By Samuel G. Dweh
Mrs. Jessie Wah King, who had taught at the College of West Africa, Liberia’s oldest private Senior High Schools, between the 1950s and 1970s, has died. She taught Music and Religious Education.
The veteran educator, born on May 25, 1919, died on the 22nd day of July, 2020, according to family’s source.
Mrs. King had anticipated her ‘call to Glory’ as she hinted to this writer in an exclusive interview about the impact of Coronavirus on her life and other matters on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Smiling, she had said: “I’m now ready for death,” the centenarian had said, without any comment or question from this writer on this subject. “I’m expecting to be called by the Lord anytime.”
She had said one of her daily prayer points to God is to make her “always willing to join him when he calls.”
Many of Mrs. King’s former students became prominent officials of National Government almost 60 years later. Three of them are: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (then Ellen Johnson—10th grade class), Liberia’s 23rd President; Joseph Nyumah Boakai (used same name—7th grade class); and Dwaboyea Evelyn S. Kandakai (then Evelyn White—7th grade class), who became Minister of Education (1997-2006).
“I taught Music and Religious Education at CWA,” the veteran educator had told me during our first meeting at her home in the Old Road community, Monrovia, in 2017. At that time, she was 98.
Our first meeting was meant for an exclusive interview with her for the December 5, 2017 edition of my education newspaper, Edu-Diary.
Speaking about the attitudes of her students, she picked out Ellen Johnson for ‘outstanding’ behavior. “She was a tom-boy, excessively active, even though academically smart,” she said about the 10th grader who would become Liberia’s President more than 50 years later.
Spending time with her between her 99th and 100th birthdays, I never saw Madam King walk with any aid — human being or sick. During our first meeting, she attributed her physical strength to “health foods”, “avoidance of ungodly activities”, and “grace of God, above all other things.”
At age 99, she shocked observers who had gathered around her, at the celebration of the International Women’s Day— (IWD 2018), held at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex, with calisthenics (fast bend of the body lower, touch of the toes with fingertips, and fast straightening of the body). This was her proof of “physical fitness” to one of those who were watching and had remarked: “Mama is not physically fit, to walk long distance, as she used to be forty years ago.”
Before her calisthenics, she said to the speaker: “You think I’m not strong like a younger person, now watch me show you I’m as strong as you or another young person.”
She was one of the Special Honorees at that IWD event, due to her tremendous contributions to the education (teaching) profession in Liberia, organized Ministry of Gender. I was one of her escorts to the Program—selected based on my earlier news stories on her (published in my education newspaper and on Facebook’s page), as well as subsequent stories published in the Daily Observer and Heritage (all local newspapers).
During my latest contact with Madam King on Saturday, May 30, 2020 (after more than 12 months of no contact), she was not as “physically fit” as she had been during our previous meetings. I met her walking with a metal stick.
“My left leg sprained from an accident in my house on the eve of my 101st birthday,” she told me, while walking to her seat in the piazza, groaning, grunting and gently rubbing the affected leg, as we resumed our academic mother-academic son chat in the piazza of her house. The walls of and tables in the piazza were decorated with various framed photos of her family members, of her and former President Ellen Sirleaf, and various certificates of her ‘achievements’.
“The eve of my 101st birthday was on Wednesday, May 24,” she added, and she told me how the accident occurred. Stepping into the living room, while coming from the piazza, the entrance door flew with her while her left hand was tight on the door knob. “I fell on my back,” she added in a plaintive tone.
On my question of her general view about the COVID-19 pandemic in Liberia, Madam Jessie Wah-King replied: “I don’t think about Coronavirus, even though I set a hand-wash bucket at the entrance of my house, wash my hands everyday, and wear my nose mask.”
A 15-liter rubber bucket, filled with anti-COVID-19 soluble water, was stated at the entrance of her house in the Old Road Community in Liberia’s capital—Monrovia. When asked to show her mask, she called to her granddaughter (Annie), one of her current caretakers, to bring the mask from her bedroom, and she wore it.
“Thinking about the Coronavirus adds to my headache,” she said.
Madam King disclosed that she received financial support during the coronavirus pandemic mostly from her grandchildren in the United States of America.
“My children, also in the U.S., used to send money regularly, but each of them has been retired from his or her place of work. So, they are helping through their children, while the grand-children are sending their personal contributions.” Recalling names of her children, she counted, “Hawa King-Weeks, Marion King, Julius King, and,” she paused. “I’m losing my memory,” she complained, unable to recall the next child’s name.
For care and house chores, the 101-year-old veteran teacher solely relied on one of her female children, Patience A. King (born in 1957), an employee at the Ministry of Education of Liberia. “Patience is extremely caring for me, and I must glorify God’s name for His sending her here,” she mused.
At age 101, Madam King moved about via public transport to attend church (she’s member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Bread of Life Parish) and other public functions, in spite of being credited with the grooming (in grade school) of many students who are successful and wealthy today. “I do not have a private car,” she replied to this writer’s inquiry about a personal vehicle for her convenience. Only Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, when she was Head of State, was regularly providing a vehicle for her, but only to go to church service, she told me during one of our meetings two years ago.
“I’m now ready for death,” the centenarian said, without any comment or question from this writer on this subject. “I’m expecting to be called by the Lord anytime.” She said one of her daily prayer points to God is to make her “always willing to join him when he calls.”
On her well-being in general, the centenarian declared: “I’m wonderfully well and strong on God’s power and abundant grace.”
Born in Sinoe County, Jessie Wah King is the product from the matrimonial union of Mr. Robin Wah (a native of Pleebo, Maryland County, South-Eastern Liberia) and Ms. Mai Davids-Wah (a native of Bodobo City, Sinoe County, South-Eastern Liberia).
During our first meeting, the veteran educator had told me about her foundational education (grade school) and advanced educational status. She attended the College of West Africa, CWA (previously named Monrovia Methodist Seminary), a grade school, and graduated in 1941. Then she proceeded, on scholarship, to the Episcopal Church’s Teacher Training College in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County, in 1952.
“My interest in teaching came from the teaching style and motivation of three Americans at a Teacher Training Institute in Sinoe County, when I was younger and living with my parents in the County. They are James S. Sibley, Susan Mitchell and the third, whose first name, Pierre, I can only remember,” the now 101-year-old Liberian veteran educator had explained to me during our first meeting in 2017.