save my life when former president Charles Taylor was planning to kill me,” Dr. Getaweh recalled.
Walter Dossen Richards was born on August 24, 1934. He died on May 29, 2015 at the age of 84.
In additional to the many tributes paid by various institutions, the board chairman of LOIC, Joseph Dorbor, hailed Dr. Richards as chairman emeritus of LIOC who loved God and gave unselfish devotion to duty, the welfare of his fellowman, which exceeded his personal wellbeing,”
Dr. Richards, said Dorbor, taught us how to train people, create jobs and change people’s lives from hopelessness to hope and accomplishment.
Walter David Richards, Jr., son of the deceased paying the family tribute, said, “Dad we love you and your legacy will forever live on. You played your part and it is now left with the family to keep that legacy on-going.
“We are proud of you because of the life you lived which is manifested through all the tributes being paid,” he said.
Dr. Jeremiah W. Walker, former president of LBM & EC, who delivered the funeral discourse, said Dr. Richards lived a faithful life. He lived a very simple life, he advocated for the rights of all and he was a man of humanity.”
Among the many attending the funeral was business man and politician Benoni Urey, as well as Sister Mary Laurene Browne, president of Stella Maris Polytechnic.