The weather was calm. I got on my bended knees and did my regular prayers, in which I, as usual, prayed for my country, neighbors, family and interceded for those who are hopeless and ailing. Among those mentioned specifically in my supplication was my professional media brother Togar Lawrence Randall, who had been ill for months.
Upon getting up from my knees, I grabbed my smart phone to get the latest chatter from the Liberian Journalist Chatroom on Facebook. The chatroom is a popular platform for the exchange of ideas and sharing of information including breaking news among at least 50 journalists including the late Lawrence, who are members.
As there was no update on the platform that morning, I decided to post the following as I had occasionally done since I learnt about the “Very Critical” illness of Lawrence back in April: “Kindly remember Bro Lawrence Randall in prayer.... Just say something in your heart to God for him...”
Beginning May, I had posted several of these kind of prayers in our chatroom, but folks, little did I know that the above post was the last request or prayer I was making on behalf of a very young man who helped to transfigure a post-war brain-drained Liberian media.
Returning from work later that day, a beep and pop up on my phone at about 19:17 GMT directed me to the Liberian Journalists Chatroom, and what had been posted there by Cyrus McGill, a Liberian journalist residing in the United States, held me physically and psychologically imbalance for a moment: “—Report just reaching me says Lawrence Randal is dead…can someone confirm this?” he posted.
An immediate call to Press Union of Liberia President K. Abdullai Kamara by me as well as comments on Cyrus’ post by Michael Roberts who works for the late Lawrence’s media setup and esteemed senior colleague Malcolm W. Joseph who was at the Olympic in Rio, were enough to confirm that one of Liberia’s best development brains was gone. Yes, gone for good and never to be seen breathing, walking, talking, lecturing, advising and sharing fun. What a heartbreaking breaking News!
Meeting Lawrence Randall
Though we knew each other for more than a decade, Lawrence and I were not the closest of friends, and we were never foes, too. Yes, we didn’t grow up together neither did we go to the same high school (SDA) he attended down Camp Johnson Road, or live in the same community. Little did I know about his upbringing, but he was my serious professional colleague. Like me, I learnt that he didn’t grow up with silver spoon in his mouth, but as a smart guy, he had to work hard to become who he was.
I first saw and met Lawrence at the headquarters of the Press Union of Liberia in 2004. I had gone to pay my membership due, when I heard the PUL Finance Officer Henry Page calling “Lawrence, Lawrence Randall.” Surprisingly to me, I saw a fairly slender looking young guy (just like me at the time) returning to Page. Yes, I was surprised. He appeared too small for the voice he possessed on air. ‘His voice on air had deceived me’, I said to myself. Lawrence had been an eloquent talk-show host (the DC Talk) at the erstwhile DC 101 Radio. His excellent presentation of the show had won him a popular Radio personality. The penetration of his expressive and sturdy voice through the microphones in studio, and transmitted outside into the airwaves and on to receivers (radios) in and around Monrovia, presented Lawrence as a bulky-looking man. But that was Lawrence, one smart little Bassa Boy with a powerful radio voice.
After his conversation with Page, I met him one-on-one for the first time and stretched out my hand to him, he responded likewise, smiling broadly. After that warm handshake and introduction, we became professional friends thereafter until his ill-timed demise on his 13, 991st day on Earth. Indeed, Lawrence was a true friend of mine.
From Talk show Host To Media Development Guru
Lawrence didn’t fear challenges. He faced them head-on as a test to his ability. So, he explored, took up challenges and turned them into opportunities and remarkable success stories. That’s just what he did when the PUL, along with international development partners, was in search of a character who would competently manage the affairs of the Liberia Media Center (LMC) in 2005, to champion media development in the country following a catastrophic civil war that didn’t spare the media. In our Liberian setting, at 26, Lawrence was a “Pekin” (small boy) when he sat behind the steering to drive the LMC from a mere idea on paper, to a great institution that would become a household name in Liberia. Lawrence was an indisputably brilliant bureaucrat.
