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Mrs. Doris Grimes of Liberia

5 January 2016 at 02:41 | 3617 views

Death of Mrs Doris D. Grimes: A page of Liberian History.

By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II, Monrovia, Liberia.

The news of Mrs. Doris Delicia Grimes’ death came as a surprise to me. I was shocked when I recently read of her death.

According to information, she died naturally and peacefully in New Jersey, USA on December 21, 2015. She was in her early 80s. She was a quiet and an intelligent woman and a scholar in her own right.

She stood with her late husband Hon. J. Rudolph Grimes in good and bad times. Their marriage lasted for over 55 unbroken years. Interestingly, and as stated in the media, they were born on the same month and date, October 31, and got married that same date. I knew them very well.

As a boy attending CWA in Liberia in the 60s, I visited them regularly at their Sinkor area home. She liked working with her hands attending to her garden. Mr. Grimes was then Secretary of State, as the position was called. It was unusual in those days for a lady of her standing to get her hands dirty.

Like her, Mr. Grimes was quiet. He spoke softly. He was tall and also an effective diplomat, who guided Liberian foreign affairs and policy in the sixties and up the time of President Tubman’s death in 1971. He was an inspiration for my decision to study international affairs and my boyhood dream to become a diplomat and an international lawyer. He was a lawyer. He was my Godfather.

Although quiet, Mrs.Grimes would respond if you addressed her wrongly. She was concerned about the social cleavages in Liberia. In 1966, I came to the US to continue my high school education. Mrs. Grimes visited America a year after and was a guest of the late Ambassador Nathan Barnes, Liberian permanent representative to the UN. I visited her at the embassy and at the ambassador’s residence in New Rochelle, New York. She suggested that I play with the ambassador’s two boys, who were about my age. I decided to help them in moving a stereo set from one room to another. But the children wanted me to carry the set all by myself while they played. They felt that as a country boy, I should do their work. Mrs. Grimes was mad about that attitude. The children’s behavior was born of the belief in Liberia that native people should serve the settler elites and they, the settlers, should always rule Liberia.

Though she was well educated and a member of the elite, she was private and caring. She was considered the pillar of her husband. Mrs. Doris Grimes (pictured) was a scholar contributing to research on Liberian affairs. Her academic work at the New York University, her alma mater, has been cited by other researchers and Liberianists, including Gus Liebenow, author of "Liberia: Evolution of Privilege". I admired her simplicity, honesty and commitment to truth. She was conscious and proud of her African culture in the face of criticism.

In her book, One Together, J. Rudolph Grimes and Doris Grimes, she described her experience in maintaining this heritage. She wrote:

"Most of the time I wore Liberian attire to everything official and unofficial. I had been doing this even when I was in school in the USA. The Liberian officials did not like this; they criticized me and even blamed my husband for my action, wearing lappas, the only Liberian official’s wife who wore lappas."

At her husband’s funeral in New York, she stated that she was not a diplomat and spoke strongly against his critics, for, according to her, spreading lies on Mr. Grimes. It was said that when Tubman died, Secretary Grimes hid the news of the death from reaching Vice President Tolbert, because Grimes wanted to become president. Tubman had left the government in care of Grimes when he departed to London for medical treatment.

In an excerpt of her book, she indicated that the story was a lie. The secretary did not get the news of the passing until later, though he had spoken to Mrs. Tubman the day of the death of the President.Tubman’s wife stated that the President’s operation was successful and several doctors were with him in his recovery room.

When Grimes confirmed the death, he made necessary arrangements for the Speaker of the House to immediately swear in the VP. The speaker’s son, Attorney General George Henries, was also in the room. Just after the swearing in,Tolbert grabbed Grimes, head on one side and said Rudi, you did this for me? God will forever bless you.This is for Liberia, Mr. President, Grimes responded.

She also pointed out that there were many individuals positioning themselves and trying to get on the bandwagon of the new president after Tubman’s death, and they were making up lies and stories for their own benefit. It is unfortunate to learn that her book did not get published before her death. It would have certainly thrown more light also on Liberian politics and events before and immediately after Tubman’s demise.

Mrs. Grimes was her own person, was independent, reserved and acted with dignity. She told President Tolbert that she and her husband were a team, but the husband did not control her and neither did she. She revealed that shortly after Tolbert became president, he called her one early morning. The conversation went as follows. "Doris, how are you? I said, "fine, thank you. - Who is this"? And the voice said "Willie". I asked, "Willie who"? And the voice said, "Willie Tolbert, call me Willie, Doris". I said "No, sir — all my life I have known you as Mr. Tolbert and that is what it is still". In those days women were not supposed to speak as she did. They were to stay in the kitchen and take orders.They were to seize any opportunity from men, most especially rich, powerful and influential men.She was a pacesetter.

Mrs. Grimes would not hesitate to correct you if you give misinformation, particularly on a subject which she knew about. She took historian Emmanuel Bowier to task for stating that Tubman imprisoned former president Edwin J. Barclay and that Barclay died in the US. As an eyewitness, she corrected that Tubman did not jail Barclay and he did not die in America. She added, "he was never sent to prison. He did not die in prison.....He died in a bed at the Du Side Medical Center near Harper" in Liberia and was buried on his farm. She was close to Barclay. She was an inlaw of the Barclays, for Mr. Grimes was also a Barclay. The Barclays orginally came from Barbados, West Indies. .

Barclay introduced Tubman as his successor to the presidency for the 1943.election against the wishes of many politicians, including the Montserrado Rock Town Boys. Later upon his election, Tubman and Barclay fell out, though Tubman married Antoinette Louise Padmore Tubman, the daughter of Barclay’s first cousin. The rift between the two men continued until Barclay’s death in November 1955.

Mrs. Grimes was not without wrong or the appearance of it as a human. The late Tarty Teh, a writer, complained that she showed no regard when her dog allegedly attacked him when he was a boy in Liberia and a neighbor of the Grimes.

The late Mrs. Grimes was the daughter of Henry B. Duncan, a former secretary of public works under Tubman. She was an economist. She received a Master’s degree in economics from NYU and wrote her thesis on Economic Development in Liberia. Her husband’s father was Louis Arthur Grimes, who was also secretary of state and later chief justice of the Liberian Supreme Court. The young Grimes’ mother, Victoria Cheeseman, was raised by President and Mrs. Joseph Cheeseman in the Executive Mansion. She was originally Jemoh Fahnbulleh of the Kiazolu clan of the Vai Tribe. She was renamed Victoria after Cheeseman’s only biological daughter, who had just died.

Mrs. Doris Delicia Grimes was a lady of grace. She and honorable Grimes were personally helpful to me in my coming up, and I am grateful for their kindness. May her soul rest in heavenly peace.