A SHORT REFLECTION ON THE LIFE OF THE LATE DEBORAH S. B. BEREWA by her widower Solomon Berewa
Here I have chosen to write down a few words of my reflection on the life of my late wife Deborah.
In the present circumstance it is the only way I can talk about her and attempt to lessen somehow the grief and burden which I now feel and carry. What is written here is not meant to be a tribute to her or an exhaustive account of my reflections of my dear Deborah. She and I lived happily together continuously for more than two-thirds of a century. In that circumstance nobody else would know her better than I.
Only I can reflect wholly and truthfully on that period of her life (and that is the much greater period of her life). What I am writing here is to give testimony to the life of Deborah as I know she lived it. It is not to praise her for as the historian Ben Alex said:
Great men and women are not in need of our praise. We are the ones in need of getting to know them.
Mrs Deborah Selina Boimalo Berewa was born in Freetown 011 4th April 1938. She was the only surviving child of the marriage of Mr Francis J.J. Tucker and Mrs Angela Tucker (both now deceased).
She attended St Anne's Nursery and Primary schools and Saint Joseph's Secondary School in Freetown.
After finishing school with Higher Domestic Science Certificate in 1959, she entered the nursing profession where she qualified as a state enrolled midwife. Deborah entered the Sierra Leone government medical service and worked as a midwife in the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH) in Freetown and was midwife in charge at the Health Centre at Mano where she stayed from 1961 to 1963 before returning to PCMH.
|Solomon Berewa Jr overlooking the casket carrying his late mother
Deborah and I first met in 1957. Her father had been a close friend of my late father Chief Francis Berewa: Her father always played host in Freetown to mine and when my father fell terminally ill and had to be treated in Freetown he and his entourage stayed with the Tuckers at Bathurst Street. Because of this relationship, lasting friendship developed between the two families. The Late Francis Tucker acted as a guardian to my elder brother Edwin Augustine Berewa (now deceased) when he came down to Freetown from Serabu for his secondary education at Saint Edward's Secondary School, Freetown. In other words, the Tucker home at Bathurst Street was the regular residence of members of the Berewa family whenever they were in Freetown.
My late elder brother Edwin Augustine Berewa (after whom we named our son, now Rev. Fr Augustine Berewa) was a civil servant working in Bonthe. He was transferred to Freetown~ in 1956.
Naturally, he and his family took up residence with the Tuckers at Bathurst Street. In 1957 I came to Freetown as a member of the Quiz Team from Christ the King College, Bo (C.K.C.) to participate in the inter-secondary school quiz competition for that year and also stayed with my late brother at the residence of the Tuckers. It was on this occasion that Deborah and I met and became acquainted and developed friendship. This was the nature of the relationship up to the time I came to Fourah Bay College in 1959 - and until I completed my studies there. Meanwhile, my late elder brother and Deborah's late father had been nurturing the idea of a permanent relationship developing between Deborah and me. So when I thought I was mature enough I took the bold step to inform my late brother of my desire to marry Deborah, Her late father did not need much persuasion from my brother to agree to the idea having regard to the close relationship between the two families~. The elder relatives were then to sell the idea to Deborah whose only interest at the time was to be an efficient nurse and gain advancement in her career. Although she was still friendly to me, she had no particular interest in men or in marriage and she would not allow me to come too close to her or take undue advantage of that friendship. She was then a mature woman in her mid 20s. After some serious deliberations between the two elder relatives and several encounters with Deborah on the matter, she eventually gave way and the marriage was celebrated in grand style at the Sacred Heart Cathedral on 27th February 1965'. The two families deliberately decided to make it a grand affair to mark their own success in producing that union between the children of two long standing friends. The late Rev. Fr John O'Reilly C.S.Sp. at the time chaplain at F.B.C. and later at M.M.T.C. officiated at the wedding ceremony. My late brother Edwin Augustine Berewa was also for other reasons particularly happy to see the marriage take place. He wanted to see his younger brother settle down in life not too long after graduating from college. As a school boy in Freetown he (my late brother) was ward of Deborah's father at the time when he (Deborah's father) and her mother got married. My brother had for a long time known Deborah's mother to be a very committed and faithful wife and as a woman who was highly religious, caring, kind and enduring. With this knowledge he was sure that the marriage would succeed and that Deborah too would exhibit the same qualities and disposition for which her mother was known in her own marriage life. He turned out to be absolutely correct. Our marriage lasted without a hitch and without public quarrels or arguments on matters which were of importance to our family. This was in spite of my own idiosyncracies and sinfulness. We lived happily thereafter. We lived together for nearly 41 years until death parted us on the 17th December 2005. We were blessed with five children: Annie, Solomon (Jnr), Augustine, Martin and Francis; and there is an addition of four grandchildren to the family:
Simche, Kwamah, Yeani (Deborah) and Solomon III.
