‘Mr. J-o-h-n! Mr. J-o-h-n! Is Mr. John up there?’
And indeed Mr. John will breeze out to the top veranda of the 47 Percival Street office of the Awoko Newspaper in response, “Yes my Lord Sayoh.” And we will exchange morning greetings and he will tell how he will send an SMS to inform me when he sends articles and news items for editing. That had been our every morning routine since I took up Media and Public Relations contractual appointment at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development three years ago. None of us defaulted on his side of the bargain and for him he will inform me as soon as possible if there was nothing for me to edit for that day. Since Monday, 12th September, I have not shouted that name again and never again will I shout that name but pray for its peaceful repose in silence.
I came to know Samuel John in late 1999 the days when his energy, vitality and cautious exuberance as a journalist were at its peak and would report all sporting disciplines. He was among the knowledgeable and experienced senior journalists selected by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) to train us selected amateur journalists or Cub Reporters. It was coordinated by another veteran, P. Assadi also of blessed memory. It was that training that cut my teeth into journalism and one that placed me in good stead to rise through the editorial ranks to become an Editor even before darkening the wall of the Mass Communications Department at Fourah Bay College. Samuel John was there coaching us how to write sports and its varied disciplines. That training, the most efficient ever organized by SLAJ was the melting point for the 17 years of warm fraternal relationship between us. His charm is beyond imagination for he was too down to earth and treats everyone around him as his equal. He was old enough to be my uncle but when I started calling him Uncle John, he insisted that I call him ‘John’ because according to him at that moment, we were colleagues and journalists do not address each other officially as ‘Mr.’ I learnt that from him, but because of my upbringing, I have always found it difficult to call him by his name direct.
Then I had to work for Awoko Newspaper, after I had had talks with Proprietor and Managing Editor, Kelvin Lewis. He wanted to know whether I have “good rapport” with Mr. John and my instant reply was, “na me bra,” which summed up my warm relationship and respect for him.
He is always an adviser. Despite my First Class Honors Degree in Mass Communications, I will always refer my articles and news items to him for perusal and most times, his magic touches on structure, sequence and flow of ideas have turned many of my articles published in the Awoko Newspaper in masterpieces. The same role he played as Editor for all who wrote for publication in the Awoko Newspaper. I remember him advising me against publishing a certain article I had drafted. “It’s not that I am afraid to join you at the CID cells and subsequently at the Pademba Road prisons; my only fear is that you are very young and I am older, if anything was to happen to us inside, you will be the greater loser.” That was how he summarized his dislike of the article because of its strong words and offending journalese. He was a working encyclopedia of journalism and sports journalism in particular.
He may have gone to his permanent resting a financially poor man, but he went rich in moral and ethical uprightness. Unlike some of our colleagues of his age and sojourn in the practice of journalism, Samuel John’s name is one you can call anywhere and to anybody and you would not be embarrassed. He made friends; he built alliances and provided professional advice to his juniors.
I will miss his high sense of humor and his fatherly advice. He always carried a smiling face and he was always quick to ask about someone’s health when that individual’s face appears ruffled to him. I will miss my early morning shouts of his name when I park my car to notify him that I am around. I will miss his pep-talks about life and how to carry it along. I remember him advising a group of us young journalists in Kenema at an AGM convergence led by the Hon. Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo administration. A colleague had tortured someone the previous night such that the ensuing noise woke up all of our older folks who were housed in a building just adjacent to this guy’s window from where the yelling and cries came from. He said, “Don’t ever think you are winning even when your partner is crying. It is you who is ruining yourself. As a matter of fact, don’t do it too much, like food if you do, it will cause you to constipate.” That SLAJ AGM in Kenema under Alhaji I.B. Kargbo will always remain memorable and as I think about its loads of drama, I think about Samuel John. Even as I write this tribute to him, I am thinking about how it will turn out when he will no longer be there to have a bird’s eye look at it.
Like it is said, good things don’t last long. Samuel John was a human asset that was explored by those who came closer to him. My being closer to him these end days reinforced some traits in me and these include tolerance, perseverance, humility and respect for all. Thank you, Mr. John.
Sixty-three years is long, but not long for a life of yours which you spent with such finesse and gentility. Your memories will always linger in me. Adieu my teacher. Adieu my editor. Adieu my Bra. Take your rest until we meet on that beautiful terrace of heaven.
By Sayoh Kamara
Tuesday September 27, 2016