Literary Zone

Remembering Professor Eldred Jones-Elizabeth Kamara

4 May 2020 at 05:02 | 1614 views

To remember the legacy of Professor Eldred Jones, Poda-Poda spoke with Elizabeth L.A. Kamara, Professor Jones’s granddaughter and mentee; .

Poda-Poda: Thank you for granting us this interview. How would you describe the legacy of Professor Eldred Jones?

Elizabeth: Professor Eldred Jones was a distinguished scholar and I count it an honour and a privilege to talk about him. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so. The legacy of Prof. Jones, the national monument spreads far beyond the borders of Sierra Leone. When he was born in the east end of Freetown, no one knew how great he would become. No one knew that the doors of all the leading universities in Africa and the Western world would open for him or that the academics in those great universities - would yearn for him to share his wisdom with them. And he did. He travelled widely, attending conferences, delivering papers and teaching African Literature and Shakespeare. His publication of Othello’s Countrymen and The Elizabethan Image of Africa were the first studies on blacks in Shakespeare. By writing these works Jones as it were broke into a forbidden territory of writing hitherto reserved for whites. He and his wife, Mrs. Marjorie Jones also edited the esteemed African Literature Today, for a little over three decades. He was a founding editor of African Literature Today and this enabled him to promote African Literature and African writers. His were the shoulders on which many African writers stood to gain visibility and prominence. In fact, in Sierra Leone, the name Eldred Jones is synonymous with education. Prof Jones’s dedication to scholarship is a tribute to a man who believed that whatever one does, one must do to perfection.

Poda-Poda: How did Professor Jones influence Sierra Leonean writers and academics?

Elizabeth: Apart from being well known internationally for his scholarship, Prof. Jones greatly influenced Sierra Leonean writers and academics in his homeland. Professor Jones was Professor of English in the Department of English at Fourah Bay College and later Principal of Fourah Bay College and Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone before he retired in 1985. During his lifetime, he gave some writers and academics the opportunity to publish in African Literature Today and helped to provide scholarships/ grants for others to further their education. Many prominent men and women in Sierra Leone and elsewhere studied at his feet. For a long time after his retirement, he continued to offer his services to Fourah Bay College and students conducting research would often visit him. Writers or academics, researchers, friends, family and others frequently visited him for pieces of advice or asked him to write forewords, introductions, reviews and the like. Although he was not physically in the limelight, he was there behind the scenes, helping to create a space for others.

Poda-Poda: In what ways did he serve his community? Were there any special projects he worked on ?

Elizabeth: Prof. Jones helped to raise the profile of his community just by his presence. He and his wife, Mrs. Marjorie Jones were among those who helped the community to retain its peace and quiet. I also learnt from his memoir, The Freetown Bond that he used to hold classes in the city and surrounding villages, for – the elderly , pensioners and school teachers. He was also one of the founders of the Mountain Rural Secondary School that was set up to provide education for underprivileged kids in the mountain rural community. As a student and later young lecturer staying with Prof. Jones and his wife, I remember them going for walks in the evening and a neighbour or two dropping in to chat with them on certain days.

Poda-Poda: What are some of your favorite memories of him, both personal and professional? And how did he influence and support your work and journey as a writer?

Elizabeth: My memories of Professor Jones date as far back as the 1980s. However, I came into close contact with him and his wife in 1991 when I stayed in their lovely house as a student, my father being the adopted son of one of Prof. Jones’s favourite aunts. That is how our lives crossed and that is how I came to call Professor Jones, ‘Grandpa’. I can almost see him now in my mind’s eye as he used to sit in his swivel chair, listening to me as I read something to him from social media or a book. I spent a lot of time with him especially after the death of his dear wife in 2015 and used to visit him thrice a week or sometimes twice a week because of work pressure and my domestic life.

One of the favourite memories I have of him is the near-surprise personal statement that he prepared for me on the launch of Distilled , which is my debut collection of poems. It made me feel proud and singled out that the extraordinary Professor Jones could not only find my poems a thing of joy but delighted in preparing a statement in my honour. This demonstrates how he relished spreading happiness.

On the day before he died, when I visited him in the morning, he told me that he was afraid that it had got to the point where he had to depend on others to do everything for him and he did not like that. I told him that it was because of his age and ill health. Even when my husband and I visited at dinner time on that day and supported him to take his food and medication, little did we realise that will be the last time that we shall see him alive. And when we were called to his bedside at 1:35 A.M on Saturday 21st March, we discovered that the gentle and unassuming academic colossus had quietly passed away. He was a blessing and a joy to be with.

Poda-Poda How can we continue to remember him and carry on his legacy as Sierra Leoneans?

Elizabeth: This is a very weighty question. For me personally, it will be impossible to forget him. How can you forget someone you have known for over thirty years? How can you forget someone who helped to educate you? How can you forget a father figure, who had nothing but love for you? Some of us who were close to him will attempt to carry on his legacy. He will always be remembered not only as an academic giant but also as a “human being”. I know that all the people on earth are human beings, but when Sierra Leoneans say that someone is a ‘human being” we know what that means. I have captured the idea of Professor Jones being a human being in ‘God made him a human being’, one of the poems I wrote on his passing.

To come back to the question, Professor Jones will be remembered for his integrity, solidity, humility, generosity, fortitude and equanimity. As Sierra Leoneans we can carry on his legacy not only by promoting education, but by being humble, true and kind.

If I continue to be humble when greatness comes my way; if I can light a smile on someone’s face; if I can help to educate someone who is not related to me; if I can help to lift someone out of the mire of poverty; if I can offer my ear to those who need help; if I do not allow challenges to drown me; if I can do all of these, I shall consider myself as remembering him and carrying on his legacy. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.

Elizabeth L.A Kamara holds an Honours degree in English Language and Literature and a Master of Arts degree, both from the University of Sierra Leone. She is the Head of the English Unit and currently lectures the key genres of Literature in English in the Department of Language Studies at Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone. Kamara is also the Founder/Coordinator of the Poetry Reading Club FBC where she continues to inspire members to read and write poetry. She is the author of Distilled : A Collection of Poems and has published some of her works in several anthologies. She is married with two lovely sons.