President Sirleaf Pays Tearful Tribute to Willis Knuckles

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined hundreds of friends, family and colleagues who gathered in Careysburg Saturday morning to lay to rest the remains of the late Willis DeFrancis Knuckles, Jr.

President Sirleaf began her eulogy in the form of a Letter: “Dear Willis…”

A deeply saddened President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, in her tearful tribute, described the late Knuckles as an awesome strategist who, she said,  immensely, committedly and honestly contributed to her successes in the 2005 and 2011 presidential elections.

She said he was introduced to her as a ‘rising star’; and as a non-partisan, he began to effect his strategies and organizational skills during presidential campaigns.

She asserted that she saw it fitting for Willis to be part of her first cabinet team as Minister of Publics Works and later as Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, but characteristically coined his departure from her government as “untimely,” adding that “He held no bitterness.”

The President recalled that although Knuckles went into the private sector as a business man, “he always dropped by my house to spice my day with his wise counsel.”

Madam Sirleaf, in a painful narration, said her last meeting with Willis Knuckles was at the John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, where he was in uncontrollable tears, coupled with the lamentations of family members.

She indicated that that an emotional heartbreak forced her to leave the hospital in tears.

President Sirleaf told the thousand-odd funeral-goers that Willis’ tears at the hospital sent a message that he would no longer be with us.  This prediction to his death  brought tears in the eyes of many in the Seys United Methodist Church in Careysburg.

“I had never seen him cry before; and so I believed that was a message that I would not see him again,” the President said.

Sorrowfully, for about three minutes, the President left the podium and held on to the casket bearing Mr. Knuckles’ mortal remains and grieved before the mourners, which spared another tearful moment.

Some Christians and Muslims who were in the Church argued that if the President had the power of resurrection, or had direct access to God, she would have either resurrected Willis, or prostrated before God as she did at the casket.

The President made a remark she had never before revealed publicly: that Willis Knuckles was the person upon whom she depended to organize the transfer of Liberia’s capital city from Monrovia, Montserrado County, to Zekepa in Nimba County.

Others who also paid tributes included Foreign Minister Augustine Ngafuan, who read the Official Gazette on behalf of the Liberian Government as Dean of the Cabinet; the City Corporation of Careysburg, the Rotary Clubs of Monrovia and Sinkor, Alpha Oldtimers and Crowd 21.

Others included the Liberia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Monrovia Christian Church, the Mount Galilee Baptist Church (Careysburg), First Presbyterian Chruch (Careyburg), Seys United Methodist Church and the family.

In his funeral discourse, Seys Senior Pastor Sampson W. Nyanti told the audience that death is inevitable, and that after death is judgment for hell or heaven. Rev. Nyanti said there are three things that sends one to heaven: Knowing, Believing and Living the Word God.

Prior to Mr. Knuckles’ employment in the Unity Party’s led government, specially between, 1969-1993, he served as Liaison Officer and Special Protocol Attache, planning for and executing important events such as State Visits, Conferences and Inaugurations and serving as a Liaison to foreign dignitaries, including Heads of State.

At the State Department, he served as Secretary to Secretary of State J. Rudolph Grimes and was later appointed by the late President Tubman as a member of Liberian delegations to several Ministerial and Summit meetings of Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  He also attended the Summit of Heads of State of the Non-Aligned Movement in Lusaka, Zambia.

Mr. Knuckles also served as Administrative Assistant to the late Vice President James E. Greene, until his death in 1977. President William R. Tolbert in 1979 appointed Mr. Knuckles Assistant Minister for Sports in the Ministry of Labor, Youth and Sports, during the tenure of Minister Estrada J. Bernard. Following his successful organization of a six-nation tournament won by Liberia, Knucles was elevated to the position of Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, the assignment he held until his resignation in June 1980.

The late Knuckles served as Managing Editor at the Daily Observer from 1982-1984 as well as a correspondent for the BBC’s Focus on Africa Program.

Willis was a strong believer in the family and the Church. He was a lifelong Methodist, spearheaded and organized record fundraising drives on two occasions for the rebuilding of the Church.

He served as Secretary General and Vice Chairman of the Liberia Football Association (LFA) from 1972-1975 and from 1984-1986.

In 1988, he organized and served as managing director of the Sports World, which was forced to close down in 1990  at the onset of the civil war. Again, in 1992, he established a wholly owned private business entity, which provided a vital link between Liberians at home and their relatives in the US, West Africa and other part of the world.

The distinguished statesman  died Monday, July 28, 2014 at the hour of 12:30 am in Accra, Ghana after a brief illness.

He was born June 29, 1946 in the City of Careysburg, Montserrado County unto the Union of  Mr. Willis D.  Knuckles, Sr. and Mrs. Ethel Dunbar Knuckles, the second of 15 children. He was predeceased by two brothers, George and Winston.

He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Hawa Evelyn Knuckles; three children, Hawa-Ellen Knuckles, Willis D. Knuckles, III (Marie), and Ethel V. Knuckles; his mother, Mrs. Ethel Dunbar Wah; 12 brothers and sisters, Mrs. Bushin Wilson, Gabriel, Raymond, Marie Forko, William, Benedict, Pitman, Emma Burl Sea, Ethel Coomber, Estella, Mawolo and Robert; two grandchildren: Somod Willis and Nala Miriam; and many other relatives and friends in Liberia and abroad.

The Liberian Official Gazette described the late Knuckles as: Patriot, Administrator, Entrepreneur, Devout Christian and Dedicated Public Servant.

Mr. Knuckles was buried at the Knuckles’ Cemetery opposite his house in Careysburg.

President Ellen Johnson-Sireaf led the Cabinet to the burial, which marked the first time for President Sirleaf to attend both funeral and burial ceremonies, since her reelection in 2011.

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