During his eight-year stewardship of the LMC, the young man was successful in attracting millions of dollars from the international community to develop the media and contribute to the strengthening of the country’s postwar democracy. Lawrence held an unwavering belief that one of the unquestionable ways of strengthening democracy and inducing national development and stability was to empower the media and make them professional, rather than chasing journalists and shutting media houses down. Of course, he frowned on the reckless use of the airwaves and unprofessionalism. Lawrence was an advocate of free speech and social justice.
So, the LMC, under his effervescent stewardship, organized dozens of training activities across the country, teaching media ethics, professionalism, investigative journalism as well as development and human rights reporting. I benefited. Yes, his unappeasable thirst to see the media grow in ethics and professionalism, saw the LMC assigning foreign experienced mentors to media institutions to help build their capacities and establish editorial policies that would reflect responsible journalism. With the level of somber lingering economic constraints faced by many media institutions, Lawrence advocated for funds for the LMC to provide grants to journalists and media houses to undertake investigative reporting — on shady concession deals, on human rights abuses, on women and children issues, on county development funds, among others.
Lawrence believed that providing all of these training and mentorship would just be meaningless, unless journalists and media institutions benefiting from these opportunities were empowered with tools to work with. This, then, led to the supply of equipment (recorders, cameras, computers and accessories, and USB drives) to media houses and journalists to make them more effective in the discharge of their sacred duties to the public—the country. He worked tirelessly to plant and empower several community radio stations in rural Liberia and created a platform to help the media and the public to monitor the performance of government and to ensure democratic electoral processes.
I don’t need any confirmation from anywhere by anyone to declare that more than 80% of media houses and journalists in this country at one point in time benefitted from the great work of Lawrence, and no one can ever vouch in the old and contemporary Liberia for impacting the media so much so significantly more than what Lawrence did in his eight-year reign at the LMC. Indeed, Lawrence was a media development guru.
Lawrence’s Work impacted my Career
I couldn’t tell this story before Lawrence’s painful death. It was inside me. Yes, I knew he would die one day as long as he was born, just like all of us, including you reading this tribute. It’s inescapable. Lawrence was a junior brother to me (15 months younger), but I called him ‘big brother’ on many occasions, or ‘chief’ at some other points. Yes, he was my big brother because he had managed a project that benefited me a lot— helping me to acquire new attitude, skills and knowledge that would stay with me till I join him and others to the great beyond one day. Certainly, though Lawrence lived just for 1,998 weeks and 4 days, the impact of his life and work will live on forever.
I was one of the mentees who participated in several of the LMC-organized training programs between 2007 and 2010. I was trained as a development reporter, which led me to winning the LMC/Trust Africa Best Development Reporter Award in the print category in 2008, while Christopher Sellee, now working with state Radio ELBC, clinched the electronic media category, when he worked at Truth FM. Both of us had, among several journalists, reported the best stories on the government’s pronounced Poverty Reduction Strategy. I tell you no lies, I very much cherish that award which was presented to me by Lawrence.
International trainers like Marquita Smith under an LMC/Truth Africa Project and Myles Estey of the Canadian based Journalists for Human Rights project significantly groomed me into being a better journalist. Then, Myles was assigned at the Informer Newspaper, where I served as an editor. His mentorship was excellent, and helped to improve my writing, editing and production skills. Working with Marquita on several stories to practicalize what had been taught during several weeks of training was rewarding.
I still freshly remember one of the experiences of flying to Maryland County on the UN helicopter along with Jacob Parley of ELBC, Ora Garway currently of Women Democracy Radio and Wilmot Oliver Hoggard now of ELBC. Marquita, our illustrious trainer, was head of the team. Four of us had been selected for a field trip based on our performance, after going through a weeklong training under the benefaction of the LMC on covering the poverty reduction strategy. Before our trip, a smiling Lawrence commended and wished us the best.
