Amb. Eleanor H. Taylor Cooper was laid to Rest on Wednesday July 15, 2020 in the township of Caldwell with Funeral ceremonies being held at the Trinity Cathedral on Broad Street in Monrovia. I am currently away from home and my excuse, if there was need to make one or state one, would be laid at the base of the Corona Virus. It could not be at the foot but the base as this virus is confusing many but it is said not to be a living thing. That aside, travelling across borders and the restrictions of isolation for 14 days, if and when you do cross over, makes travel a new thing to fear. We thank God for small mercies especially as Eleanor, after a brief illness and treatment in the USA, returned to the only place she called home, last year to come and rest. We pray she finds eternal rest with our lord and heavenly father.
I was last in Monrovia in early March 2020. My assignment at the MRU since 2017 has made visits to Liberia few and far between. However whenever I am home after official duties, I tend to look for friends, buddies, associates, workmates, socio-political friends, hometown or women folks any and as time permits. Officials of Government and the diplomatic community are part of the Job line of activities I must meet whenever I am in Monrovia.
In mid-February this year I was on a 10 to 12 days visit to Liberia for two different missions. Again I planned and was determined to visit Mrs. Coop or Eleanor or Eleanor Cooper or Mrs. Cooper… “Anything goes” meaning its rough and we had to find a way out of a tight political corner. We had a rough start in-between campaign activities and official duties at the presidency. But the good natured person that Eleanor Cooper was and one who found her early calling as a teacher, she was destined to work with the rough the rugged and the rascals in life.
Anything goes or Need to know were amongst the many codes we would use to communicate in the office of the President, security EPS, protocol and the many who worked to ensure the President “balanced” her days between office paper work and public visitation in or out of the mansion.
The President hardly ever knew nine/tenth of the tensions and problems many people had to synchronize her schedule, her work and her security. We were each assigned tasked and in some instance clear job descriptions at the presidency and all were to ensure that the Presidency functioned optimally for the Leader of the nation to execute her vision or the platform upon which she was elected. Many days Mrs. Coop would sigh PHEW…and many a day Ethel’s eyes would be rolling for some of those who it appears did not appear to have clear descriptions or were seen as “jumping all over the place”. Many times we would have to conclude that politics has a lot of gray areas and where it seems clearly black or white some would shade it gray.
As the principal organizer and neat planner from old school, Mrs. Cooper as Deputy Chief of Protocol and later Chief of Protocol would quietly work with ease and grace. A life time teacher with a lesson plan. Must always plan for the day or week ahead. That we had it rough in the office which we used to say was very much like the school grounds but more “like recess period”. No doubt she would say but there must be order after right. Right we would agree. That she just let it go, was part of her easy going unruffled character. I used to tell her, I stopped counting how many times she would say I SWEAR. When one more political rabbit was pulled from under her hat at the Presidency. So lord know, that I had to see her this time, as I heard she was mostly at her residence and taking each day, one day at a time.
I did make it on the day we planned and we reminisced. I left when I had made her laugh so hard and she was coughing and she was holding her sides and tears where rolling down her eyes. The more she said “you girl you still talking so, so foolishness” The more we laughed. I left her after a long laughter and she had eased off coughing. Said Good bye and that I would hit the road next day to Freetown. She smile and tweaked the fingers Ta Ta…
Then Jimmy told me how Ada had invited a few of her buddies to spend what was her last birthday. And oh, her “cousin”buddy Ms. Adelaide, peace be unto her gentle soul had already hit the road to Pearly Gates early this year. It was very natural group of Friends she had made and kept like family. Good School teachers and very good principles are rich with friends. That is all their reward for those who have a calling to teach and educate. Mrs. Coop I used to say, you saw many of my kind in school and hugged and loved them. We have come a long way to enjoy so much laughter. Life in the mansion and around the presidency has many, many sides and stories. We have told many stories of work perhaps to friends and families as and when they happen and some we make part of our keep sake. Over the years since I left the Presidency in 2009, we have had time to go over the many good sometimes rough days.
Mrs. Coop was a very organized and neat woman. I passed her by many times during the campaign to elect the woman who would later wear the historic title as the first democratically elected African president. We all worked on the team of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who won and we went on to work with her as Madam President both in the Original Mansion and in the Foreign Ministry Mansion. Willis Knuckles, the penultimate organizer, once made a t-shirt EJS VETERANS…many people asked him for theirs for keep sake.
Amb. Eddie Dunn as Chief of protocol in the original Mansion was the direct supervisor of Eleanor Cooper who was then Deputy. She was very supportive and worked so well with all in those early days. Eddie as we all commonly called had his style and his swagger. Mrs. Coop had her Calm. As Director General of the Cabinet, I was coordinating the first Cabinet activities with then Minister of State for Presidential affairs Morris Dukuly. And it seemed to me then and for a long time during those first few weeks of life at the presidency, that the new ministers “thought” or “believed” it was cool to ask for appointment after 5 pm on their way home from office to see Her Excellency the President. The issues they had were many and varied and very important. I would listen and discuss and then would reach Minister Morris Dukuly and we would agree that the day was far gone but the issues were pressing and often critical. It was often agreed they could just come by for 5 or so minutes and “pick Chance” to see Madam President. And chance a great many of them picked.
