The Life And Legacy Of Secretary Of State J. Rudolph Grimes

By Abraham L. James

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 22, 2007


Born on October 31, 1923, the late Secretary of State J. Rudolph Grimes was the third of four children. His father, Honorable Louis Arthur Grimes, was of West Indian descent. His mother, Mrs. Victoria Grimes, was a descendant of one of the Kiazolu clan of Grand Cape Mount County.

He attended and graduated from the College of West Africa (now the Methodist University of Liberia) and subsequently matriculated at Liberia College (currently the University of Liberia), where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree.

He graduated from Liberia College with high honors and became the first Liberian to be admitted to the Harvard University Law School. After receiving his law degree from Harvard, he undertook further studies at the School of International Affairs at Columbia University, where he earned a master's degree in international affairs. Several years later, the institution conferred the LLD degree upon him, along with several other distinguished scholars and public servants.

Secretary Grimes was the founder and first dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia, named after his famous father, who was one of Liberia's greatest lawyers and jurists.

The public career of the younger Grimes spanned almost half a century. It was remarkable in the sense that his public assignments included domestic administrative matters as well as Liberia's relations with the international community.

Following his return to Liberia in the early 1950s, he was appointed Counselor of the Department of State (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) with responsibility for legal matters. In 1958, he was appointed Acting Secretary of State. And in 1960, Honorable Grimes was elevated to the full status of Secretary of State of Liberia.

The 1847 Constitution provided for three departments, namely, State, Treasury (now Finance) and War (now Defense). For more than a century the Secretary of State has been recognized as the doyen of the cabinet, and the office has had important state powers. The Secretary of State (now Minister of Foreign Affairs) is the highest-ranking executive officer next to the President and Vice President. He is the President's principal adviser on foreign affairs. The Ministry has domestic as well as foreign responsibilities. [t has custody of the Great Seal of Liberia, and the Minister is the official to whom the resignation of a President or a Vice President is officially submitted.

The presidency of William V.S. Tubman was the longest in Liberian history, and Honorable Grimes, who served under Tubman, was the nation's longest-serving Secretary of State. President Tubman traveled to various parts of the world and would be away from the seat of government for several weeks at a time, during official and health visits abroad. During his absence from the country, an official document known as "letters patent" issued by the Executive Mansion mandated that the Secretary of State fulfill the responsibilities of the Head of State in consultation with the Vice President and other members of the cabinet. All cabinet meetings were hosted by the Secretary of State. This special arrangement enabled Secretary Grimes, who served from 1960 to 1971, to participate in handling official domestic matters, within the purview of the executive branch, during the absence of the President. In the early 1970s, during the administration of President William R. Tolbert Jr., the nomenclature of "department" was changed to "ministry," and the title of the head of a department, originally "secretary," was changed to "minister."

Secretary Grimes also played an important role in the formulation of the nation's foreign policy during his long tenure at the Department of State. He introduced important policy guidelines and even streamlined Liberia's diplomatic missions abroad when it became necessary to do so.

He was a great statesman and diplomat. Ghanaian statehood in 1957 ushered in a period of African liberation and independence for African states under colonial rule, in which Liberia played a major role. In 1952, Honorable Grimes was designated by

President Tubman to travel to Ghana to accompany future President Kwame Nkrumah aboard the Presidential yacht for an official visit to Liberia. It was an important assignment that attracted global attention.

Subsequently, Secretary Grimes, along with his able assistants at the Department of State, contributed immensely to the drafting and adoption of the charter of the Organization of African Unity. At the United Nations and in regional organizations in Africa, Secretary Grimes was a towering figure. His views were eagerly sought and greatly valued by his colleagues and world leaders. He was awarded numerous decorations from countries in Africa, Europe and Latin America, including the Legion d' Honneur of France and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

Secretary Grimes delivered the keynote speech at a conference entitled "The Reconstruction and Unity of Liberia" held on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania from January 4-6, 1991. Approximately 350 Liberians and friends of Liberia were in attendance. They included a broad cross-section of Liberians and non-¬Liberians who were deeply concerned about the situation in Liberia and wanted to do something about it. Speaking on the issue of the separation of powers enshrined in the Liberian Constitution, he made an important observation about governance in Liberia".

"We Liberians have usually made use of the expression that two heads are better than one even if one is a goat head. Our government has three coordinate branches - the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. It is expected that they should work cooperatively. No branch is subordinate to any other."

Continuing, he said: "Regrettably, in recent years the legislature and the judiciary have not shown the independence that the Liberian people have the right to expect. In spite of this, there have been periods in the history of our country when the judiciary has acquitted itself with distinction and integrity."

He called for a plan to examine the dependence of the legislature and the judiciary on the executive and for efforts to establish their independence. Only then will our freedom be properly protected, he said.

In fact, Secretary Grimes was also a constitutional scholar. In 1984, shortly after the 25 members of the National Constitution Commission (NCC) assembled to commence the task of drafting the current Constitution, Dr. Amos Sawyer, Chairman of the Commission, appointed Secretary Grimes to serve as Chairman of the NCC's Drafting Committee. A few days later, in a meeting with the five other members of the committee, Secretary Grimes surprisingly circulated an eight-page proposal, in his own handwriting. The document was used by the members of the committee in the preparation of a draft for the plenary body of the NCC. His sound knowledge of the structure and workings of the Liberian government, obtained from nearly 50 years' experience, enabled him to guide the members of the committee in their task.

Secretary Grimes was also Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Liberia, and he worked closely with the late Bishop George Brown and also with Bishop Edward Neufville in providing useful legal and related advice for the unity and advancement of

the Episcopal Church in Liberia, the diocese of West Africa and the Conventions and Synods of the Anglican Communion.

His wife of 57 years, who was with him at the time of his passing at their home in Gutenberg, New Jersey, in the United States, has been a pillar of strength over the years, and in the twilight of his life provided him with special attention and care. Following his home-going, she was the recipient of numerous messages and telephone calls from around the world.

Secretary Grimes was my mentor for more three decades. I have special recollections of the years spent working under him at the Department of State; serving under his distinguished chairmanship as secretary of the NCC Drafting Committee; and especially during my regular visits with the family. With his home-going, the Liberian nation has lost one of its greatest statesmen, lawyers, diplomats and scholars. It would be an understatement to say that he will be greatly missed. Faced with this great loss, perhaps Liberian youths may draw useful inspiration from the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that:

"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time."

© 2007 by The Perspective

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