Former Secretary of State Gabriel L. Dennis’ Two Sons Die

The late John Lafayette Dennis

— John L. and Wilmot L. Dennis

The two sons of Liberia’s renowned Secretary of State under President W.V.S. Tubman, Gabriel Lafayette Dennis, died recently in Monrovia.

John L. Dennis, the elder brother, died on April 1, 2019, following a period of illness. His younger brother, Wilmot L. Dennis, died at the Fidelity Clinic few weeks later, on Friday, June 21, 2019, also after a brief illness.

Both were the sons of Gabriel L. Dennis and his wife, Mrs. Thelma Reeves Dennis, a prominent Liberian home economics expert and once head of the Maryann Cheeseman School of Home Arts.

The elder son, John L. Dennis, died on April 1, 2019 and the second son, Wilmot, on June 21, 2019, an interval of two months and 20 days.

John was born on December 18, 1940. Wilmot came on May 6, 1948. John by that time had just begun his elementary education, in 1948 in the first grade at St. Patrick’s Elementary School, then on Ashmun Street, Snapper Hill, Monrovia. Kenneth Best of the Daily Observer, who grew up on Broad Street, Snapper Hill, remembers John as one of his many classmates in the first grade. But following the first grade, John’s parents sent him to Europe to continue his primary education. In the 1950s John was joined by his brother Wilmot for schooling in Europe.

According to John’s biography, read at his funeral at First United Methodist Church, Ashmun Street, Monrovia, John Lafayette Dennis and Wilmot Lafayette Dennis “were privileged and proud to be called and known as children of an astute son of Liberia, who served and brilliantly represented the Republic of Liberia as its Secretary of State” from 1944 to 1954, the first person to hold that position during the administration of President William V.S. Tubman.

Both were the sons of former secretary of state, Gabriel L. Dennis (pictured), and his wife, Mrs. Thelma Reeves Dennis

But long before then, Gabriel L. Dennis had served outstandingly as a Liberian diplomat from the period of the League of Nations to the formation of the United Nations, to both of whose founding Liberia was a signatory.

John’s biography recalled that after World War II, “the thirst of knowledge prompted some Liberian parents to send their children abroad for school and exposure. John, at the tender age of 9, was enrolled in the Institut Auf Dem Rosenberg, in St. Gallen Rosenburg, Switzerland. He remained there for over a decade, until his father passed away in 1954.

By that time the Dennises were divorced and Mrs. Thelma Reeves Dennis took full responsibility for her sons’ education. John spent part of his secondary school years in Spain with his Aunt, Ms. Myrtle Reeves, and on to London, where his mother Thelma was appointed Liberian Student Advisor. In England, John “deviated from his expected career” — probably Law and Diplomacy, and engaged in Mechanics and Engineering, as he developed a deep interest in cars. He enrolled in the Rolls Royce Institute in Derby, England. He later traveled to the United States, where he joined the Ford Motor Company at his plant in Englewood, New Jersey.

On his return to Liberia, he joined the United States Trading Company (USTC) and was sent to Akron, Ohio for further training. He was later appointed service manager at USTC, and brought innovation and experience to their Automotive Division. John’s first wife was Yuen Cheong, a Malaysian, and to this union a daughter, Gabrielle Yuthel was born. Following the dissolution of this marriage, John married Carolyn Burphy, a Liberian, and this, too, ended in divorce.

In the mid-1970s President William R. Tolbert appointed John Dennis Fleet Manager for the Executive Mansion, where he served diligently, but resigned to manage the estates of his family and build on where his father and mother left off. John later picked a gem from the garden of Mr. and Mrs. Mishael (Mish) Brownell and married Ms. Sophie Wetu Brownell. This marriage was blessed with a daughter, Janelle Dennis.

John and Wilmot and their mother, Thelma Reeves Dennis

The funeral service of John L. Dennis was held at the First United Methodist Church, from which his father was buried in 1954; and John was interred in Edina, Grand Bassa County, home of his father Gabriel Dennis’ maternal grandparents.

John Dennis’ younger brother Wilmot Lafayette Dennis was born in Monrovia on May 6, 1948, the second son of Gabriel and Thelma Reeves Dennis. He attended the Monrovia Elementary Demonstration School and did his high school education at the Copford Glebe School in Colchester, Essex, United Kingdom.

He later enrolled at the DLD College in London and continued his studies in the United States, majoring in Electrical Engineering. Wilmot, who jokingly called himself the “Wild I,” never married. But he fathered two children, Mrs. Thelma Dennis Woods, whom he named after his mother; and Gabriel, whom he named after his father.

According to his daughter, Mrs. Thelma Dennis Woods, the funeral of Wilmot L. Dennis is scheduled to take place at the First United Methodist Church on Ashmun Street, Monrovia on Saturday, July 13, 2019, beginning at 10 o’clock a.m.

Removal will be from the Samuel A. Stryker Funeral Home on the same Saturday, July 13, at 9 o’clock a.m.

Survivors are his daughter, Mrs. Thelma R. Dennis Woods; son, Gabriel F. Dennis; grandchildren, Anaiy and Alden; son-in-law Rahim C. Woods; Oretha Reeves-Peal and family; and many other relatives and friends.


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