‘Johnnie Was a Good Man’

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“As Bob Marley wrote in one of his songs,” said Episcopal Archbishop Jonathan B. B. Hart at a moment during the funeral discourse of the late Liberian Chief Justice, Johnnie N. Lewis, “Johnnie was a good man. He (Johnnie) served his church, the Episcopal Church of Liberia, and his country with dedication and commitment in the diligence of duty.”

And as if to extend the concepts of service and commitment, the Archbishop quoted William Shakespeare, the English playwright, saying, “Life is a stage and we all are actors. We come on stage, play our parts and then exit.”

He noted that this concept also applies to all public servants and government officials, whether appointed by the President or elected by the people, they are only there for an appointed time, thereby urging them to do their very best and leave a legacy when they exit.

“It (a government job) is not your farm or private property. We are to use our positions to serve God’s people and not to mistreat and overlook them. Instead of being the servants, we become small gods. These positions are not meant for eternity,” he told a congregation comprising many top officials from all three branches government, the diplomatic corps, civil society leaders and people from the general public.

Delivering the funeral discourse on the theme, “Time is up”, Archbishop Hart preached from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, in which King Solomon examines the brevity of life. “Everything that happens in this world happens at a time God chooses.” Solomon then proceeds to illustrate and demonstrate his thesis, “There is time for everything.”

“The key word here is time,” Archbishop Hart noted, “and this is used thirty times in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The first pair of contrasts, birth and death, sets the parameters for the events that follow.  In the fullness of time, Bro. Lewis was born in 1946 and died on January 21, 2015. God has an eternal plan that includes the purposes and activities of every person on earth.

“Time is everything,” he said.  “Time is essential when dealing with people. For the business people we hear them say, ‘Time na money.’ Time is important in finance and investment.  This should be evidence to us.”

Archbishop Hart described the late Chief Justice as a man of impeccable character, who brought pride and dignity to the Supreme Court, yea the Judiciary.  President Sirleaf, in her panegyric, had earlier described the Late Chief Justice as a Patriot.

“I recalled once in the print media [that] during his birthday, a long time friend decided to present Cllr. Lewis a gift of booze (12 years old Dewar’s Whisky)”, the Archbishop narrated, “and his friend was jailed because Bro. Lewis thought it was a bribe.  How many Johnnies will we have in Liberia? Bro. Lewis stood tall and firm on issues that concern the welfare of the state. We all are old enough to remember the old impoundment lot used by the Liberian National Police.  As a property lawyer, Cllr. Lewis found the deed for the Government land up Capitol Hill and proved that the piece of property was for the Judiciary and, when the Police could not disprove it, he built what we now know as a new Annex to the Temple of Justice Complex.  When God puts us in positions of trust, He expects us to be firm in making and implementing decisions.  Sometimes a few of our friends may get hurt by those decisions and actions.  In the end we will be doing good for all God’s people,” Archbishop Hart said.

The late Chief Justice is credited for reforming the Judiciary and ruling in cases that have been labeled ‘landmark’. As Professor of Law and Dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, he taught Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and Estates and Trusts, amongst other courses.  He executed a complete renovation of the Temple of Justice and during his time built new court houses in various jurisdictions.

One of the most impressive Court edifices built during his tenure is the 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Gbarpolu County.

Paying tribute on behalf of the Liberian Judiciary, Associate Justice Cllr. Phillip A. Z. Banks presented a very vivid picture of the late Chief Justice at the funeral.  “Johnnie Lewis served as Judge at the 3rd Judicial Circuit in Greenville, Sinoe County. Liberia has lost a legal luminary, an astute lawyer and statesman; a no-nonsense judge. You must be adequately prepared to stand before him as a lawyer. He will be missed,” he said.

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