Deborah's life as a wife and mother was most fulfilling. She gave herself wholly to me, her husband, committing herself to caring for me, attending faithfully to my needs and to whatever would make me happy and comfortable. She could easily read my mood and know what I liked or disapproved of and then act or refrain from acting accordingly. Her own personal needs or desires were never part of the equation.
She ensured that I, her husband, was always happy and comfortable at home and that I was in the proper state of mind to pursue whatever I was engaged in and returned at the end of the day to a peaceful and quiet home. She wished and helped me to succeed in whatever I ventured into even though she did not fully understand the intricacies or implications of those ventures. She played a very effective and supportive role in the background and when success came to me she shied away from participating in or from being identified with that success and the glamour that often is associated with success, especially success in public life. She was self-effacing, very humble, simple and unassuming. She was a woman of peace and would go to any extent to be at peace with other people whatever was their own attitude or disposition towards her. She preferred to be regarded only as a housewife and not to be in the public eye to the extent that she seldom agreed to accompany me to public or State functions even though I appeared to have become a public figure because of the public positions I held.
She was the driving force behind any success I achieved since our marriage. For instance, without her immense contribution I would not have been an f1onours and double award winning student at the English Bar Finals in 1973. While she studied nursing and worked in London as a nurse she devoted all her income to pay for my legal education, other expenses and for our own mutual upkeep while I was a student in law school in London. I was thereby relieved of the burden of necessarily engaging in menial or casual work during vacations, a burden which was then the lot of many overseas students in Britain and which adversely affected or unduly prolonged the period of their legal studies. I was able to complete my studies in record time and obtained the laurels I earned in my final exams. All this was due to Deborah's love, generosity and selfless commitment to me. She was my own human comforter. For me she was peerless. For this and~ many more I was not able to pay her enough and I will never now be able to pay her.
Ever since we returned home she had never mentioned even to her children or referred to the role she played in my becoming a lawyer. The only thing that eases my mind and my conscience is the fact that she knew I was grateful to her and I appreciated the role she played in my life. I am conscious of the fact that gratitude is a virtue. I will try to impress this on our children.
While I was in practice either as Attorney-General in the Law Office or in Private Legal Practice.
Deborah shared a lot of anxious moments with me. She was aware of the occupational hazards and risks attending my work and also to which she too was exposed. She and I knew that we had to face some difficulties on a number of occasions because of the official assignments I was involved in. But she always trusted my judgement and discretion. My assurances to her were that all will be well. She believed this because I said it. She also believed that through prayer I could do what was right and I could come out of it unhurt. Similarly, she relied on my judgement and proper use of discretion when I took the decision to enter active politics. She would have preferred the quiet and unnoticed life we lived and enjoyed while I was in private legal practice. We were not then in the public light. But she succumbed because of my explanation that the state of the country then was such that whosoever would do something to ameliorate the prevailing situation had a duty to come out and do his or her bit or else he or she would forfeit any moral authority to criticize the way the country was being destroyed. I explained to her that it was not enough for me to remain in the cozy life of private practice just working to- earn money without assuming any public responsibility. She accepted my decision and as usual she told me to lead while she followed. Her only concern was that I was to avoid deliberately and unnecessarily making many enemies in politics.
My entering active politics with her consent in fact exposed her to a lot of pain, mental and physical stress and sufferings like me. I will, for instance, refer to two particular occasions: when the coup took place in May 1997. She, like me, had to travel on foot from Sierra Leone to Guinea barely escaping arrest and even worse. She with me also went through similar experiences in January 1999. She never grumbled or suggested my withdrawal from active politics. Instead, she became more attached to me and supportive of me in this venture.