So it was one day, I peeped in the waiting room at the original mansion and as was walking in to meet one of the ministers, I saw Chief of Protocol Eddie Dunn shaking his head, bewildered but still manage a smile. I went in there and came out horrified to see a full waiting room. I saw Mrs. Cooper somewhere in between and hollered at her for a brief moment… I cornered her… look Mrs. Cooper…y’all need to manage this evening flow… in one of my cynical moments she often reminded me even recently that I said something to the effect “that people remember Eddie Dunn had a night club, but this is not a pub. We work all day and we need to go home.” I have small children…and before I could go on Mrs.Cooper gave me a big laf…and said you just need to manager my dear.” Really!!. And that was how we worked a bit in jest and a bit of “madness” trying to put organization and structure around our new boss who did not know when to go home we all conclude. We even manage one more that she had a problem with sunlight. Since she hardly ever left the office before 8 or 9 pm except she was having a guest or guests at home or dinner or evening function.
It was this process of creating order and processes with state protocol that over the years had its highs and lows. Protocol organizes the Presidents activities and plans her public appearances among many gazillion things around the presidency. Who the Presidents Sees, when how long, where she goes and for how long. The what and the why’s was where the political came in between. So there was the “political wing” of the presidency. By the time Willis Knuckles was Minister of State for Presidential affairs, the Political wing had developed a lot of order around the everyday people and business of government and governance. HE Madam President had tens and hundreds of people to see given the enormity of the task at hand taking over from the Interim Government of the NTGL. The road to building and sustaining peace for 12 years was a long one, and Mrs. Coop like the engineer supervisor on a road project, always had her pencil over her ears as it were. Mistakes erasers and some more mistakes and ok this is good. Progress on the path to building the peace and sustaining the peace there were many everyday laborers.
In creating order at time chaos ensued. One day Mrs. Coop who had always managed the calm and the cool…was pissed…And as I approached her innocently not knowing the rage…she threw the tempers at me. And by the end of the day of huff and puff I manage to remind her that I had heard she was a great school proprietor and administrator. I simply said you know you have some very rough students, and :some hard heady pekin them”…just see here like dat…yours will be to try to bring order but not like school yard where there is perfect decorum…just try and we will all like that. “We worked along rough and tough but always so pleasant like the teacher to greet all the students of various shades and characters.
In came Ms. Toles. Ethel and the pair just hit off so well. Each brought different strengths to work and assist the president. Their two pairs of hands appeared like 8 or at times 10 pairs to do so many things. They complimented each other and we all worked but not as if the story would end with “and they all lived happily ever after”…No. That is for the end of fairy tales. President work nah easy…President Work has many hands and feet that must be attached to one body and all move in the name of the President.
So there were moments when some meetings were arranged and called for by the President, it would be a matter of last minute notice perhaps I would get or that which protocol would get. And I remember one of such meetings and last minute decisions being made, I do not recall what last minutes decisions were made but the people or persons showed up. Security informed they were downstairs and that President had sent for them. The ADC I believe, knew of the arrivals. I knew the context and issues which the visit was being arranged but not much on the content for discussion. This wired up Mrs. Cooper and she give me “some lips” or “tongue lashing” in the office as the visitors took everyone by surprise. And because it was just the two of us, I stood up and manage to keep cool and give her the respect but politely said to her Mrs. Cooper, sorry about all of this but guess what I can only tell you what you need to know. And truth be told, I had no idea they were coming for a meeting but the issues are grave and urgent and that is all I can say. Anything else you need to know Her Excellency the President would let you know” There after a thick wall appeared after that between our offices. Over time I found a way to clown a bit around it and would go up quietly to her and say ON A NEED TO KNOW BASIS…so and so person needs to see Madam President.
Years would pass bye and since we broke down the wall…long before Donald Trump made WALLS popular, Mrs. Coop like the old school teacher, principle, organizer and planner, would always remind me that she met many of my kind in her school and classes …who are rough and tough but good students..
Long after I resigned my post and left the Presidency to pursue a new career in law and private practice, I kept up with our leader and Mother of the Nation and her team of dedicated staff. In case I popped up without time to call Mrs. Coop, she or Ms. Toles would inform that they are in the loop and there was a “need to know” that I was expected..
On a need to know basis, I did not know, otherwise I would have come share one more bit of laughter to cheer you on, Rest Well Mrs. Coop.
I did not think that the little tweak of a finger, when I visited would be the last. As is often said, a good teacher or principle never says good bye… they just bid them on…and some say Farewell.
By Amb. Medina A Wesseh