Going on the field with these foreign journalists to dig deeper into the news, and see things with a third eye in the best interest of the public was among the best experiences. Sweet, educative, entertaining and wonderful, these learning and mentoring activities were more than what any university can provide here. Thanks to Lawrence’s LMC remarkable stewardship.
Lawrence would call me one day in his office at the LMC to commend me. “Sengbeh, I see great potential in you. Two of our mentors have said a lot about you. And I am very proud of you, my man. I see it in your work and your writings. Keep it up.” In 2014, Lawrence would be introducing me to some international journalists as “one of the best guys we have around here. He benefitted from several of our local training opportunities, and we’ve been following him.” I then turned to him and said, “Chief, you are the man who have contributed to whoever and whatever I am.” Yes, that was the Lawrence I knew.
Out last conversation
Early 2015, Lawrence phoned me, when I served the Press Union of Liberia as Secretary General. “SG, I need to talk to you. I have something coming up and I want you to be a part of it. I am looking for good writers like you. I know that you are very busy with our Union’s work, but find time for us to talk.” I think it was about the Capitol Times Magazine and Newspaper. I definitely think so. Just about that time, however, I was preparing for a trip to Jerusalem for an international conference on media freedom. I promised to meet Lawrence upon returning from Israel. Our busy schedules could not allow us to meet upon my return, but little did I know that that would be our last conversation. Yes, our very, very last.
Lawrence: An Ailing Hero
It was in mid-April2016 that I got to know that Lawrence was chronically ill, through a post by the Inquirer’s Jennie Fallah-Wounuahin our chatroom. She was mobilizing group of journalists and media practitioners to join an intercessory prayer for Lawrence. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be part of the prayer as I would be out of town. Knowing that Lawrence was in the United States and admitted at George Town University Hospital, many of us had some hope that he would survive as he was in a country, where Science and Technology is best. Yes, we learnt that he was on life support, but we still had hope that God would heal him. This time, it was not about money to take Lawrence out of Liberia to Ghana or the US. He was where every other critically-ill Liberians or Africans would want to be taken for medication. He was in the hands of great doctors and a hospital hundred times better than ours. No, it was not Redemption or John F. Kennedy Hospital. Absolutely, not even the revered Jackson Fiah Doe Memorial Health complex in Nimba County, but the George Town University Hospital in Washington DC. If these doctors, with high level of sophisticated medical technologies, were giving up on our brother, only the master Doctor, Jesus Christ, could heal him, I said to myself.
So, here, all I could do in my feeblest power was to join others to pray and put Lawrence’s life and condition in the unchanging hands of God. In the Chatroom, I and others regularly posted prayers, asking God to heal Lawrence. For example, when I woke up on August 4, 2016, I posted the following prayer at 7:09 GMT:
“Father, I open my comments in this our chatroom this morning with a prayer for ailing professional colleague, Lawrence Randall. Lord, kindly heal this young man who has been an inspiration to many young people in Liberia, especially in the media. Father, you are the master healer and a never failing doctor. I know that you know the solution to his illness. Lord, heal Randall like you healed Job, like you healed the woman with the Tissue of Blood, like blind Bartimaeus, like you cleansed the 10 lepers. Thank you Lord, for answering a prayer from a sinner like me. Thank you. Amen.” Many other journalists made prayer comments on the post, all wishing well for Lawrence.
Similarly, On August 6, 2016, I posted another one: “Lord, I present Bro Lawrence Randall into your healing hands this morning. Lord, I know that you are the master healer.... You cleansed the lepers, you made the cripple to walk and the deaf to ear.... You raised Elijah from the dead and fed the hungry crowd.... Lord, I know you are still in this miracle business, and I pray for your miracle in Lawrence's case in JESUS mighty name.... Thank you Lord.... AMEN”
For me, as a Christian, this was the only thing I could do for Lawrence to live. Prayer. But Lawrence had to go at all cost. Yes, he fought as a soldier for months. Even when the doctors failed and gave up on him, he still kept fighting alone for several more days. And, when death failed to conquer him, God, his creator, called him to rest after spending 38 years, 3 months and 19 days on earth. Lawrence, our hero, is resting.
