Not fond of recalling memories of fallen colleagues during their life’s sojourn, since I prefer giving a man his flowers while he is alive, I am however constrained again to simply remember a fallen professional hero, Mr. Tom Kamara, who also proved to have been an erudite politician.
In spite beginning the professional practices of journalism in the early 1970s, never had I known or met “Uncle Tom,” as he later referred to by thus columnist, evolving from our Lofa connection --- he been from the Kissi tribe in Foya District, while I hail from the Lorma tribe in Zorzor District --- until the late 1980 when I applied to become a reporter at the Daily Observer newspaper.
By then a Senior Research Assistant at the Lofa County Agricultural Development Project (LCADP), I had travelled during a weekend to Monrovia to deliver a letter of application to the Editor of the New Liberian, the late Mr. Rufus Marmah Darpoh at the E.J. Roye Building at which time he was introduced to me as been next in command to Mr. Darpoh.
Lucky to have met the late veteran Darpoh in a meeting with a colleague, Mr. Kenneth Yarkpawolo Best, currently Managing Director of the Daily Observer Newspaper, my admittance to the offices of the former who later introduced me to the latter as having applied to become a reporter reinvigorated my spirit at pursuing a calling prior to my graduation from high school in December 1973, moreso seen a very young and brave man like “Uncle Tom” using the “Queen’s Language” in ridding ills in society.
Interestingly also became my momentary familiarization with other practitioners thereat, amongst whom became Mike T. James, the late Theodore Maxson Teah, Napoleon Teage, Sam Johnson, Nathaniel Gbessegee, etc., something that I was greatly moved by, though with immediate recommendation made to Mr. Best by the late veteran Darpoh that I form part of the founding reportorial staff of the Daily Observer, something that later found me as a proofreader and subsequently Chief Typesetter before asking a transfer to the Editorial Department where I procedurally accepted to begin as a Cub Reporter.
To my utmost surprise after beginning my reportorial duties in the Editorial Department out of weariness of the typesetting that required working until the morning hours, “Uncle Tom” one morning walked into the offices of the newspaper to meet with Mr. Keith Best, a prolific writer and columnist, and while departing inquired from his friend who I was, strange it had appeared to him.
With Keith responding that I was one of the newly-employed staff, Tom, without accepting the fact that “easy water runs deep,” chose to have commented that “Well, we need some mediocre among us,” not apparently not realizing when and how I began the professional practice. I simply smiled at the adjective used, having since been very good at grammar prior to graduation from high school, and that became the end.
Throughout the 1980s, “Uncle Tom” inspired many journalists especially when he published the original home of the late President Samuel Kanyon Doe in Tuzon and the newly-constructed one, something that eventually led to his dismissal at the New Liberian newspaper.
By the turn of the decade and with the civil crisis engulfing the nation, “Uncle Tom” had sought refuge abroad only to reappear during the early 1990s in Monrovia when the Banjul meeting produced former Political Science Professor at the University of Liberia, Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer as Interim President of Liberia.
Upon arrival in Monrovia and with the late veteran Rufus Marmah Darpoh having united practicing journalists on Bushrod Island to assist the West Africa Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in gathering and disseminating information to the public, using the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) compound as offices to attract others, with immense support of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), the TORCHLIGHT Newspaper was established.
Veteran Rufus Marmah Darpoh becoming its Managing Editor, whilst the late John N. Elliott became Editor-In-Chief and this columnist serving as Associate Editor, Mrs. Weade Kobbah Wureh gracefully accepted to serve as Media Consultant until “Uncle Tom’s” arrival on the compound to join ranks.
Months thereafter, practitioners were astonished to have learned that “Uncle Tom” had been shot between the legs by an ECOMOG soldier, thus sustaining injury on the left leg which he had to withstand until his appointment as Communications Director at the Executive Mansion, later unfolding into him becoming Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT). It was thereafter that he established the New DEMOCRAT on Center Street, with the late veteran Rufus Marmah Darpoh assisting him.
Of significant notation is the fact that following the phasing out of the interim government, “Uncle Tom” returned to Holland where he was reported to have obtained a job as means to uplifting himself upon return to Liberia. While there, at least it can be said that “Uncle Tom” worked so hard in connecting few practitioners to democratic institutions, prominent among which became the Missionary Center in Holland, with this columnist becoming a direct beneficiary to date, an effort uncommon amongst a people that I have come to truly identify over the decades.
My last time ever interacting with “Uncle Tom” was during a UNMIL media training workshop at the Ministry of Gender and Development, when he volunteered to publish the ELECTIONS TIME at his printing press then situated on Bushrod Island, in the yard of the Peugeot Garage, the first and perhaps last to have been sponsored by the multinational peacekeeping force, with this columnist serving as its Managing Editor.
Whilst I had come into close contact with some family members of “Uncle Tom” as a result of our cordial relations, using cultural connections as effective medium, his older brother who still lives in the E. Jonathan Goodridge Housing Estate, since been brought thereat over three decades ago by the late 19th President of Liberia, Rev. Dr. William Richard Tolbert, Jr., has since served as source of inspiration on his life during teen-age, most times referring to him as a “radical.”
As “Uncle Tom” has therefore departed this world, one can only admonish up-and-coming journalists to demonstrate high level of commitment to the profession, without which self-tagging by means of acquiring mere documents without practical demonstration but preferring to confer on themselves various titles without earning them would continue to remain this case at the laughter of the learned. He was indeed a learned professional. These are the little things that matter.