Iconic Women Leader, Rights Activist, Mary Brownell Is Dead

Mother Mary Brownell, Liberia’s preeminent civil rights and peace advocate.

Mother Mary Brownell, Liberia’s preeminent civil rights and peace advocate, who played a leading role in bringing peace to Liberia following the deadly and devastating 14-year civil war, has died.

This sad and nation-shaking event occurred at around 1 A.M. on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center.

She was 88.

Her family had already sent out invitations for an elaborate 88th birthday celebration, scheduled for Sunday, March 12. However, when Mother Brownell was hospitalized early last week, little did the organizers know, she and her Maker had other plans.

Popularly known as Ma Mary or Mary B, the deceased was also a venerated teacher whose discipline, drive for excellence and hard work left everlasting impressions upon her pupils many of whom are very renowned leaders and executives in their respective areas of professionalism nationwide and globally.

The life and accomplishments of Mother Brownell could not be exemplified more but in the words of Business philosopher Kevin Kruse, “Life is about making an impact, not making an income.” She has left her imprints on the hearts and minds of almost every Liberian, especially during her time in the classrooms and during the Liberian crisis when she galvanized Liberian women to face the warlords and help bring an end to the chaos that had engulfed the country.

At age five, Mary was brought to Monrovia to begin her education. Her educational sojourn began at the Suehn Baptist Mission in the then Bomi Territory (now Bomi County) in 1937 when women were not yet in the mainstream of education. Following the completion of her primary education, she enrolled at the high school division of Liberia College known subsequently as Laboratory High School and Martha Tubman Academy, where she obtained her high school diploma.

She was a total reflection of the Biblical description of a “virtuous woman” among her friends. In her lifetime, she had a bold, forthright approach to public issues, and this was clearly evident during the Liberian crisis when she could look in the faces of faction leaders and tell them the truth—with a reminder that there is a need for peace because Liberians were dying senselessly.

She built the first ever public school in Brewerville, outside Monrovia to provide free education to children of impoverished parents.

One of her outstanding acts of public service to Liberia was when she served as a commissioner at the National Elections Commission (NEC), leaving without blemishes.

With a passion for teaching, she pursued studies in Education and first obtained a Bachelor’s degree from the Teacher’s College, University of Liberia, and later a Master’s from San Francisco State College (now University). She became a passionate and lifelong teacher. She started at the St. Patrick’s School and later became principal of the Botswain School.

She also served as an administrator in the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS), the Catholic School System and the Bong Mines School in Bong County.

Madam Brownell is a 1960 graduate from the University of Liberia. She received M.Sc. degree in School Supervision from San Francisco State College (now University) in the United States. She also held a B.Sc in Elementary Education from the University of Liberia.

Some of her outstanding pupils, who later became successful in their professions, are former Chief Justice Henry Reed Cooper, former Central Bank Governor Elias Seleeby and banker C.TO. King. These and many other prominent Liberians still recall their early school days when they often shouted out, “Teacher Mary! Teacher Mary!”

She also remained relentless in her advocacy for girl children, often saying that because female children at early ages are used as breadwinners and are allowed to be exposed to the streets, cases of rape as well as unwanted pregnancy continue to rise as do children without responsible fathers, found daily on the streets.

These circumstances, she said, will also increase poverty and crime in the country.

“There are too many differences between your days and my days,” she told a duo of Daily Observer reporters during an interview in 2015. “During our days, children, especially girls, could not stay outdoors after 6 P.M., and when any parent of a different family saw a neighbor’s child outside after 6 P.M., that parent would discipline the child and the child would not be a fool enough to complain to his or her parents, lest he or she receive double punishment.

“In our days no single parent disciplined or trained a child, but parents did it collectively. No different parent will do it for another person’s child today because either the child insults that person or his/her parents take that person to court,” she said.

She frowned at gender advocacy groups, including the Ministry of Gender and Child Protection, for doing little to initiate programs that will address the plight of street girls, noting, “They (advocacy groups) are only there to advocate for funds that will not be used to address the purposes for which they are intended.”

Ma Mary, as she was affectionately called, was the daughter of Cllr. Nete-Sie Brownell, former Attorney General and former Postmaster General of Liberia and a renowned lawyer.  Cllr. Brownell spent over two decades in jail under President William Tubman because of his opposition to the misrule and dictatorial leadership style of the country’s longest serving president.

Mary was married to H. B. Fahnbulleh Sr., a union that was blessed with three children: veteran recording artist Miatta Fahnbulleh, National Security Advisor Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh Jr. and Boakai Fahnbulleh.  H.B. Sr., who later became Liberia’s ambassador to Kenya, predeceased her. She later remarried to John Edy, a Nigerian, a union that was blessed with two more children, one of whom predeceased her. She is survived by these children and a host of nieces, nephews, grand and great-grand-children both in Liberia and abroad.

Mother Brownell was a devout Christian and an active member of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Camp Johnson Road, Monrovia, up to the time her death. Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

In December 2013, she served as Commencement Speaker of the University of Liberia’s commencement convocation.

She was one person who was very vocal against the indiscipline that had permeated Liberia—a situation probably precipitated by the civil and political crises that overwhelmed the country for close to three decades.

Mother Brownell held a versatile vantage point over the last two decades, from whence her voice of conscientious guidance and reason registered with impeccable precision, from the least to even the most powerful in the land.

She was instrumental in key processes that brought peace to Liberia, including the Accra Peace Accord and the 2005 presidential and general elections, where she served as one of the National Elections Commissioners.

Meanwhile, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday evening, March 14, visited the home of the late veteran educator, outstanding and outspoken peace advocate, to console the family and relatives for the death of their mother and grandmother.

According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf upon arrival was received by her family members, including her children, Dr. H. Boimah Fahnbulleh Jr., National Security Advisor to the President of Liberia, and Miatta Fahnbulleh, Liberia’s Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal and Child Health, among others.

At the home, Dr. Fahnbulleh thanked President Sirleaf for the visit and the sympathy expressed for the death of their mother.


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