Rotary Honors Dr. Gwenigale

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The Rotary Club of Monrovia has admitted Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, outgoing Health and Social Welfare Minister, into its Paul Harris Fellowship.

The Paul Harris Fellowship of the Rotary Club recognizes people who have made meaningful contributions to society.  Paul Harris was the founder of the Rotary Club.

Introducing the honoree during a Rotary meeting last Friday, Rotarian and University of Liberia president, Dr. Emmet A. Dennis, noted that Dr. Gwenigale had worked in the Liberian health system for more than 40 years, providing health services to the Liberian people.

Dr. Gwenigale’s services to the Liberian people, especially at this time in a top government position, had witnessed many challenges, said Dr. Dennis.

But despite the challenges, Dr. Gwenigale had remained persistent in enduring the circumstances and on that basis he deserves such an honor from the Liberian people and the Rotary Club, said Dr. Dennis,

Taking a retrospective look at his life, Dr. Gwenigale, in his response, spoke highly of the role played by the Lutheran Mission in Liberia in molding him to become a medical doctor to serve his people.

With the help of the Lutheran missionaries and the Lutheran Church in Liberia, he was able attend Lutheran elementary schools and the Lutheran Training Institute (LTI) in Salayea, Lofa County, where he graduated from high school in 1959.  He then proceeded to Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University), where he spent three semesters before being offered a fellowship to complete college in Puerto Rico. 

Following completion of college there he entered the Medical College of the University of Puerto Rico, where he took the M.D. degree.  He later did his residency at the Los Angeles County Hospital.

Dr. Gwenigale also paid tribute to several people to whom he said he owed the award.

He paid homage to his mother who supported him in his early childhood education by selling snuff (tobacco) and saving the money for his tuition and other needs.

Dr. Gwenigale paid tribute to his elementary school teacher in his native Sanoyea, Bong County, Ms. Ella Stewart, who took him to her sister, Mrs. Margaret Stewart Traub and her husband, the Rev. Byron Traub.   The Traubs were also teaching at the Lutheran school in Sanoyea. 

Ma Ella asked the Traubs to take care of him and she named him Walter Traub to which he later added the name Gwenigale, in recognition of his father who was the village harp player.  It was from the Traubs’ home that Walter continued his education, ending up at LTI and Cuttington, before traveling abroad for medical studies. 

Dr. Gwenigale also acknowledged Daily Observer Publisher, Kenneth Y. Best, for articles he wrote about the Phebe Hospital in 1973 that helped keep Phebe open. 

Immediately following his return home in 1973, said Dr. Gwenigale, the Lutheran missionaries who were running Phebe informed him that the American Lutherans had decided to close down the hospital for financial reasons.  That was when Dr. G came to Monrovia and found his Cuttington classmate and brother –in-law, Kenneth Y. Best, who was then an official at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.  The doctor explained the problem to Mr. Best, who immediately investigated the matter on the Phebe campus in Suacoco and wrote a series of articles for the Liberian Star, the Liberian Age and Radio Station ELBC and ELWA about the hospital’s impending closure. 

It was at that point that President William R. Tolbert, Jr. intervened.   President Tolbert who was close to the people of Bong County ordered his Health Minister, Cllr. Oliver Bright, to write a letter to Finance Minister Steve Tolbert, the President’s younger brother, directing him immediately to take over the financing of Phebe.  That is how Phebe survived.

What Dr. Gwenigale did not tell the Rotary Club was that several times after the hospital was bombed during the Liberian civil conflict, American Lutherans, German Lutherans and Lutherans all over Europe, who trusted him as Phebe’s astute and honest chief medical officer, often provided money to rebuild the hospital and keep it running.

Being the chief medical officer of Phebe prior to ascending to the position of Health Minister, Dr. Gwenigale said he was able to build good working relations with staff of that hospital.  This is because he had earned knowledge of human relations from interactions with them.

He also noted with emphasis that the honor bestowed upon him was also owed to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who allowed him to appoint Deputy Ministers of his choice with whom he worked while serving as Health Minister.

It was the efforts of all these officials and staff that combined to enable them to achieve at the level they did since his appointment in 2006.

Dr. Gwenigale also paid tribute to his wife Carmen and their children, two sons and a daughter and five grandchildren.  They all understood and reasoned with him to continue to serve in Liberia while they remained in the United States without support from him.

He acknowledged them in a special way and noted that had they not allowed him to remain in Liberia, the Liberian people would have been disappointed.

Meanwhile, the Rotary Club during the meeting presented a check for US$1,686.00 to the University of Liberia Ebola Task Force to help carry out messages about the prevention of the virus.

The Rotary Club has been actively engaged in providing money, buckets and sanitizers in several communities, including the University of Liberia, for hand washing and other aspects of the anti-Ebola fight.

Speaking on behalf of the UL Ebola Task Force, the Dean of the Medical College, Dr. Vuyu K. Golakai, commended the Rotary Club and urged members to plead with the government to begin listening to good advice instead of demonstrating arrogance.

The club also admitted new members during the ceremony.  Those admitted included Dinna Cheapo, Helena Nah Lawrence Yealue II and Wassim Charifi.

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