Samuel Richelieu Watkins, ELBC/ELTV Pioneer, Dies


Mr. Sam Watkins, one of the three founders of ELBC/ELTV, the Radio and Television services of the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS), died in New Jersey, United States of America on Thursday, September 12, 2019.  He was in his 90th year.

The funeral will take place at Arcola United Methodist Church at 52 Paramus Road, Paramus, New Jersey, on Saturday, September 28, 2019, beginning at 9:00 o’clock a.m.

Sam Watkins, as he was popularly called, and two of his closest friends and fellow professionals, the late Sewell T. Brewer and G. Henry Andrews, founded the first Liberian Broadcasting Station in Monrovia, forerunner to the Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS).  They started their pioneering work in the late 1950s in a small room upstairs in the Centennial Memorial Pavilion on Ashmun Street, Monrovia. Sam became a popular radio icon, widely recognized for his famous phrase, Have no fear; Sam is here.”

After graduating with honors from the College of West Africa (CWA) in 1949, Sam entered the University of Liberia (UL) where he was awarded a UNESCO fellowship to study in London, England.  He was one of three students who were awarded fellowships to study Medicine in the United States of America.  Shortly thereafter, the President of Liberia, William V. S. Tubman, noticed Sam’s keen interest in electronics, while working as a cadet with a pioneering Liberian electronics engineer, Mr. Henry W. Grimes.  President Tubman then encouraged Sam to study Electrical Engineering instead of Medicine.  Subsequently, Sam enrolled at the Northern Polytechnic Institute, Radio Telecommunications Institute and South Themes College in London, England, where he pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering.  Following his graduation, he traveled to the United States and enrolled at the RCA Institute of Telecommunications and Broadcasting in New York, where he acquired a Master’s degree. Upon completion of his studies, he returned to Liberia.

Sam Watkins later served the Government of Liberia in multiple capacities.  In the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, he served as Deputy Minister.  He also served as Deputy Managing Director and later Managing Director of the Liberian Telecommunication Corporation (LTC).  Mr. Watkins also served as Principal of the Mano River Institute for Telecommunications and Postal Training and as the Government representative to upgrade the Tubman Technical School to the Tubman College of Technology (now Tubman University), in Harper, Maryland County.

Furthermore, he organized the Liberian Radio Amateur Training and the Liberian Amateur Radio Association along with the late H. Walcott Benjamin. They were accredited for making the first Liberia to USA Amateur radio transmission.  He strived throughout his life to use his skills in telecommunication to make Liberia great.

Samuel Richelieu Bismarck Watkins was born in Harper, Cape Palmas, Maryland County to the union of Samuel Richard Bismarck Watkins and Catherine Mleayeneh Boyd Watkins, on October 13, 1929.  His father was the chief clerk of customs and his mother Catherine, a devout Christian, was a seamstress, nurse, and social worker.  As a young boy, Samuel lost his father in a boat accident, which left his mother with three young children.

Samuel began his early education in Harper City at the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E) Day School, also known as the Reverend White School.  While at Reverend White School, he was given two double promotions.  His family relocated to Monrovia for Sam to further his education at The Lott Carey Baptist Mission in Brewerville, Montserrado County.  During those years he excelled and was given a double promotions.  He then entered the College of West Africa (CWA), where he graduated with honors in 1949 and the following year enrolled at the University of Liberia, where he earned a UNESCO scholarship to study in London, England.

Samuel was baptized, in Mt. Ashton A.M.E. Church, in Harper City, where he learned the importance of faith and developed a personal relationship with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  When he and his family relocated to Monrovia, they joined Eliza Turner A.M.E. Church, where he served actively in many capacities, including the Sunday school and the Boy Scouts.  He was instrumental in the establishment of the Gideon group in Liberia, where they visited the sick and distributed Bibles throughout Liberia.  Forced to leave Liberia due to the civil unrest, Sam became a member of St. Mark A.M.E. Church in East Orange, New Jersey, where he served on the Trustees Board.

Sam Watkins was a member of many clubs and societies, including the Masonic Craft  and the United Brothers of Friendship (UBF), where he rose to Past Grand Master, and Past Patron, Naomi Chapter #4, Order of Eastern Star, and Household of Ruth.  He was also a member of the “Go Getters Incorporated” a social club with many of his childhood friends. The membership included: Osborn Diggs, C. Cecil Dennis Jr., James C. Dennis Sr., Samuel Green, Kojo Adorkor, A. Dash Wilson Jr., Donald Cassell, Tommy Lomax, Victor Stryker, Jehu Stryker, Dr. Henry Benson, G. Henry Andrews, E. Hardin Smythe, Jonathan Harmon, Edward Benson, Billy Gibson, Herbert Brewer, Frances Ellis, Roland Barnes, Sr., T. Ernest Eastman, Africanus Mapleh, Elwood Greaves, McDonald Acolatse and John Bright.

Sam was also a founding member of the Invincible Eleven (I.E.) Football Association and one of its first goal keepers.

During his college days he thought it would be a good idea to start showing newly released movies in Monrovia.  This endeavor led President Tubman to request that Samuel begin a regular movie showing for all children at the Executive Mansion.

In his later years, Samuel Watkins wrote and published several books, including Liberian Communication-A Historical Light of Telecommunications in Liberia; Eye of the Night (which contained his reflections as a cab driver in Monrovia); Precious Palm Tree; Ant Bee Kingdom; and Am I A Bogor.

While he was in college at UL, he met and befriended the beautiful and elegant Mildred Thelma Summerville.  During the dating period, he won the scholarships to study abroad. But after Mildred’s six years of waiting for her sweetheart, Sam returned home and married his beloved on October 27, 1957.  As he narrated the love story to his children a few weeks ago, “The whole while I was coming back on that plane, I was thinking on my Mildred.”

Samuel was predeceased by his wife, Mrs. Mildred Thelma Summerville Watkins, parents, Samuel Richard Bismarck Watkins and Catherine Watkins, his sisters, Margaret and Eva Watkins, brothers, Samuel D. Green, Sr., and Roland T. Barnes, Sr., and sister-in-law, Louise Summerville, three children including James Karnga, and several uncles and aunts.

Samuel leaves to mourn his loss his children: Richard Van Watkins (Michele), Audrey Solomon (Leonard-deceased), Amelia Smallwood (June), Sheila Womack (Asaph), Eddie-Mae Abu-Smail (Burgess), Magdalene Sowid, and Augustine Bornah Watkins, sixteen grandchildren and twenty-one great-grandchildren. Also, Watta Menjor, Mary Johnson, Robin Womack and Jackie Allen, whom he embraced as daughters.  He also leaves to mourn his loss, his sisters, Mrs. Maggie Boyd Dennis, Eudora F. Barnes, Tidi Speare-Stewart; sisters-in-law, Mrs. Williette Gloria Summerville Cooper, Mrs. Magdalene Wanee Cooper Brown, Mrs. Comfort Marcia Cooper Minor, brother-in-law, Charles A. Minor. His nieces and nephews include: Richelieu Campbell (Martha), Vera Graham, Emmett Dennis (Patience), Rose Moulton (Seth), Rupert Hoff (Geraldine), Roland Hoff (Mietta), Henrina Mason (Garfield), Velma Hoff, Victor Hoff (Carolyne), and many other family members, friends and associates, in the United States, Liberia and around the world.

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