Tribute to Harry A. Greaves Sr.
By Winsley S. Nanka
Posted May 30, 2002
As his lifeless body descended beneath the earth on May 4, 2002, at Ewing cemetery in New Jersey, I could not believe what was happening. Several questions raised through my head like waves of ocean. Was this the same man who has had so much impact on my life? What impact will I have on the lives of others during my lifetime like Mr. Greaves, Sr.? Will I define success by how much wealth I amass personally or how I help to mode other Liberians into successful citizens?
Mr. Harry A. Greaves Sr., a rare breed among Liberian social economic elites of the late 1970s. Unlike other uppity Liberians that identified with only people of their social class or what a cousin of mine calls "brand name people'', Mr. Greaves, Sr., embraced people regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.
My relationship with Mr. Harry A. Greaves, Sr. began in late 1978 when my family moved on the Old Road (Congo Town), almost opposite where the Sophie's Ice Cream shop used to be. Like all teenagers moving in a new neighborhood, his children Daniel, James and his nephew Ruben and I became friends.
I do not know exactly why Mr. Greaves, Sr., developed interest in me. It may have been for any number of reasons including my interest in politics. Although, I was still in grade school at that time, I was politically active as compared to my peers. I read books and publications critical of the True Whig regime including "Growth without Development", "The Evolution of Privilege", Albert Porte's pamphlets, The Revolution, a publication by then Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the University Spokesman, a publication by the University of Liberia Student Union.
On many weekends that I visited Mr. Greaves, Sr's. children, he called me on his porch for us to discuss current political events. As I passed through the gated mini compound, he said "Ayatollah" come here. "Ayatollah " was the nickname that was given to me by my friends because of what they considered as my superior political knowledge. Mr. Greaves, Sr. and I discussed developments in Liberian politics in detail including the latest political gossips. Mr. Greaves, Sr. was one of the very first persons to tell me that Liberian political agitators like Gabriel Baccus Mathews, Amos Sawyer, among others would make lousy administrators because they did not have the experience to govern. He told me that the art of governance is very complicated and requires more skills and experience.
Shortly after the April 12, 1980, military coup led my Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, Mr. Greaves, Sr. was arrested. During Mr. Greaves, Sr.'s absence, I visited his wife, Arabella Greaves and his children many times. I remember an incident during one of my visits. It was about 7:30 P.M. GMT when three military men drove in front of the gate and demanded that the Greaves allow them in. Daniel opened the gate and the military men took positions around the house. They demanded that we all come on to the porch and sit legs crossed and hands up. They said things like "if you move, we will put you to sleep". We obeyed as they commanded.
One of the soldiers guarded us while the other two searched the house. They demanded money, liquor and anything of interest to them. The military men demanded the keys to Sister Arabella (as we call Mrs. Greaves) Fleetwood Cadillac. Sister Arabella told them that the keys were with the battery charger in Logan town. They ordered that we all sit in the compact sized Chevrolet Malibu that they drove. It was then that Sister Arabella pleaded with them to let me go because I was just a family friend and not a Greaves. The soldiers refused stating that "you want us to let him go so he can hide the corruption money"
Never mind that there was a curfew in Monrovia at that time, the soldiers took us to Logan Town for the keys to the Cadillac. The soldiers held us until about 3:30 AM before they took us back at the Greaves' residence. After that incident, Sister Arabella left the house and moved to her mother's place.
Daniel remained at the house by himself and he asked me to move with him at the Greaves' residence. I believe Mr. Greaves, Sr. spent more than a year in jail before his release. It took a little while after his release before we could continue our discussion of events. By then, I was a student at the University of Liberia.
During the 1985 elections in Liberia, Mr. Greaves, Sr. was a candidate for the House of Representatives. During one of our discussions, he told me that his goal was to become the speaker of the House of Representatives. He made mention of how powerful Tip O'neal was in the United States. (Tip O'neal was speaker of the United States Congress)
It was then that I told Mr. Greaves, Sr. that the elections will not be free and fair. I told him about the need for the political opposition to unite. I also told him that it was a mistake for the political opposition in Liberia to maintain silence in the face of the ban on the United People's Party. Based on Mr. Greaves, Sr.' s response, I concluded that he too did not have much faith in the Liberian democratic process. As my prediction came to pass, Dr. Samuel Kanyon Doe and his running mate, Dr. Harry F. Moniba rigged the elections. The result was a "landslide" victory for the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL).
A little more than a month after the elections, General Thomas Quiwonkpa with the assistance of some exile politicians invaded Liberia with the attempt to overthrow the Samuel Doe government. After the poorly executed coup attempt failed, Mr. Greaves, Sr. was again arrested by the military government. He was detained for several months before his released. Mr. Greaves, Sr. was very depressed as the result of his latest arrest.
Our relationship continued until I traveled to the United States in the late 1980s. When the Charles G. Taylor led civil war started in Liberia, I lost contact with Mr. Greaves, Sr. until I visited Liberia in 1995. My first order of business was to find Mr. Greaves, Sr. I was so glad that he was alive. We sat in his office on Randall Street and we expressed our disappointments about the trend of events in Liberia. It was about the same time that the warlord government of Charles G. Taylor, Alhaji Kromah and others occupied the Execution Mansion. I told him that the present political arrangement was a recipe for disaster. Mr. Greaves, Sr. told me that he was disappointed about the kinds of people appointed by the warlords. He especially expressed disappointment in warlord Alhaji Kromah's appointees.
I understood his frustration with Kromah. Unlike warlord Charles G. Taylor who draws his associations mainly from crooks and losers in the United States, warlord Alhaji Kromah was one of beneficiaries of the elitist patronage social system that existed in Liberia during True Whig Party regime. He probably expected Kromah to draw on his past associations and appoint qualified Liberians to government positions. Warlord Kromah did exactly otherwise. We concluded our meeting with the belief that Liberia was headed toward a disastrous path.
I returned to the United States in late September 1995. I called Mr. Greaves, Sr. several times before Charles G. Taylor and Alhaji Kromah launched their April 6th, 1996 attempt to overthrow the collective presidency. Mr. Greaves, Sr. and I lost contact after the April 6th violence in Monrovia. I visited Liberia again in 1998 but was unable to make contact with him. During the summer of year 2000, his son, Daniel called and informed me that his father was in the United States.
Mr. Greaves, Sr. and I met in Philadelphia for about two weeks. It was a big political family reunion, we discussed our disappointed with the current Taylor government. We suggested ways that President Charles McArthur Taylor could redeem himself.
We concluded during the Philadelphia meeting that Liberia was headed in the wrong direction. As usual, Mr. Greaves, Sr. was very candid during our discussion. He told me that it is the responsibility of the present generation of Liberians to make Liberia a better place for all of us. Little did I know that was my last time to see Mr. Greaves, Sr.
I learned many lessons from my association with Mr. Greaves, Sr. over the years. Mr. Greaves, Sr. stated many times during our discussions that honesty must be the guiding principle in everything I do. Mr. Greaves, Sr. stated to me that a man cannot live in deceit through out his life. He will be caught one day. Mr. Greaves, Sr. also believes that your words should be as good as gold. If only Liberians could adopt a fraction of Mr. Greaves, Sr's. belief, Liberia could be a better place for generations to come.
May his soul rest in perfect peace!