Lawrence’s Living Legacy
Lawrence left the shores of Liberia in August 2015 to earn his Masters, having graduated from the Louise Arthur Grimes School of Law here. Exactly one year later, the Executive Director at African Peer Review Mechanism Liberia Office will not be returning home on September 3, 2016 with a Master’s Degree in Policy and Program Management and Evaluation; rather, it’s his remains that will be brought back home.
On September 10, he will take his final journey home to the great beyond after spending a well-lived 1,998 weeks, 4 days on Earth. Yes, though Lawrence did not live a little more longer as many of us would have wished, to continue his great services to humanity, the little time he spent with us was more than worth. He left an undying legacy. That’s why I have never hesitated to say that ‘As long as we were all born one day, we all will die someday. To me, it doesn't matter when we die, how we die or where we die; what matters most is what people say after us when we die, and that's our legacy’.
Lawrence, you left behind a huge legacy. No doubt. You left behind a legacy of hard work, commitment and dedication to service. You left a legacy of strengthening democracy through media development, a legacy of enhancing electoral processes through proper and quality information dissemination by the media, a legacy of serving not only Liberia but also Africa through the African Peer Review Mechanism. Oh, a legacy of sharing your knowledge and skills with others, a legacy of standing tall for free speech, press freedom and social justice. Oh, yes, and a legacy of creating employment opportunities for Liberians through your media empire which fruits you never harvested. That’s was you, Lawrence, that was just my man.
I know, I know it’s painful and sounds hard, Mrs. Ralphlyn Tarpeh Randall, but you have to, you have to stop weeping. No amount of cries will bring our brother back; Lawrence won’t come back again; he’s gone, and God knows why your husband had to leave all of us so young so soon. To you Justin, Albert, Lawrencia, Israel and Togar Lawrence Randall Jr, your dad was indeed a great man who lived an impactful life on the surface of this earth. Trust me, his good works will see you thru as you, too, are his cherished legacy. Never mind, ok?
Bah, Lawrence, let me remind your brother Augustus Pinton Randall Jr and your sister Shelly Randall that you have gone ahead of them to meet your father, Augustus Pinton Randall Sr. and mother, Musu Bah Randall. Yes, they are welcoming you ahead of the great getting up morning. They, too, are proud of your bubbling legacy.
Folks, on September 10, I will join hundreds of friends, family members, mentees, professional colleagues and well-wishers to bid Lawrence a final goodbye. I know people will be weeping—men, women, boys, girls—and some will be falling on the ground and rolling. Some might get fainted, too. I know, I know so because Lawrence was too dear not only to his lovely family but also to many people, to humanity. Don’t forget, as well, that the gossipers, liars and enemies of progress will also be there. They will be sitting and standing in groups whispering falsehood. They will be there to take notes of all the little insignificant details, including how people will cry, who cries the most, and how the repast will taste. They will tell and take away lies; they will say many things that Lawrence didn’t do. They will tell what should have been done to save Lawrence’s life, as if they are God. Some tears will be counterfeit and just for the show. Lawrence, you know what? I don’t care or give a damn about them. I will be there to send you home, not to cry again, but to celebrate your successful life on earth. Yes, Period!
You see, baah, if only you had told me on the morning of August 10, 2016 that you were leaving us, I would have posted a farewell message for you in our chatroom rather than asking our colleagues to pray for you. Anyway, you were full of surprises, but this was very shocking. Indeed, you were a hero in life and a hero in your demise. Even after your death, your name and spirit keeps fighting your enemies—including that old callous, good-for-nothing, acrimonious and less-busy chap who posted that nonsense on Facebook celebrating your demise. Goodbye, my man, sleep on brother. Huuum, yeeees, baah! Cheeaay!!