Mary Brownell, 88, Dies

The late Mother Mary Brownell, peace, gender and civil society activist of Liberia

Eminent Civil Rights and Peace Advocate, Played Critical Role in Bringing, Sustaining Peace to Liberia

Mother Mary Brownell, Liberia’s preeminent civil rights and peace advocate, who played a leading role in bringing peace to Liberia following the deadly and devastating 14-year civil war, has died.

This sad and nation-shaking event occurred at around one o’clock a.m. on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center.   She was in her 89th year.

Her family had already sent out invitations for an elaborate 88th birthday celebration, scheduled for Sunday, March 12.  However, when Mother Brownell was hospitalized early last week, little did the organizers know, she and her Maker had other plans.

Mother Brownell was born on March 12, 1929, in Cavalla, Maryland County.  At age five, she was brought to Monrovia to begin her education.

Her educational sojourn began at the Suehn Baptist Mission in the then Bomi Territory, (now Bomi County) in 1937 when women were not yet in the mainstream of education. Following the completion of her primary education, she enrolled at the high school division of Liberia College known subsequently as Laboratory High School and Martha Tubman Academy, where she obtained her high school diploma.

With a passion for teaching, she pursued studies in Education and first obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Teacher’s College, University of Liberia, and later a Master’s from San Francisco State College (now University).  She became a passionate and lifelong teacher.  She started at the St. Patricks School and later became principal of the Botswain School.

She also served as an administrator in the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS), the Catholic School System and the Bong Mines School in Bong County.

In December 2013, she served as Commencement Speaker for the University of Liberia’s commencement convocation.

Mother Brownell held a versatile vantage point over the last two decades, from whence her voice of conscientious guidance and reason registered with impeccable precision, from the least to even the most powerful in the land.

She was instrumental in key processes that brought peace to Liberia, including the Accra Peace Accord and the 2005 presidential and general elections, where she served as one of the National Elections Commissioners.

She also remained relentless in her advocacy for girl children, often saying that because female children at early ages are used as bread winners and are allowed to be exposed to the streets, cases of rape as well as unwanted pregnancy continue to rise as do children without responsible fathers, found daily on the streets.

These circumstances, she said, will also increase poverty and crime in the country.

“There are too many differences between your days and my days,” she told a duo of Daily Observer reporters during an interview in 2015.  “During our days, children, especially girls, could not stay outdoors after 6 p.m., and when any parent of a different family saw a neighbor’s child outside after 6 p.m., that parent would discipline the child and the child would not be a fool enough to complain to his or her parents, lest he or she receive double punishment.”

She frowned at gender advocacy groups, including the Ministry of Gender and Child Protection, for doing little to initiate programs that will address the plight of street girls, noting, “They (advocacy groups) are only there to advocate for funds that will not be used to address the purposes for which they are intended.”

“In our days no single parent disciplined or trained a child, but parents did it collectively.  No different parent will do it for another person’s child today because either the child insults that person or his/her parents take that person to court,” she said.

Ma Mary, as she was affectionately called, was the daughter of Cllr. Nete Sie Brownell, former Attorney General and former Postmaster General of Liberia and a renowned lawyer.  Mary was married to H. B. Fahnbulleh Sr., a union that was blessed with three children:  veteran recording artist Miatta Fahnbulleh, National Security Advisor Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr. and Boakai Fahnbulleh.  H.B., Sr., who later became Liberia’s ambassador to Kenya, predeceased her.  She later remarried to John Edyand, a Nigerian, a union that was blessed with two more children, one of whom predeceased her.  She is survived by these children and a host of neices, nephews, grand and great-grand children both in Liberia and abroad. 

Mother Brownell was a devout Christian and an active member of the St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Camp Johnson Road, Monrovia, up to the time her death. Funeral arrangements will be announced later.


  1. Father, in Thy gracious keeping, leave we now Thy servant sleeping. Mary B, I will always keep you in my heart. Thank you for all your love and for helping me understand what life is. Thank God for you.

  2. In “Holy Sonnet X”, one of over thirty poems in his collection entitled “Divine Meditations”, famed English Metaphysical poet John Donne rejects the finality of dying in the following:

    “Death be not proud. ..
    For those whom thou think’ st, you dost
    Die not. ..”

    No, the matriarch, Mother Mary Brownell, didn’t die, Death – you failed. Surely, she simply departed to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a journey, as believers, we must all take to behold our Father, and share in the belevolence of His immortality, just like the Holy Book prophesies. Please, tell me rascally Death, who would want to miss that appointment?


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