Madam Ruth Perry Served Liberia Well

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Liberians at home and abroad were on Sunday, January 8, greeted with the sad news of the passing of one of the nation’s outstanding war time leaders, Madam Ruth Sando Fahnbulleh Perry.

Madam Perry’s death brought back memories of the country’s turbulent war years, when her stewardship helped to restore sanity, though briefly, to our country.

Madam Perry reminds us of the “virtuous woman” found in Proverbs 31 of the Holy Bible—a woman who shines as a beacon of light.

Today, as we see women of all ages following dubious role models, we are refreshed to find a timeless example of virtue, responsibility and good sense. Here, in this profound profile of womanhood, Madam Perry embodied the qualities which every believing woman should strive for in her personal life and appearance, in her family life, and in her daily duties.

Madam Perry indeed embodied the qualities of a virtuous woman. She was a humble wife, modest school teacher in her home county, Grand Cape Mount, a committed public servant and an astute national leader. She was brought up as a devout Christian in the home of her aunt and her husband, the influential Ernest C. B. Jones, both Episcopalians. Mr. Jones became Secretary of War during the Tubman administration.

Madam Perry was born July 16, 1939 in Diah Town, Tewor District, Grand Cape Mount County, to Alhaji Bowulor Fahnbulleh and Ma Marjon Fahnbulleh.

Ruth began her educational sojourn at the St. Teresa’s Convent in Monrovia, where she obtained her high school diploma. She later matriculated to the Teachers’ College, University of Liberia, obtaining a degree in education.

The astute stateswoman didn’t forget her roots. She returned to Cape Mount where she began her long public service as an elementary school teacher.

During the Liberian crisis, Madam Perry’s nationalistic stance brought her to the forefront of national leadership.

There are certainly some Liberian women who became powerful and influential, and broke the glass ceiling in leadership and public service. Among them were Angie Elizabeth Brooks, the only African woman to become president of the United Nations General Assembly; Ellen Mills Scarborough, the first Liberian woman to be elected Member of the House of Representatives; and Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman, the first African woman to head a university, the
University of Liberia.

Ruth Perry was not far behind. In fact, she towered them all by becoming the first African woman to reach the pinnacle of political leadership. In 1997 she was elected Chairman of the six-person Council of State of Liberia—an interim arrangement preparatory to the election of the first President of Liberia since the civil war commenced in December 1989.

Madam Perry was the only woman among the six-person Council, so it is evident that hers was not an easy task. But she was able to steer the ship of state for nine months, and presided over the 1997 elections that ushered in Charles G. Taylor as the first elected President of Liberia following the commencement of the civil war in December 1989.

On August 2, 1997, Council of State Chairman Perry peacefully handed power over to newly elected President Taylor.

Ruth Perry’s effective role in this position did not come easy. All others on the Council were men, mostly warlords. But her astute stewardship paved the way for the ascendancy, eight years later, of Africa’s first elected woman President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

As a political leader, Madam Perry participated in women’s initiatives to provide relief for war victims, especially women and children, elderly and physically challenged.

She was the architect of the Liberia National Conference, whose outcome eventually led to the formulation of the disarmament agenda and holding of the 1997 elections.

One outstanding group that helped Madam Perry during those turbulent years was the Women in Peace-building Network (WIPNET), which mobilized women in the early days of Liberia’s civil war. By 1993, WIPNET started to attend peace talks.

The efforts of Madam Perry and these women groups reveal how well-coordinated grassroots movements can establish more inclusive peace-building practices.

Madam Perry and WIPNET, headed by another dynamic woman leader, Mother Mary Brownell, succeeded in bringing peace with the 1996 peace agreement and the 1997 election, though these were short-lived. War resumed in 2000, and WIPNET intensified its efforts to mobilize women to call for peace.

Madam Perry was in the center of it all. For all of this, the nation owes her a debt of gratitude.

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