As a mother, Deborah was very committed to her children. She always cared for their welfare and moral upbringing. She ensured that at a very early age they were made to appreciate the importance of prayer, the need to be trustworthy and honest, and the virtue of respecting other people's rights and feelings; and of being always helpful whenever it was possible. However, her relationship to her children was conditioned, above all, on one premise, namely: Papa is right and you are to take and do what he says. He has the last word. Deborah extended maternal love not only to her own children but to all other children living with us; and there were many of them over the years, nephews, nieces and others. She treated them all exactly as she did her own, making no distinction between them to the extent that a casual visitor to our home would hardly know who were our own children and who were just our wards. She cared a lot for the welfare of members of her and my extended families. My own family is really extended; by far more extended than hers. She had time for all members of this extended family. She tried to attend to the needs of each of them inasmuch as she could and had no preferences among them and she did so without bothering me about those needs and demands~(which were many) except, in' cases where she could not manage and there was real and genuine reason for my own personal intervention.
Deborah above all was a Christian woman and a Catholic. She valued the sacrifice of the Mass.
and regarded it as the cornerstone of her life. There was no way she could miss Sunday Mass unless there was no Mass said where she spent a Sunday. Even in that case, she would carefully read and meditate on the scripture readings prescribed for that Sunday in her Sunday Missal which~ she always travelled with. She paid special attention to major feast days and did her best to attend Mass on those days. Devotions to the Blessed Sacrament, the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin Mary were her special commitments. She had great affection for these. She prayed to the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin Mary every morning as soon as she woke up and every evening she gathered her entire household (excluding her me as I often returned home from work late) to recite the rosary. And she would not miss these daily devotions for anything. She had childlike belief in the efficacy of prayer and particularly in the devotions to the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin. So she became life patron of the Sacred Heart Confraternity whose prayer meetings at Saint Anthony's Church she hardly missed.
My late wife was faithful to whatever course she embarked on. She demonstrated this by her commitment to various organizations and to the people she met and had dealings with. She was an active member of the Saint Joseph's Old Girls Association, a founding member of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Juba, a member of the Catholic Women Association (CWA) in that parish and a life patron of the Sacred Heart Confraternity of St Anthony's Church, Freetown. She had time to attend to all these organizations and groups.
As regards loving and caring for others in need, Deborah on her own and without reference to me and often without my knowledge volunteered to pay the school fees for a number of displaced school children. She brought some of these children to live with her at home as her own children without enquiring about the whereabouts of their parents or who their parents were. There were some still living at our home up to the time she died. She paid their school fees and other expenses out of the proceeds of sale of ice blocks and iced water she tied every night in little plastic bags. She never regarded this as a mean activity to be undertaken by the wife of the Vice-President of Sierra Leone. She earned extra money from doing this and no status of her husband would make her. abandon it especially as it was the means available to her to help others. She did all this without fuss and not for recognition or appreciation and for the sole purpose of helping others. This is the legacy she has now left with me. Have I the energy, time, patience and above all the disposition to take it over? As for her other acts of charity, every year she would, unannounced and without publicity, take much needed necessities such as food items, toiletries and clothing for the terminally ill at Lakka Hospital. The inmates there would certainly miss her a lot. Also many among the thousands who have since her death visited our home to sympathise with us have given testimonies to her kindness and generosity to them personally; and to her humility and humanity. I believe that it is for this reason that the shock and grief caused by her sudden death seemed to have transcended religious, political and social barriers. Deborah did not apply any of these things in deciding whom she was to help. Her only consideration was that the person needed help and she was able within her limited means to help somehow.
Deborah never showed excessive emotion or excitement either of joy or sadness. She was even-tempered and not prone to anger easily. She could disarm even her bitterest adversary with her gentle and innocent smiles and the freshness and smoothness in her voice even to the point of becoming inaudible. She was extremely patient and forgiving; and would spend hours pleading with me the course of one relative or other when I thought that person had unnecessarily and unjustifiably hurt or offended me or her or both of us. She was quick to explain that person's conduct away or put a positive spin on it in order to placate me so that I would forgo any anger I would have entertained as a result of that conduct.
She was really a peace maker and a skilful reconciler between me and my relations in particular. She would achieve such reconciliation even if she needed to persuade repeatedly to give up my own position in the matter. This was part of her strength.
There were however a few occasions when Deborah was noticeably happy. These were after the ordination of our son Augustine to the Sacred Priesthood; the two occasions when she had the unique opportunity of meeting, grasping and kissing the hands of His Holiness Pope John Paul II during the celebration in the Vatican of the 25th anniversary of that Pope's pontificate, and the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She noticeably appreciated the pilgrimage she and I made to the shrine of St Francis of Assisi, Italy; and she was happy that I gave my consent to the marriage of our daughter Annie and that we were together in Atlanta for the wedding ceremony of our son Solomon (Jnr). Her expression of her emotion on those occasions were in direct contrast to the way she regarded her visits with me to other important places. For instance, she even accompanied me on official visits to France, Egypt and other countries. On those trips, we visited places such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Pyramids in Egypt among others. But she seemed not to have been much impressed by all these even though other mortals would be anxious to visit such places of touristic importance.
