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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

CAN ANYONE FILL THE SANDALS, AVIATION VOID OF THE LEGENDARY RICHELIEU ARCHIBALD WILLIAMS?

Date:

A Patriot’s Diary

With Ekena Nyankun Juagbe-Droh Wesley

When a youthful Archie Williams was named by the government of President William R. Tolbert as its representative to the then Pan-American-run Roberts International Airport (RIA), little did we know a true patriot had started a career in the aviation industry. Born unto a Christened parentage in Liberia’s southeastmost tip – Cape Palmas, in 1945, Archie was never a pampered child.

His father the late, Rev. Dr. J. Bolton Williams – who predeceased him was a Methodist Minister of the Gospel, an educator, activist, and lawyer. Rev. Bolton Williams did not spare the rod to spoil Archie Williams. J. Bolton Williams was popularly known in Cape Palmas as a disciplinarian and mentor. Archie would ride the back of his father, Rev. Bolton Williams’ pick-up truck amid rain, and when his late Mother tried to intervene, Rev. Williams would say: “The boy will grow up to become a man and must start a challenging experience.”

The late Archie Williams and deceased cum learned political scientist, Professor Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer, Allen Yancy III, et al will be remembered for setting the stage for radical student activism at Cape Palmas High School in the early 60s. Mind you, they paid a huge price at the time for so radical an outburst. Corporal punishment awaited Archie before the entire student assembly. Rev. J. Bolton Williams said he had to do what he did to Archie particularly to set a precedent. Many years later, Archie held firmly that his student activism was justified.

Prior to his matriculation to Cape Palmas High School, Archie enrolled at the Episcopal Church of Liberia-run boarding school; Bishop Ferguson – where he met Dr. Mills Jones who had come from Sinoe, Allen Yancy II, Lawrence Whitfield, Ralph Ponpon, as well as his former biology teacher and mentor, the late Dr. Emmet A. Dennis.

A victim of circumstances, Archie Williams mysteriously fled the country following the 1980 military takeover. He was arrested and detained at the Post Stockade in Monrovia for several months where he came face-to-face with death a number of times. He was saved from death row like many others miraculously.

At RIA, under Pan-Am, Archie Williams displayed incredible leadership and fought for workers’ improved conditions of service and an efficiently run local hub at a time when more than 25 airlines operated out of Liberia. Whatever the internal politics emerging out of the accident investigation involving the plane crash of the late Finance Minister and brother to President Tolbert – Stephen A. Tolbert, Archie Williams was unceremoniously sent packing.

Years later, Archie argued that Stephen Tolbert’s aircraft accident investigation, under the auspices of Lloyd’s of London, was very critical and sensitive and as such there should be no room for undue compromises. His critics at the time likened him to a CIA operative, an allegation he flatly denied. “For more than 30 years, I lived in the US. How possible is it for a patriot like me who always carried a Green Card to work for the CIA?”

Whatever the change of heart months later, President William Robert Tolbert reappointed Archie Williams but this time as General Manager of James Spriggs Payne Airport in Sinkor Monrovia. Amid the manner of workaholic he was, Archie Williams incredibly transformed Spriggs Payne into a viable local airport – handling local and international flights. For those who have come to know Archie Williams – he was always a man of class, with exquisite torch, exuberance, and excellence. Archie’s remarkable job at Spriggs Payne gained presidential traction especially when the late President Willie Tolbert had to depart from the local airport on county tours or foreign trips.

Exiled for nearly two decades, Archie Williams joined American military aircraft manufacturing giant, Lockheed Martin – where he served as its Regional Sales Representative for Africa. He traveled the African continent extensively, negotiating sales and purchase of aircraft. Archie ran a personal business in neighboring Guinea having won a Guinean government contract to produce uniforms for that country’s military.

Following the 2005 general and presidential elections, Archie Williams was named Director General of the newly created Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA) based on the letter and spirit of the 2005 Act creating an independent Civil Aviation Authority.

Amid an image lost owing to poor and inefficient management of the sector, compounded by the issuance of aircraft registration and air service licenses to arms smugglers and drug lords – Liberia faced isolation and sanctions. Our voting rights at regional and international assemblies were suspended and hopelessness abound.

Fixing the mess was Archie Williams’ major priority. From a single-room shabby cubicle at James Spriggs in which more than 50 persons alternated on a daily basis to a small but befitting office at Spriggs Payne Airport. Archie Williams assembled a small team that started developing various aviation-related regulations culled from the International Civil Aviation Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs).

Such outcome amounted to the National Civil Aviation Regulations – intended for the safety and security of the skies. Regulations developed covered aviation security, flight safety standards, air navigational systems, aerodrome, statistics, and economics. Aeronautical Information Services. For the late Archie Williams, training and retraining formed the hallmark of CAA’s major investment under his watch.

At regional and international gatherings where Liberia was severally relegated, hope started to come alive. The country’s readmission into the comity of nations started to take shape. Barely two years in charge in 2008, Archie Williams accepted the challenge to host the first regional conference ever in the history of civil aviation on Liberian soil – by bringing together Civil Aviation Directors and other regional players and airlines in the region to the Banjul Accord Group (BAG) Conference.

]The conference hosted in Liberia remains BAG’s most memorable conference due to its level of planning, organization, and unprecedented conduct. Having raised the flag of Liberia, Archie Williams and tea embarked on unmasking ICAO 125 outlined deficiencies associated with the Roberts International Airport.

As progress became self-evident, staff enumeration improved, training of young and smart engineers and various professionals in the CAA took root, Liberia became delisted from the Europeans and Americans’ blacklist; dues were paid; the Roberts Flight Information Region (RFIR) returned to its original base in Charlesville and the LCAA was relocated from James Spriggs Payne Airport to the RIA.

Under his belt, Archie Williams spearheaded the Guinean government’s military aircraft that crashed in Charlesville, Margibi County – in which all passengers including the country’s army chief lost their lives in 2012.

Archie Williams set the Liberia CAA on a path of unassailable reversal to be on par with regional and international Authorities. He was a great fighter who believed that a strong, uncompromising and efficiently run CAA was critical to the safety and security of our skies. He endlessly championed human capacity development – prioritizing young and talented engineers. He has left a big pair of sandals to be filled.

It is not clear if anyone is fit to fill those sandals. As it stands we see a dramatic decline in all he set out to achieve for the greater good. Well done, our illustrious aviation icon. Rest well, until we meet again, Archie.

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