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Dr. Seyon: A legacy of social justice

The following is by David Wilcox, a co-warden at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Arlington. He brings to the public's attention an account of a remarkable town resident, which YourArlington has overlooked until now.

Dr. Patrick SeyonDr. Patrick Seyon

Dr. Patrick Lawrence Nimmene Seyon was the former president of the University of Liberia, research scholar-in-residence at Boston University, former interim director of Boston University’s Africa Outreach Studies Program and former dean of Roxbury Community College. He died in his Arlington home Oct. 13, after a month of in-home hospice care. 

He was diagnosed seven years ago with trauma-induced Parkinson’s disease, brought on by daily torture while in prison in Liberia, West Africa, his home country. 

Dr. Seyon was an active longtime active member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Arlington.

[“He was truly remarkable and a wonderful human being,” Wilcox wrote in response to a question from YourArlington.  “He had been an active member of St. John’s for more than 15 years. 

[“He never mentioned his tribulations or torture under the Doe regime in Liberia; he always remained focused on the future and the needs of other. 

Wit, generosity

[“Dr. Seyon was a generous, compassionate and brilliant man who was also jovial and quick-witted, with a smile that was always warm and welcoming.”]

He is survived by his best friend and wife of 37 years, and two daughters and a son from a previous marriage: Marina Seyon, Lecretia Seyon and Lord Seyon.  

Dr. Seyon played a critical role in higher education, equal rights and social justice in Liberia for decades.  While serving as vice president for administration at the University of Liberia in 1981, he was arrested by the soldiers in the regime of Samuel K. Doe, who had taken over the government in a coup d’état in April 1980. Dr. Seyon was jailed and brought before a government council on false charges of attempting to overthrow the regime.

Dr. H.B. Fahnbulleh, a close friend and colleague of Dr. Seyon’s, wrote: “Pat stood calm and dignified as he proclaimed his innocence, and when he finished speaking, the chamber was quiet. At that stage, it was the deputy head of the Council [who] shouted that he did not believe Pat, and that if immediate execution was not carried out, there would be more attempts to overthrow the regime.”

Even the head of the tribunal council later reported to Dr. Fahnbulleh that he was convinced Dr. Seyon was innocent, but many of the council members did not like his criticisms on television and radio, and they saw this affair as an opportunity to get rid of him.

Prisoner of conscience

In 1983, with assistance from Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of State and other governments, and classified as a prisoner of conscience, Dr. Seyon was released from Liberia’s jail and taken to Germany for medical treatment. From there, he traveled to the United States to the position of scholar-in-residence at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs.

Dr. Seyon was one of the framers of Liberia’s Constitution and co-chair of Liberia’s Special Elections Commission, and he testified during the U.S. congressional hearings on the 14-year war led by Charles Taylor, which left Liberia in total ruins.  

In 1990, even with Taylor’s war still in full force throughout Liberia, Dr. Seyon accepted the invitation from his friend and former colleague Dr. Amos Sawyer, to return to Liberia as president of the University of Liberia. Patrick’s reopening and rebuilding the university during those years enable higher education to continue in Liberia despite the war and ensured many hundred of students to complete their studies and graduate from the university. Students from all corners of the globe continue to praise Dr. Seyon for this monumental achievement. 

In his eulogy, Sawyer, former interim president of Liberia, wrote: “In 1981, [Patrick] was arrested and tortured by the military government, leaving him with scars which affected him for the rest of his life. Yet, he never wavered or harbored grudges or assumed a sense of entitlement. He moved on, working for the cause of justice, the rule of law and good governance in Liberia. Twentieth-century Liberia has not had a more selfless, dedicated and commit public intellectual than Professor Seyon. In the pantheon of leaders of higher education in Liberia, the name of Professor Dr. Patrick Lawrence Nimene Seyon will rank among the best.

Born into the Kru ethnic group in Sasstown, Liberia, on Sept. 4, 1938, Dr. Seyon spent his boyhood years at St. John’s Episcopal Preparatory School in Liberia.  He graduated the University of Liberia with a BA in 1961, and Kansas State Teachers College with an MS in 1967. He entered Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar, graduating with an MA in 1975, and a Ph.D. in 1977.

During his years in greater Boston, Dr. Seyon taught at the Boston Latin Academy, Timilty Middle School and the Windsor School. He was on the faculty of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Northeastern University African Studies Program and Lesley University Graduate School of Education before serving as dean of the Liberal Arts Division at Roxbury Community College and later as a faculty member in the social-science department.  He retired from the college in 2003 after he was diagnosed with the disease that ended his life. 

Globe, Oct. 25, 2020: Patrick L.N. Seyon, an educator who survived being tortured in Liberia, dies at 82

This news summary, which includes opinion, was published Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. The author, a child and adolescent psychologist, is a former clinical director of the Middlesex Juvenile Court Clinic. He is semiretired.

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