The St. Stephen Episcopal Church was filled to capacity on Monday when hundreds, led by the Senator Varney Sherman family and President George Manneh Weah, gathered to celebrate the life of Mother Theresa Jande Sherman-Pennoh.
The first among those who paid glowing tributes to Mrs. Sherman-Pennoh was insurance entrepreneur Clemenceau Blayon Urey, C.E.O. of the Atlantic Insurance Company. Mrs. Pennoh was his sixth grade teacher at B.W. Harris Episcopal High School in Monrovia in 1961.
Clemenceau, always outspoken on national affairs, used the occasion to give the government and Liberians important advice on the direction of the nation’s educational system.
He described his teacher, Mrs. Theresa Jande Sherman Pennoh, as “an exceptional lady who demonstrated her commitment to the teaching profession and to her students. “She imparted to us good moral and ethical principles and values through exemplary behavior,” he stated. “She was punctual at work, hardly missed a class, presented well prepared lessons, knew the subject matter well and paid personal attention to each student in a large class of about 40 students.
“I remember she was very concerned that some students might fail tests and exams not because of unfamiliarity with the subject matter but because some would become nervous and experience panic during tests and exams. Therefore Teacher Pennoh would counsel us how to approach tests, trying to allay our fears. She made us sing familiar songs to reduce tension prior to exams.”
Mr. Urey declared that as he reflects on his life today, “I give credit first to Almighty God, my parents and next to Mrs. Pennoh for who I am today. It was she who instilled in us self-esteem, discipline, motivation and the urge to strive for excellence.”
Mr. Urey went on, fortunately in the presence of the President of Liberia and so many other eminent people present, to appeal to the Liberian government to do everything possible “to clean up the mess we have confessed there is in the Liberian educational system.
“We as a nation must place a very high premium on the most important resource of any nation—the human resource.”
He reminded his audience that “Japan, the third largest economy in the world, is very poor in natural resources. Its high level of development and progress is the result of the output of its human resource.”
He continued, “Cleaning up the mess involves weeding out the bad apples in the teaching profession: those lazy teachers who come to school unprepared; those unprincipled teachers who include materials they have not covered in the classroom, or test to justify extorting favors from students in cash or kind, to name a few. Cleaning up the mess involves training and motivating teachers to portray the characteristics similar to those of Mrs. Pennoh as she performed in the classroom. It involves creating a conducive learning environment for students and teachers.
“Doing these things, however, requires committing more budgetary resources to education, being cognizant of the fact that meaningful progress in a nation can be achieved only by investing in the youth and human resources in a big way. Human resource development, however, involves much more than education and training. It also involves proper selection and utilization of manpower to avoid mediocrity and placing square pegs in round holes. It involves insulating the government bureaucracy from extreme political influence such as the appointment of political cadres throughout the government bureaucracy without due regard for training and experience.
Such situations,” Mr. Urey warned, “de-professionalize the government machinery and hinders the ability of government to run efficiently and effectively as it strives to deliver badly needed social services and promote economic development.”
One of the speakers at the memorial service was a person who surprised the admiring St. Stephen audience. She was Liberia’s oldest surviving teacher, 99-year-old Teacher Jesse Wah King, who taught for decades at the College of West Africa (CWA). Among her students were former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, who with his wife Kartumu shared the seat with President Weah at yesterday’s ceremony.
Teacher King, strong and eloquent as ever, was offered a seat at the podium but gracefully declined it and proceeded to deliver an enlightening, extemporaneous speech about the woman she considered her professional sister, Teacher Theresa Sherman Pennoh.
Mother Jessie Wah King described Mrs. Pennoh as a great teacher who made a significant impact on Liberian education.
Several important relatives flew in from the United States for the memorial service. They included Varney Sherman’s uncle, the eldest brother of Teacher Pennoh, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Tolbert government, Mr. T. Siafa Sherman.
The two sons of Senator Varney Sherman and his wife, Mrs. Joyce Dunbar Sherman, also flew in for the memorial service. They are Zoelluma Kiahon Sherman and Zuanna Mendimassa Sherman, grandsons of Teacher Pennoh. Their sister Raisa Sherman, daughter of the Shermans, and Mrs. Felicia Sherman Boyce, daughter of Varney’s grandfather, late former Senator R. Folie Sherman, also flew in for the service. Felicia is a younger sister of the late Teacher Pennoh.
Mrs. Joyce Dunbar Sherman read a tribute written by T. Siafa’s wife, Mrs. Julia Sherman. She recalled that Teacher Pennoh was a loving sister-in-law, with whom, shortly after the marriage to T. Siafa, they lived in the same house on Benson Street, near the mosque. Many had warned her about going to live with her husband, T. Siafa, in the same house with her sister-in-law. But Mrs. Julia Sherman found her sister-in-law warm and loving and they had an excellent relationship.
Mr. T. Siafa Sherman delivered the acknowledgements. He extended thanks and appreciation to President George Weah and former Vice President and Mrs. Joseph N. Boakai for their presence at the memorial service.
Mr. Sherman also extended gratitude to the St. Stephen Church Rector, the Reverend Canon A. Too Williams, and other clergy, the vestry and wardens and the entire St. Stephen family.
Mr. Sherman said he was impressed with the beautiful developments in the St. Stephen edifice, which he said compared very favorably with his own parish, St. Thomas at Camp Johnson Road.
Senator Sherman, at close of the service, welcomed all attendees to the Paynesville City Hall “to celebrate with plenty of food, drinks and fellowship.” And it turned out indeed to be a truly sumptuous and enjoyable afternoon.