Patrick Lawrence Nimene Seyon, 1938-2020: A Tribute

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By D. Elwood Dunn

With a tinge of sadness but infinite gratitude for his life of extraordinary service to education in Liberia, I pause to remember my colleague and friend, Patrick L.N. Seyon. Patrick passed away recently in the State of Massachusetts, USA in the loving care of his wife, Dr. Barbara Greene Seyon. My spouse Matilda joins in extending condolences to Barbara, Patrick’s children and the entire family.

Born in Sasstown, now Grand Kru County in 1938, he was educated at St. John’s Episcopal High School, the University of Liberia (BA, 1961), Kansas State Teachers’ College (MS, 1967), and Stanford University (MA, 1975 & PhD, 1977). He was a teacher, researcher, university administrator, and fierce advocate for social justice.

The year 1984 marked a turning point in Patrick’s life when he was among many brutalized by the military regime of Head of State Samuel K. Doe. The wound he sustained during the brutal attack on the University of Liberia and his imprisonment was seemingly never healed. He was diagnosed with “trauma-induced Parkinson’s Disease” caused by torture at the hands of the Doe regime. He did, however, go on to accomplish a whole lot more after 1984. In self-exile myself from the 1980 coup, Patrick joined some of us in 1984. We collaborated in research and publishing through the Liberian Studies Association and the African Studies Association. Patrick did more, as he testified during US Congressional Hearings on the Charles Taylor-led civil war that devastated Liberia for 14 long years. When that war subsided, Patrick joined forces with the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) and returned home where he became President of the University of Liberia, 1995-97. Among others, I have heard current Finance Minister Samuel Tweah speak of completing his undergraduate education during Dr. Seyon’s presidency.

To honor the memory of my colleague and friend, I include the following excerpt from my MEMOIR, which is still in preparation:

In the aftermath of April 14, 1979, President Tolbert established a commission charged with leading a consultative investigation of the events that eventuated in the disturbances.  The genesis of what came to be known as the Brownell Commission is as follows: Professor Patrick L.N. Seyon of the University of Liberia came to see me at the Mansion on April 19 and handed me a letter for the president.  Seyon was recommending that the president establish a credible independent national commission of inquiry into the violence and destruction of 14th April.  Before presenting Seyon’s letter to Tolbert, I prepared my own accompanying memo. I gave both to Tolbert on April 23. My memo began: ‘After a crisis such as we have just experienced, the temptation is great to undertake a ‘witch hunt.’ I feel this is un-Tolbert, would be counterproductive and should consequently be discouraged.’ I referenced Dr. Seyon’s letter and recommended names as possible members of a national commission to look into causes and cures for the violent demonstration.”

Rest in Peace, Patrick, until we meet again!

2 COMMENTS

  1. POSTED AT 11:01 PM EST on Monday, October 19, 2020

    While researching news about Liberia earlier on Monday, I discovered this tribute on Frontpage Africa. Even though I am old enough to understand the inevitability of death, it saddens me because I often thought of mentioning the positive things Dr. Seyon did while serving as president of the UL. I would have preferred to give him his flowers while he was alive and now, it’s too late. Nonetheless, I shall try to make up with this commentary.

    I was a senior in 1990. Our graduation date was set for December 19, 1990. Sadly, our studies were interrupted after the NPFL captured Buchanan on Saturday, May 19, 1990 and Kakata on Friday, May 25, 1990.

    Even though the UL administration promised to re-assigned all Fendell campus classes to the main campus, that never happened. Thus, classes were not held and by June 1990, the UL main campus I visited was a ghost town. For the rest of 1990 and the entire 1991, we were stuck in no man’s land. Patrick Seyon changed that.

    In the fall of 1991, he informed us, under the UL “Lux in Tenebris” monument, that there were plans to re-open the school. It was a herculean task. For starters, he had opposition from some of his colleagues in the IGNU. As he foreign assistance from organizations like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, he got negative responses.

    Moreover, the entire IGNU budget relied upon the Maritime fund which generated only US$16 million net, after the maritime registry deducted its management fee. Thus, it was unreasonable to expect the IGNU to provide the same pre-war amount of US$2million to fund the University.

    Yet, he relentlessly pursued the issue until the support commenced pouring in. For example, the US Embassy donated the generator to power up the entire campus, Seyon also jogged at least once, with the US ambassador on Tubman boulevard. By April 1992, classes resumed and I was a part of Class of ’92.

    There were times when some tried to frustrate his efforts by robbing his office or the automobile he used.

    I remember a time when he struggled in the traffic with a used Subaru hatchback near city hall before changing to a used Toyota.

    He would work on Saturdays and I was a part of a group of seniors who had a meeting with him once on a Saturday.

    One particular Saturday stood out. He had worked all day and decided to give a ride to the head of UL security . That security officer, an affable stout man, resided on SKD Boulevard in the Sycamore community.

    I was visiting friends in the neighborhood and I saw Seyon drive the employee to his home. Believe it or not , it was 8 PM , on a Saturday night !!! He had apparently worked all day as usual on a Saturday !!!! After that, he had to drive back to Monrovia where he resided at Ducor Palace.

    Here is why all of this mattered. The man left the comfort of Massachusetts, returned to a dangerous country in a “no war, no peace stalemate, resided in rat-infested Ducor Palace, and worked for a government entity that did not provide lucrative benefits because he cared about the university family, particularly the students.

    If anyone deserved being called a patriot, it is Patrick Seyon.

    May his soul rest in peace. I’ll keep his family, friends, and colleagues in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Not to disparage a dead man by any means, but you mind telling us the job the man abandoned in Massachusetts at that time for that “low down” UL presidency? And I am not the least unaware of the paltry state of the UL for everything facilitatory at the time, nope! But I can wager that very few in the transitory state of Dr. Seyon’s and others at that time could defer such a once-in-a-life-time opportunity versus the alternatives they were faced with.. Add the fact that the man was lurred for the job by a friend and colleague, Dr. Sawyer and as part of the overall efforts to normalize Liberia. And Duccor just happened to have been one of the safest places in Monrovia at the time, hence it became a bunker of sorts, for IGNU officials and sundry. Yes, Dr. Seyon and others made great sarcifices in whatever they did to get Liberia on her feet again, which we appreciate. But the presidency of the UL was not by any stretch, such a tedious frontline sacrifice. Just saying.

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