His 97-year-old elementary school teacher, Mother Jesse Wah King, remembered him for a characteristic most of his McClain siblings possess—brilliance. But speaking at his wake keeping last Saturday night, she remembered him for something else: ‘Bobbin’ was “very mischievous.”
Most boys, in their childhood and adolescence, are mischievous, some very negatively so; others, like Bobbin, only because they want to tease or to poke fun and make people laugh.
The latter was the extent of Bobbin McClain’s mischievousness. And that he was throughout his life—always throwing jokes and making people laugh.
The bereaved family, because they knew their beloved Bobbin so well, requested that speakers at the wake keep delighting the audience with the jokes they remembered him for. And sure enough, speaker after speaker recounted Bobbin’s jokes and accordingly had the mourners laughing their hearts out. One would have thought the people were at a party where several comedians passed the time making people laugh.
At the funeral yesterday, one speaker who attended Dr. McClain when he took ill and was admitted to the John F. Kennedy Medical Center recalled that when it was decided that the patient had fallen gravely ill and had to be flown to South Africa for further treatment, the JFK staff attempted to put him in a wheel chair. But he vigorously protested: “I will walk to the car.”
And as he was escorted to the waiting vehicle, Bobbin, remembering one of the jokes children in Monrovia told as far back as the early 1950s, started shouting, “Toe gi me way, jigger dey kam.” It was a joke by which people teased the boys who had jiggers in their toes and were forced to walk awkwardly for fear of putting their jigger-infested toes or heels on the ground and suffering unbearable pain. Here was a man so seriously ill that he had to be flown to South Africa, yet making fun of the whole thing!
That is indeed the mark of a great man that Bobbin was—possessed with the unique, enviable ability to laugh at himself and, in the process, startle others and make them laugh, too!
Yes, indeed, Bobbin laughed a lot—at himself and at others, but he was nobody’s fool. He was brilliant, and having sailed through school with top grades, chose one of the most difficult and challenging of careers—Medicine—and even ventured into one of the most complicated parts of the human body—the brain. He became a psychiatrist.
He did a lot of good work in psychiatry, mostly abroad. But once, during the Liberian civil conflict, he settled in Abidjan, La Cote d’Ivoire, he started working with Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He later told friends that he knew she would make a good President of Liberia and devoted his life to make that happen. And although he did some ad hoc work in psychiatry in Abidjan, especially among his fellow Liberians, many of whom had been traumatized by war, Dr. McClain placed his concentration on serving what he considered the President of Liberia to be.
When in 2003 Ellen decided to return home and run for the presidency in the ensuing elections, Dr. McClain was not far behind. He played a key role in her campaign and she won in the second round against football superstar George Weah.
In 2006 the President appointed him Minister Without Portfolio and, the following year, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs.
At yesterday’s funeral, after reading her “Letter to Bobbin,” President Sirleaf proceeded to the casket, laid her hands on it and wept. It was a vivid display and actualization of the words she had spoken minutes earlier. “Bobbin,” she said, “was a loyal, dedicated, hardworking” public servant. He was, she added, “loyal like none other; dedicated like none other; a friend like none other. He was selfless; so selfless that though he knew he had serious medical issues, he did not put them before his work.”
“I saw the President weep,” a middle-aged gentleman told the Daily Observer following the funeral. “She had every reason to weep,” he added. “Who would be so loyal and so selfless that he would ignore his own health and medical problems to continue serving his President—health problems so serious that they would eventually lead him to his early grave?”
The Daily Observer joins the widow, Madam Gwendolyn Pierre McClain, her children, her brothers and sisters, the McClain siblings and other relatives, as well as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the Government of Liberia, in mourning the passing of this Liberian patriot: the efficient, dedicated, loyal and selfless public servant, Dr. Edward Benjamin McClain, Jr.
May his life of dedication, hard work, humility, patriotism, true friendship, loyalty, selflessness and disarming sense of humor be an example to all Liberians, especially our young people.