Remembering a Great Son of Liberia

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Liberians from all walks of life, led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, House of Representatives Speaker Alex Tyler, Acting Senate Pro-tempore Dan Morais, Chief Justice Francis S. Kporkor and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, other members of the Judiciary and Members of the Cabinet, yesterday gathered at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion in Monrovia to pay their last respects to the nation’s fallen legal hero, the late Chief Justice Johnnie Naustedlau Lewis.

In her panegyric, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the large and impressive crowd that gathered to bid farewell to former Chief Justice Lewis was an indication of the level of respect he cultivated for himself while discharging his duties, both in Liberia and the internationally.

He distinguished himself in the legal arena and brought a considerable level of reforms in the country’s judicial system when he took over the third branch of the Liberian government in 2006.

The late Chief Justice Lewis, a seasoned legal practitioner, was respected both nationally and internationally, and was one of those that were very instrumental in the post-war development of the Liberian state. In 2006, upon the election and subsequent inauguration of President Sirleaf, Counselor Lewis was appointed Chief Justice and charged with the responsibility to revamp the country’s ruined justice system.

President Sirleaf described late Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis as a wise man who was very intelligent in judging cases. “The late Chief Justice was also hard working [and possessed an] unwavering commitment to duty. He was respected for his outstanding legal arguments.”

“We note with heavy hearts and remember in gratitude the life of our compatriot, His Honor Johnnie Lewis, former chief justice of Liberia. He was a compatriot, loyal to this country and dedicated to the rule of law and committed to high judicial practice, the Liberian leader said.

 “His loyalty to country was self evident from previous assignments and was again made manifest by accepting, despite the devastating effect on the civil war on our nation, my nomination and subsequent appointment of him as the 18th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia.

“Prior to that appointment,” the President recalled, “he had ably served as international lawyer and civil servant for the United Nations.  But when the call to national duty came, he gave up his external engagement, sacrifice and personal comfort he was enjoying and, being an industrious compatriot, he courageously returned home to meet the challenge and render service for the reconstruction of Liberia.

“Cllr. Lewis’ outstanding services to Liberia are visible in the physical infrastructures [at the Temple of Justice and elsewhere] constructed during his tenure. As head of the judiciary, he labored collaboratively with the Executive to obtain the resources required for the renovation or refurbishing of the seat of the Supreme Court (Temple of Justice) and the construction of many court rooms and court houses around the country.”

One of these, she said, is the most impressive 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County, which is a testament to his desire for widespread development in the country.

 “Courts built during his tenure with his name engraved in marble should stand atop his enormous contributions, which in years to come shall call to memory his outstanding services to the Liberian judiciary and state.”

He will not only be remembered for his infrastructural contribution to the state; he will be remembered chiefly for his incisive thinking, stance on principles, and other positive attributes of a sound legal mind.  The late Jonnie Naustedlau Lewis will forever be remembered for his numerous reform initiative and sacrifices.

What makes the late Chief Justice so interesting and important is not only his contribution to the Liberian state. His entire lineage, according to the Liberian Official Gazette, contributed substantially to establishment, development and sustenance of Liberia. Many of his ancestors including J. N. Lewis, his wife Susanna Lewis and James Lewis, were all great servants of their country.  His great grandfather, J. N. Lewis, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1847 while his wife Susannah, Johnnie Lewis’s great grandmother, was chairperson of the committee that made the first Liberian flag.  The Late Chief Justice Lewis’ grandfather served as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1930s.

The remains of the late Chief Justice will be taken to native Greenville, Sinoe County today where another funeral service and requiem mass will be said before his interment in Greenville, the Sinoe capital.

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