Obituary: Fritz Hilary Massaquoi

Fritz Hilary Massaquoi died on February 3, 2022, at age 95 (July 31, 1926 - February 3, 2022.) To say that Fritz lived a long and full life is an understatement. He was the fourth of five children born to the union of Rachel Johnson and Momolu Massaquoi of Liberia, West Africa. He was born in Hamburg while his late father served as Consul General to Germany.

His father was the first African diplomat, serving for a decade in Hamburg, Germany during an exciting period for both Liberia and Germany, where he served with distinction. Fritz's late father Momolu was heir to two African royal families and was the youngest-ever King of the Vai people of Grand Cape Mount County and The Gallinas. 

Fritz’s father, our grandfather, was very popular, well respected, and loved among his people; and had the potential to become Liberia’s first indigenous president. He was a traditional ruler who became renowned and prominent on the international stage and was in many respects the modern embodiment of his distinguished past.  Rachel Johnson, the descendant of Americo-Liberians, was the great-granddaughter of Liberia's American-born founding father Elijah Johnson and granddaughter of the first Liberian-born president who served four terms from 1884 to 1892.

He is predeceased by his parents Rachel E. T. Johnson and A. Momolu "Momofo" Massaquoi, his daughter Geleh Ylva and several of his brothers and sisters. Uncle Fritz, known affectionately as "Onyee," leaves to mourn his loss a large and loving family, including his dear sister Fasia Massaquoi, his son Hans Rutgers Massaquoi, his grandchildren, his great-grandchild, his many nieces and nephews, and countless relatives and friends around the world.

Fritz was the third to the last of many children. His oldest brother was Eugene “Himie” Shannon, Chief Justice of Liberia; Lahai, Custodian of Enemy Property in WWII; Oscar Norman; Secretary of the Interior; Hawa – wife of the King of Pala; Clarence Lorenzo “Jaiah District Commissioner; Edwin Jawah, Revenue Collector, Department of the Treasury; Samuel Siaka, Industrial Relations Manager, Bong Mining Company; James Bai, Labor Manager, Firestone Rubber Plantation; Manah; Captain in the Nigerian Merchant Marines; Sarah Kobo (died as a teenager in Hamburg, Germany); Abraham Prince, Commissioner of Maritime Affairs; Nathaniel Varney, Secretary of Public Instruction and Secretary-General of UNESCO’s General Assembly; Fatima, Interim President of the University of Liberia and founder of the African Studies Institute; A Momolu, Director of the Bureau of Mines and Survey; Fasia, Head Librarian, LAMCO and Fasia Jansen, Leader of Peace Movement in Germany.  

At age 6, Fritz left Germany when his parents returned to Liberia.  He soon discovered a love for art, dance, and performance: becoming a dedicated student, Fritz graduated from CWA (College of West Africa) Methodist high school in 1946 and relocated to the United States in 1948 to study at Iowa State University. After his bachelor's degree, Fritz went to the University of Colorado at Boulder and earned a master's degree in Educational Psychology.

After graduating, he returned to Liberia in 1956 and worked with LAMCO (Liberian American-Swedish Mining Company), which was establishing an iron ore mine in the mountains of Liberia. He worked in the personnel and community relations departments for 25 years. Fritz often traveled to Sweden to assist families who were being transferred to Liberia, and on one such trip he got interested in weaving. When he returned to Liberia, he convinced LAMCO's general manager to offer a creative space for families of the mineworkers, and subsequently directed LAMCO Recreation Center. 

In order to sharpen his artistic expertise, LAMCO sent Fritz for training in Europe, and then to the California College of Arts and Crafts in the 1970s. After Fritz completed his studies, he began to display and sell his paintings, weavings, and fabrics (silkscreen, batik, and tie-dye) in Liberia and Sweden. Fritz would have continued managing LAMCO's recreation center, but Liberia had become increasingly unstable following a military coup in 1980. In 1990, he relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee where his sister Fasia, her children and grandchildren were living.

Although starting over at the age of 64 in Knoxville, Tennessee was not easy, Fritz successfully carved out a new path, teaching art and running his multimedia studio, Gallinas House. A self-taught painter and textile artist, Fritz worked in batik, tie-dye, weaving, painting, and printmaking. His colorful works range from lyrical abstractions to landscapes, representing vivid recollections of idyllic West African daily life, and have been collected and exhibited worldwide. At age 90, he continued to make art his life. His weaving, paintings, and tie-dyed fabrics reflect his heritage from the West African nation, Liberia. The late ‘Uncle Fritz’, as he was famously called by family and everyone else, said in his late 90s, that art was just a hobby he enjoys with his family. He ran the Gallinas Studio at the Emporium in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Uncle Fritz leaves to mourn his loss his sister, our beloved aunt Fasia whom he cherished from a tender age up to his home-going. Therefore, we encourage the entire Massaquoi House and Kin to stand very closely with our only surviving aunt during her bereavement as she mourns the irreparable loss of this great icon. To many of us, Uncle Fritz was a father, a friend, and a family member. He made enormous contributions to humanity. For these reasons, we must celebrate his life. His wonderful memories will live forever as an exceptional person. He will be sadly missed for his renowned presence in the House of Massaquoi & Kin.  This grief is a deeply personal and emotional process for the entire family.

We are all heartbroken during this deeply challenging time. Let’s join our loved ones, especially our dear aunt Fasia and children who lived most of their lives growing up so closely to him.  We will be there to help them. We are not forgetting to say a big thank you to our Knoxville family for taking care of our dear uncle and father. Also, a big thank you too, to all the Massaquois and Kin, including friends that immensely contributed either directly or indirectly to his wellbeing during his decline in health. So, to reiterate on behalf of this generation and those yet to come, we must remain united and for the most part love one another. May his soul Rest in Perpetual Peace. May the family find peace that surpasses all understanding during these monumental times.  Let us find solace in honoring his memory with love, pride and dignity and with the recollection of the beautiful memories we all once shared. 

By Cllr. C. Clarence Massaquoi 

For the Massaquoi Family