By Gabriel I.H. Williams
In the Holy Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 verses 1-2 says: “To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die ..” Verse 4 of Chapter 3 also tells us that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
At this present time, family, loved ones, friends, former co-workers, as well as scores of many others, are mourning the loss of Ms. Vickie Ward, who passed from labor to rest on December 16, 2020, in the US.
It is, therefore, my very sad duty but an honor to pay this tribute to Vickie, a brilliant mind with a great passion for education, gone too soon. The sudden news of Vickie’s passing, when there was never a hint that she was ill, is so shocking that the grief has been intense. She will be missed for her intelligence and competence, and also for her sacrifices to provide quality education to less fortunate children and youths in Liberia.
I first met Ms. Vickie Ward when she came to the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, DC to serve as Special Assistant to Ambassador Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, who was appointed Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States by President Ellen Johnsdon Sirleaf in 2012. As The Embassy’s Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs, my duties included working very closely with the Ambassador and his staff. Ms. Ward and Ms. DeContee Clements were the principal staffers in the Ambassador’s office, two of the most competent and very beautiful young women I have been blessed to work with over the years. Although DeContee was much younger, she and Ms. Ward forged a very strong bond together.
During that period of time, Liberia was on the front burners of U.S. foreign policy. Madam President understood that strengthening the Embassy to enhance
Liberia’s representation with our most important bilateral partner in the world was very critical.
Ambassador Sulunteh was an innovative and energetic leader, who supported teamwork through the regular senior and general staff meetings and other engagements.
Vickie was an embodiment of the hard work and sacrifices at the Embassy to ensure effective representation for Liberia. She deserves acknowledgment for the role she played in the success Liberia attained in its bilateral relationship with the United States during that period of time.
An example is the Ebola virus epidemic outbreak in 2014, in which several West African countries, including Liberia, were worst affected. The Embassy complimented the government’s efforts with heightened representation to create awareness about the Ebola scourge and to help drum up support in the U.S. These included strong engagements with the Liberian communities, friends of Liberia, the U.S. government, and the private sector. I recall how under heavy downpour of rain and snow, day or night in Washington, Vickie and I accompanied Ambassador Sulunteh for live interviews at major global television studies like CNN, BBC and Fox. Town hall meetings and other public engagements were organized, in addition to preparing speeches and talking points that contained timely updates for the Ambassador’s public appearances. The campaign to eradicate Ebola became a crowning success when the then U.S. President, Barack Obama, made the historic announcement in November 2014 regarding Operation United Assistance, the U.S. military mission to contain the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and other worst affected countries.
Following Ambassador Sulunterh’s resignation in the last year of the Sirleaf administration, he was succeeded by Her Excellency Lois C. Brutus, an erudite lawyer and distinguished diplomat. Recognizing the competence of Ms. Ward and also mindful of the need for transfer of knowledge, Ambassador Brutus reassigned her to another responsibility at the Embassy, where she continued to perform with due diligence.
Even though her tenure was brief, Ambassador Brutus was a leader who tried to bring people together. I cannot recall a meeting where she spoke and did not talk about working or acting in “our collectives.” She introduced a weekly staff meeting during which I gave a press briefing about developments in Liberia, the U.S. and the world. The other part of the meeting was a brief fashion moment, where a male and female staff won little prizes for the best African attires of the day. What became one of the most anticipated parts of the meeting was when the floor was open for staff members to raise anything on their minds, especially personal matters. She created an enabling atmosphere where many staff members were able to share personal accounts about their lives and families, especially the tragedies they suffered during the Liberian civil war. There were tearful accounts of several staff members whose respective fathers were killed, while another staff recounted how her natural father was a rebel who raped and left her mother pregnant. With words of comfort from attendees, hugs, and soul-stirring gospel songs, there was no question that those meetings were uplifting.
It was from this exercise that we heard Vickie’s tearful accounts of how a rebel killed her father, professor Victor E. Ward, former Chairman of the Chemistry Department at the T.J.R. Faulkner College of Science and Technology, University of Liberia. According to Vickie, her father was killed during the early period of the war by a former student who became a rebel fighter. She said on that fateful day, the former student turned-rebel who had failed in her dad’s science class, encountered the professor and decided revenge by killing him.
As a true testament to the beautiful soul she was, Vickie said she decided to turn what was meant for evil into good by supporting quality science education in Liberia to honor her father’s legacy. Out of her meagre salary and through various fundraising initiatives, Vickie sponsored students on science scholarships at the University of Liberia and funded a school in Liberia. The Victor E. Ward Memorial Educational Foundation, of which she was the founder and chairperson, has been focused on supporting quality education in Liberia, with emphasis in science education. She was very passionate in supporting girls in science education.
Several months after the government of President Weah came to power, Ambassador Brutus ended her tenure in Washington. Vickie was removed in the wake of the personnel changes that followed, which did not take into consideration the significance of knowledge transfer, not to talk about showing gratitude to others for the service they have rendered. When we shun knowledge and competence, and allow ethnicity and party loyalty to thrive, mediocrity becomes the order of the day, which is a sad reality of our Liberian society.
The eight chapter of my recently-published book, “Corruption is Destroying Africa: The Case of Liberia,” which is available online, focuses on the activities of a few Liberian individuals and organizations and friends of Liberia in the United States, who have been contributing meaningfully to the rebuilding of Liberia’s broken educational and health systems. The Victor E. Ward Educational Foundation, led by Vickie, was highlighted in the chapter, titled: “The Urgency to Restore Liberia’s Broken Educational and Health Systems.”
While writing the book, I informed Vickie that I would like to make a notable mention of her foundation and her contributions to education in Liberia. I told her it was my way of showing appreciation for her sacrifices, even though I was unable to contributor financially at the time. She was pleasantly surprised, and she provided me the information contained in the chapter. In hindsight, I’m glad that the thought occurred to me to feature the foundation and her in the book. In the ages to come, she will be part of the historical accounts of our era that people will read about.
As was the situation in any work environment, Vickie and I had our share of disagreements. We literally butted heads many times. But, when all is said and done, she was a good sport. She was intellectually engaging, highly competent, well-spoken and elegant. Like we say in Liberia, she was bookish. From the information about her since her passing, I have come to realize that she conducted herself in such a refined manner because she came from a family of distinguished educators in Liberia, going back to her grandfather, Dean T. Ebenezer Ward of the University of Liberia, and her aunt, Dr. Theodora Ward, the first Liberian physicist. Ambassador Jeff Gongoer Dowana, who was Deputy Chief of Mission at the Liberian Embassy in Washington during the period under review, summed up the general sentiments about Vickie when he said, “she went above and beyond the call of duty.” Indeed, Vickie lived a purposeful life. As reflected in the book of Ecclesiastes, the time has come for Vickie to rest from her earthly labor. May her soul rest in peace, and may the Lord give the bereaved family the strength to forge ahead and carry on the educational legacy of the Ward Family.