Tribute to Ambassador Herbert R. W. Brewer
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
August 20, 2002
Liberians gathered again in America on Saturday, August 17, 2002 to burry one of the great patriots who died in exile. Ambassador Herbert R. W. Brewer, former Liberian Ambassador to the Court of St. James and to the United States, advisor to interim President Dr. Amos C. Sawyer and to Counselor David Kpomakpor, Chairman of the Council of State died in Maryland, in his 72nd year on this earth. Ambassador Brewer was a diplomat to the bone, but he had a very clear conscience about where the country ought to go to be salvaged from its current state of decay. He knew a lot about a lot of people in Liberia and he knew much about our history. He was known and appreciated in many circles.
As it always happened, Liberians came from every part of the United States. They talked about their lost country and about the Ambassador. Some had met him when he was a young man, others at the height of his career in London or in Washington and some met him when, in the early 1990s, he brought his wisdom and serenity to the Interim Government. His was one of quiet diplomacy and tact. He knew what to say when and knew where to say it. But he never lost sight of where he thought the country should be headed. He was a man of peace. He had peace in his heart. For many years, he preferred to live in rat-infested Ducor than be in exile but in the end, to keep his sanity and dignity, he found himself in exile.
In Columbia, Maryland, USA, there were Liberians from all walks of life. And as my friend John Morais put it, how could a small underdeveloped country like Liberia have so many great people in exile and get anywhere? Doctors, bankers, lawyers, political pundits, young technocrats, all came to pay their last tribute to the Ambassador, our good old friend who once said that constipation was a thing of the mind. “Make sure you drink water and every morning, go to the restroom and don’t rush. Take a newspaper or a novel and read. Be prepared and allow time to do its work.” It is a philosophy that one could apply to politics. One must be armed with the means and patience to get things done. In his 72 years, he had learned that if one put enough work into something, it would happen. It is like going to the toilets, it takes preparation and takes resilience and it takes time. It takes purposefulness.
The last time I met Ambassador Brewer was at the graduation party of another young and upcoming Liberian in Gaithersburg, MD. The Ambassador was involved in a heated political discussion with a group of “progressives.” The talk was about how to deal with the Taylor issue. He asked one of the young men a simple question: “What do you think is Taylor’s strength?” Of course, the only way to fight someone is to know that person’s strength and knowing the strength exposes the weaknesses. Ambassador Brewer never said if he knew the strength of Taylor or not and never said if the young man was wrong or right.
Ambassador Brewer was of the old school of diplomacy. Where tact and respect of hierarchy were not simple words. Once, after one of our many strategy sessions, he called me in his room to share a drink, one of those concoctions that he made, using western liquor and African roots. That was what made Brewer special, the right mixture of African traditions and western ideas. While he poured from “Brewer 1” he asked my opinion on an issue we had discussed all night during the session. He then proceeded to give me his rationale, totally opposed to what we had decided. He made sense. When I asked him why he did not raise his voice in the meeting, he said that he thought his ideas would make more sense to the president after we all slept on what had been decided and presented to him on one on one. I then suggested that he comes to the president early in the morning. He smiled and said “No, that is your job.” The next morning, before anyone got on a typewriter, I went to see the president, and wrapped the new idea in a blanket of Brewer Wisdom. The same group was called again around coffee and the President exposed “his new theory.” That was how Brewer operated and that was why many of us came to appreciate him in those days.
The greatest honor to Ambassador Brewer was probably all the political discussions that took place during his funeral. Dr. Sawyer was literally held in a corner, with people coming to him one after the other, each person staying until another person came up. The subject was always politics. The issue was Liberia today. Elwood Dunn, Abraham James, Sumo Jones, Edwin Cooper, Alphonso Kawah, Brahima Kaba, just to name a few of the prominent Liberians who stood in their corners, moved around, constantly engaged with others. Liberians from the three eras of our most recent history were all there. From young Rosemarie Tolbert who just a few years old when President William R. Tolbert was gunned down in the middle of the tropical night to George Cooper, who has served the Maritime Program all his life before starting his own real estate business.
Liberian Ambassador to the US William Bull was there and certainly the most uncomfortable of everyone. This was to be his last official function as ambassador of Liberia to the United States. Has he succeeded or failed where Rachel Diggs made no difference in convincing the policy makers of Washington, DC that the NPFL has not much evolved? His tenure was certainly the most difficult one for any ambassador in the history of Liberia. He was the last one to defend Samuel Doe in the US while the Taylor war machine was raging in the outskirts of Monrovia. As Liberian Ambassador to the UN under the Interim Government, he spearheaded the diplomatic efforts to have the international body consider the NPFL a “terrorist organization” long before September 11 made the term fashionable. He didn’t sound too sorry to be leaving his post.
His deputy, Aaron Kollie was also making the rounds. He would soon take over the job of Ambassador until a replacement is found for Bull. He firmly believes that Liberians can solve their problems if they sat face to face and talked about their differences. We talked at length. Another guy walked to us and I said, before taking my exit, “Whenever Taylor decides to make this guy - Aaron minister of information, we can say there is still hope.” We both laughed and I walked to catch up with Bai M. Gbala. We joked about his three years in Taylor’s jail. But there was also true sadness. An avid reader and writer,Gbala never gave up his passion while locked up in Taylor’s prison. This strain almost cost him his eyesight and he was awaiting a laser surgery. I asked him about the “conference”. He was surprised that a list of invitees as well as an agenda had been released before the scheduled consultative meetings that were supposed to be held in the US. “Those meetings would have lead to an agenda…” This is politics à la Taylor. There is no rationale for anything. As long as some people get their names in the papers. Whatever the case may be, nobody seemed in hurry to go to Monrovia for a reconciliation conference.
Ambassador Brewer was laid to rest in peace while the national confusion continued. He lived a life of peace but never saw peace in Liberia at the time he deserved to retire and enjoy the fruits of his labor in the service of his country. Like many thousands of Liberians, his body will be lost to the soil of his native land. May his soul rest in peace. And may Liberia attain peace for his sake and for the sake of all those who spent a lifetime in the national service, with no other ambition but to serve and no other desire but the greatness of Liberia and who deserve the honor to be buried in the land they loved so much.