Tribute to an Outstanding Scholar, Banker, and Friend – Theophilus Totee Bettie

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I first met Theo, as we called him while he was a student at Monrovia College in the early 1980s. He played basketball with two of my good friends: Trokon Karmo and Sam Wlue, the latter would later become my brother. Trokon and I shared a room on the Old Road, and spent many days visiting with Theo, and he, with us. We played basketball together frequently.

Later on, Theo enrolled at the University of Liberia. He majored in Economics. It was not long that we consolidated our friendship, when we discovered that we had a mutual friend – Chris Moore, who along with myself, majored in economics. Theo quickly impressed us as a brilliant thinker and a prolific communicator. Theo was a founding member of the Student Integration Movement – SIM – and was its first Standard Bearer.

Among Theo’s contemporaries are the likes of Senators Mobutu Nyepan and Abel Massalay, the late Teah Farcharty, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sando Wayne, Supreme Court Justice Kabineh Janneh, Information Minister Lewis Browne, Former Public Works Minister, Samuel Kofi Woods, current Deputy Public Works Minister Zack Sharpe, NEC Commissioner Sam Joe, and Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Chris Moore. Others include Saye Gbalazeh, now the Vice President for an Insurance Company in the U.S., James Snyder, a U.S-based businessman married to Theo’s sister-in-law, Jimmy was a former student leader at Cuttington University College. The list also includes businessman Curtis Findley, former Commerce Minister Samuel Wlue, and Mining Company CEO Debba Allen. Clearly this is a loss that will be felt painfully across a broad number of us from this generation.

An important gift that Theo possessed was a sense of humor. During most of our time together, whether studying, playing sports or socializing, he made us laugh a great deal. Theo’s prowess at scholarship became much clearer while a junior student’ he taught those of us who were his seniors, statistics and econometric.

When I graduated from the University of Liberia, I traveled to the US, and later lived in the same house with the woman that Theo later married, Enid Darby, as well as her brother in-law James Snyder and her sister Chanesia Darby, now Mrs. Snyder. My brother, Samuel Wlue and I were a privileged few who braved the messy weather to attend his graduation from Yale University as a Fulbright Scholar with a Master of Science in Economics. I also vividly recall Theo’s wedding to Enid, which followed the birth of their daughter – MM. MM would later become Chris’ goddaughter and the best friend of Chris’ daughter Tracy. The two girls traded visits between Atlanta and Montgomery, Maryland where their parents lived.

While in exile, our friendship grew stronger as Theo, Chris, and I would discuss Liberian politics, even write articles and ask one or the other to edit it. In addition, Theo was Chris’ best-man in his wedding. When Theo’s father died a few years back, I wrote a tribute to the elder Bettie, and little did I know that I would have to write one to my friend.

Theo returned home and became an Adviser to the Central Bank Governor, and we remained in contact off and on. I returned home, and we met occasionally until I moved to Duport Road, where he lived prior to his present move to the ELWA community. We would meet and have chats about a variety of subjects – always reminding me of how far we had come. He quickly established himself as a banker of note, and then received a promotion to the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank. This announcement was one of our proudest moments. Younger Economists, including my cousin MacDonald Guannu and his cadre of peers were always in awe of his genius and so were we, his buddies.

Although Theo died while still working as the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, the sky was the limit for what he would have accomplished at home and abroad in the banking field. Although an academic, Theo never lived in an ivory tower. He always wanted to share his knowledge with the “Joe Blow” including his students at the University of Liberia. As a person with significant humility and self-respect, Theo was not afraid to express a dissenting opinion even when his was a lone voice and he was speaking back to power. Ironically, looking back at Theo’s life closely, especially in his latter days, one gets the impression that Theo hardly rested. He always gave his best to everything that he did and died doing the work he loved so dearly.

Progressives and Liberians in general, have lost a gifted son. It is only fitting that those of us who called him our friend or mentor and others who worked with him strive to uphold some of the values that he possessed, to honor his memory and contributions. His love for his family, daughter, friends, his job, and his country goes unmatched.

Apart from the pain of losing this great scholar whose devotion to country will be his legacy, there is one question that has haunted me since I learned of his death. The question that has kept coming back to me is simple: Where is the replacement? Will we find a suitable replacement with the same level of knowledge, patriotism, and commitment to the cause of change?

Theo, rest in peace. Enid, MM, Charlie, Jimmy, Nornjay, Comfort and the rest of the family – May God’s peace dwell among you all.

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