It is often joked that Liberians would brave the bullets to witness a spectacle, but they would not risk a raindrop for a reward.
Only few rear occurrences would contradict this hyperbole. One such occurrence was the arrival of the mortal remains of New Democratic publisher and Liberia’s iconic journalist, Tom Kamara, Sunday, at the Roberts International Airport in Margibi County, nearly 18 miles east of Monrovia.
The remains arrived under the sweep of a vicious thunderstorm. The wind furiously rocked treetops as if to protest the passing away of Mr. Kamara, as the beady June raindrops whipped against walls and bodies of mourners who had arrived at the airport to escort his body home.
The storm huffed and puffed, but it failed to break the resolve of the mourners, who comprised professional colleagues (mainly members of the Publishers Association of Liberia of which Tom was an advisory member), friends, government officials, family members, loved ones, admirers, and sheer onlookers.
They were determined to give the fallen iconic journalist and civil and human rights advocate a rousing welcome home and to transfer his remains to the Syster Funeral Home in Sinkor in order to begin the process of giving an honored burial.
That, the bereaved family, supported by members of the Publishers Association of Liberia, achieved yesterday.
The New Democrat newspaper publisher and chief editor passed away a fortnight ago in far away Netherlands after battling an undisclosed protracted illness.
Accompanied by Tom’s wife and his long-time comrade in-rights-advocacy, Public Works Minister Kofi Woods, Tom’s body arrived at 5:30 p.m. amidst wailing and stomping of feet in despair as the estimated 300-plus crowd literally swarmed (or mobbed?) the bronze casket bearing the remains.
Many members of the New Democrat family could be seen weeping yesterday or simply staring in disbelief as Mr. Kamara’s colleagues formed a human hearse and carried his body to a funeral vehicle waiting nearby.
During the brief service that followed, yesterday, friends, relatives, admirers, and representatives of many media institutions read dozens of commentaries in place of verbal tributes. The commentaries were mainly in remembrance of Mr. Kamara’s works and life.
Prior to yesterday’s heroic arrival of Mr. Kamara’s remains to Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf interrupted her busy schedule on June 11, 2012, in Washington D.C. to express regrets for his passing.
The president described Mr. Kamara as “a great patriot who dedicated his life to the pursuit of freedom of speech, the right of the media, and the democratic process in Liberia and in Africa”.
“Mr. Kamara has earned a special place in the hearts of many Liberians, both at home and in the Diaspora because of his unwavering commitment to the defense of the rights of the people to speak freely, and has worked tirelessly for the strengthening of media space in Liberia as an indispensable pillar of democracy,” an Executive Mansion press dispatch quoted the President as saying.
The president, while extending condolences to the bereaved family, wished that media practitioners, as well as the public, would emulate the work of Mr. Tom Kamara.
“Liberia has lost one of its greatest sons, who did not live long enough to benefit from the fruits of freedom and democracy for which he fought for so many decades,” she reportedly said. “Mr. Kamara was a good friend and will be missed by the entire nation.”
Also commenting on Mr. Kamara’s passing on June 14, 2012, the Publishers Association of Liberia (PAL), expressed “deep regrets” [for his] untimely death, describing him as its “astute and dedicated member”.
“Tom was one of Liberia’s iconic publishers/journalists who, for many years, used the pen to fiercely combat nepotism, impunity, and bad governance in Liberia.
“He fought for freedom of the press and of speech even as the powers that were chased him into exile. Yes, he was a warrior for good governance, who was passionate about using the pen, rather than the bullet, to transform the society and country which he loved and in which he believed,” PAL said in the press tribute.
The association recalled Tom’s commitment to a progressively aggressive media as a pillar of Liberia’s democracy.
“He was always available, and he bent over backwards, against busy schedules, to encourage and steer the publishers association towards noble heights,” PAL said, adding,
“Outside PAL, Tom was a nationalist and a patriot.”
It doubted the possibility of the completion of Liberia’s progressive history without the contributions of Tom and noted, “Generations of Liberian professionals and advocates will remember Tom as mentor and hero. His passing away is indeed a blow to the Publishers Association and media advocacy in Liberia”.
Having stayed true to the pledge to grace, en mass, the arrival of Mr. Kamara’s remains, PAL has meanwhile vowed to fulfill the remaining part of the pledge by staying with the Kamara family until he is given an “honorable burial”.
Funeral services and burial announcements were not available up to press time last night.