There were some personal matters which to some extent helped to further tighten the attachment between Deborah and me. These were matters coming into existence by sheer coincidences to the realization of which neither of us contributed. Both of us were born from devout Catholic parents and both of us went through Catholic education of those good old days when much emphasis was placed on moral education, simplicity and humility. We both were not ashamed to be described as "traditional Christians".
Our two fathers fortuitously bore the same first name "Francis". Because of this, there was no problem in naming one of our children "Francis". This could be meant to be after his paternal or maternal grandfather.
Both of us have Old Testament names: "Solomon" and "Deborah", a matter over which we joked on a number of occasions and wondered how our respective fathers came to give us such names. Both of us later became double orphans and only surviving children of our respective parents. Because of this, we regarded each other not just as husband and wife but as much more: sister and brother, most trusted friends and confidants; and the only person who, without any reservation and without expecting reward or expression of gratitude and appreciation, pursued the interest and sought the welfare of the other relentlessly and selflessly. We were concerned about and protective of each other in the same way as a loving father cares about the welfare of his only child or a loving mother cares for and protects her only child. That is why her parting away so suddenly has caused such physical, psychological and emotional havoc to me.
She also acted as my emissary attending family or other social functions including funerals and weddings or visiting sick relatives where there was need for her and me to attend such functions or visit such people. In this way I was relieved of that duty and responsible in order to be able to attend to my official functions while our social responsibilities and families were at the same time cared for (a type of division of labour). Who will or can now continue to play her own role in this regard? We did not realize what was our ultimate dream and that is, that after my retirement from public life, we would spend our remaining years together in my native village Yengema, Bumpe Chiefdom, Bo District where she was even more welcomed and loved. We loved each other only for what we were to each other and for nothing else and for no other reason whatsoever.
The West African College of Nursing was kind enough to honour Deborah two years ago with its prestigious award of honorary fellow of that college. The citation for the award referred to her devotion to the nursing profession and to what that profession epitomizes.
On that fateful day, 17th December 2005, after she had spent a restful vacation with her children in Atlanta, Georgia, USA and was in her usual pleasant mood rushing home to spend Christmas with her husband and the rest of her family, she succumbed to the sudden call of the Lord just a few minutes before she was about to board her flight. This was another instance of God's will being done on earth which Christ in the Lord's prayer asked us to pray for fervently. This time His will appears to have been harsh on me and on my children, the Berewa family and Deborah's many friends and relatives. Our prayer now is that the same good Lord who allowed that sudden parting to occur will bring consolation to our family and He will by His grace help us to accept that, what to us is a real tragedy, is only a manifestation of His will coming on earth and that He in some ways would pour his grace and mercy upon our family and make good that loss. This is in spite of the fact that I know my Deborah will not be replaced. I know though that the good Lord does not allow a gap in His plan. He will fill it as in indeed He will fill the He has now created in our family. It is now that I really understand the meaning and effect of the expression "irreparable loss" in the sense I will never have my Deborah again on this earth and for the rest of my life.
In any case, when the Lord calls who are we, mere mortals, to wish to deprive our dear wife and mother of God's divine bliss at the time and at the place He willed it for her and when it was held out to her. It is this heavenly bliss that we will always pray for her to have deservedly. May the God Lord bless and reward/her for her efforts to serve Him and to serve other human beings in this world, whether or not some of those human beings appreciated her service. We will settle for the fact that this is the way of the world. May she be given remission from all her transgressions here on earth. May the strength she had to serve God and her fellow man remain with us as our own strength and protection.
I will always love and cherish my beloved Deborah's memory and will pray for the happy repose of her dear soul. So too will our children: Annie, Solomon (Jnr) , Father Augustine, Martin and Francis; and our grandchildren: Simche, Kwamah, Yeani (Deborah) and Solomon III. I pray that with God's grace we shall continue to live as a united and loving family, caring for one another. This was the wish of Deborah which we are bound to respect.
MAY THE SOUL OF MRS DEBORAH SELINA BOIMALO BEREWA REST IN PERFECT PEACE AMEN.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.