Following his graduation from Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University) in 1966, Dr. Byron Tarr matriculated to the University of Illinois, United States of America, where he took the Master’s and in 1972 the PhD in Economics.
Almost immediately he was called by Steve Tolbert, the Mesurado Fishing tycoon and younger brother of the new Liberian President, Dr. William R. Tolbert. President Tolbert, who had succeeded to the Presidency following the death of President W.V.S. Tubman in the London Clinic on July 23, 1971, appointed younger brother Steve as Minister of Finance.
Steve immediately started recruiting young talents to work with him at Finance. One of the first was John Togbakollie Woods, Liberia’s first natural resource economist, who had worked for many years with J. Milton Weeks as Director General of the Bureau of Economic Research, later Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs. Byron Tarr followed first as Assistant Minister, later Deputy Minister of Finance for Revenues.
He held that position with credit and distinction until he resigned in 1974 to pursue other assignments.
In 1982 Dr. Tarr joined with his professional colleague, John T. Woods, to establish a consulting firm, Development Consultants (DC) that produced numerous outstanding studies for various business firms and local and international governmental and non-governmental institutions.
That was what led Observer Publisher Kenneth Y. Best, in a tribute at the Stryker Funeral Home, to describe Dr. Tarr as “a productive intellectual who wrote numerous papers for various national and international institutions that set the pace for fresh thinking, planning and implementation on the political economy in Liberia and elsewhere.”
As a writer and historian, Dr. Tarr also joined Dr. Elwood Dunn in contributing to one of the editions of the Historical Dictionary of Liberia.
Byron’s colleague, John T. Woods, in an interview with the Daily Observer yesterday, described Dr. Tarr as “a brave economist.” In the early 1980s, John recalled, Byron bravely took the initiative, along with other politicians, to found the Liberia Action Party (LAP). The aim, John recalled, was to attempt to correct the gross and widespread mismanagement and corruption in the Liberian government, which was being run by people who had hardly done eighth grade. Among the colleagues that associated with Byron in the formation of LAP were Messrs. Harry A. Greaves, Sr., Jackson F. Doe and Peter Johnson, and Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Byron’s political move, which he executed in the Development Consultants office in the Milton and Richards Building, caused John Woods to leave the firm (DC), because he did not think that the politics was part of DC’s mandate.
On second thought, however, Mr. Woods confessed to the Daily Observer that “Byron was brave and I was a coward.”
“For indeed,” said Mr. Woods, “somebody needed to do something to correct the mismanagement and corruption that was destroying Liberia in the 1980s.”
Mr. Woods noted that history seems to be repeating itself today in Liberian politics. The exact same thing is happening right now, where some of the nation’s most highly educated sons and daughters are vigorously endorsing a footballer to become the president of Liberia.
LAP became a very forceful political party, which went on actually to win the 1985 elections. But though everyone knew that Jackson F. Doe had won that election, Samuel Doe and his Elections Commission Chairman, Emmett Harmon, thoroughly rigged the elections and declared Samuel Doe the winner. That fraudulent ‘victory,’ barely four years later, led the country to civil war.
As we all pray for the peaceful repose of Dr. S. Byron Tarr and for God’s comfort and strength to his widow and children, let us also pray for our country, that God will send us more bright, dynamic and productive economists like Byron. May Byron’s family and intellectual friends work together to publish his works for the benefit of posterity.
Let us fervently pray also for the impending run-off election to be peaceful, and that Liberians, led by God, will elect a leader who will be wholly committed to lifting Liberia and moving her forward toward development and prosperity.