Remembering David A. Straz Jr.- Dr. Emmet A. Dennis Pays Tribute
One of the earliest references to David A. Straz Jr. relative to his interest in Liberia appeared in the May 2009 commencement address delivered at the University of Tampa (UT). The commencement speaker was former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. David’s name was mentioned in a long, simple sentence at the beginning. Mrs. Sirleaf said: “Permit me to acknowledge Mr. David Straz, a UT Trustee and Honorary Consul of Liberia, who was very instrumental in making my presence here today possible.”
As expected, the emphasis of the speech was the graduates. And towards the end, the guest speaker made a pitch, saying: “I urge you to consider working overseas in a developing country, such as my own, for a time, to share your knowledge and experience with people who need so much and have so little. You too would be enriched and more informed by such experience.”
As her pitch was directed at the graduates, Mrs. Sirleaf, may have also inadvertently directed the pitch “to work overseas in developing countries,” such as Liberia, to the UT’s Trustee who was instrumental in getting her to speak at the University of Tampa.
This could have been the place where the first seed was planted in David’s heart about helping Liberia. We know this because, in 2009, Mrs. Sirleaf introduced then UL President Dr. Emmet A. Dennis to David A. Straz, and then two men embarked upon a sojourn that led to the establishment of a functioning college in western Liberia.
That is why when he learned of the death of David Straz, Dr. Dennis, the man who presided at the helm of the University of Liberia during the formation of the David A. Straz Jr. -Sinje Technical & Vocational College, says the feeling was personal.
“Ambassador Straz’s death feels very personal to me because of the many interactions we had since my introduction to him by former President Sirleaf,” Dr. Dennis lamented. The former UL president said that former President Sirleaf had apparently asked Ambassador Straz to assist with the construction and renovation of buildings to establish a technical college in Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County.
“I was called to the former president’s home for two reasons, 1. to provide the rationale & vision of the college, and 2. to accept the 2-year college as a part of the University of Liberia,” said Dr. Dennis recollected. He explained further that the university had refused to take on the added responsibility for community colleges, adding that the university it had too much redevelopment to accomplish.
“Ambassador Straz accepted our intervention and we accepted responsibility for the college,” Dr. recalled.
Suddenly, there was a “meeting of the mind” between the two gentlemen, and then everything began to fall in place. A proposal that the college be named the David A. Straz Jr.-Sinje Technical and Vocational College was unanimously accepted by the UL Board of Trustees, while the land was donated by the people of Sinje, Dr. Dennis said.
“UL’s further intervened that we (GOL) must make some contribution and not be just a “gimme! gimme! gimme! The Visitor agreed that GOL will be responsible for building a couple of dormitories. The rest is history,” he added.
“All of us will miss him not only for his philanthropy but for his humanity. He was an extraordinary people’s person. His humility transcended his status and stature. I am positive the Good Lord is pleased to receive him,” Dr. Dennis said.