By Charles Sarr Thomas
(in-law and family friend)
A big tree has fallen! A great son of the soil has passed on! How shall we mourn this loss?
Thomas Gregory George Senghore popularly known by his acronyms ‘TGG’, was born and raised in Banjul, of a renowned Catholic family, son of Gregory Michael Senghore and Caroline SiggaSenghore of blessed memory. His church baptism was by his later mentor, Father Thomas Gregory Jobe. He married Martha Joko Thomas who has predeceased him(daughter of John Thomas and Mama Kainde Wilson, both also of blessed memory). Tom is survived by seven children, an older sister named Marianne Senghore Drammeh and a younger sister named Tisbay Senghore Gabbidon. He was, as is usually said of persons of his caliber, a gentleman and a scholar, a dedicated public servant, a devoted member of the church. This quite succinctly sums up the man and attests to his credentials captioned above.
TGG, even if he had other childhood interests was much more known as a studious scholar, one of distinction for that matter. He attended St. Augustine’s High School from where he graduated in the early fifties with 2nd division pass in the Cambridge School Leaving Certificate Exams, a rare accomplishment in those years. Thereafter he gained admission to Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, where he earned his first tertiary academic qualification, a B.ScHonours degree in Economics. Subsequently setting eyes on a public service career, he pursued and acquired a Diploma in Public Administration in the United Kingdom. He joined The Gambia Civil Service in the Sixties as a Graduate Executive Officer and rose quite rapidly through the administrative cadres to the rank of Permanent Secretary after holding positions of Divisional Commissioner, Macarthy Island Division now (CRR), and postings to middle and top management in various Government Ministries notably the Ministry of Works and Communications. His final administrative posting was to the Ministry of Finance and Trade from where he was subsequently appointed Governor of the Central Bank of The Gambia, a position he held up to his premature retirement from active service in 1988.
What characterized an illustrious tenure in public service was uncompromising discipline, dedication, hard work, proficiency, loyalty and straightforwardness. He was clearly down to earth and modest: many would remember him riding his pedal bicycle to work, from Leman Street to the Quadrangle and back in spite of his high managerial office and ready availability of a fleet of Government Vehicles…an example perhaps of modesty or on the need to use public resources judiciously and economically(?). His watchword seemed to be ‘CONTENTMENT’ as taught in the holy books. Despite his leadership position in financial institutions he was more willing to garb himself in poverty than enrich himself with the funds around him.
Talk went around in some quarters: “Tom bugul darra:kee bugul darra”, (Tom does not want to prosper; this fellow does not know how to benefit himself) but such sentiments never got to change him: he was who he was, even if he had to retire on account of it. For his role in the public service he was (deservedly) honoured as Commander of the Republic of The Gambia (CRG) and Justice of the Peace (JP). Such was his legacy and it is hoped that the young generation of public servants today would emulate his example. We thank him.
A justifiable question here would be what the driving force has been behind such a life of moral rectitude and humility: and my own humble opinion would be: a total trust in God and in his religious beliefs. Tom will always be remembered for his strong devotion and service to the church, which he also consistently supported and defended. Such steadfast disposition, in my belief, must have helped earn him important recognitions from the Vatican including the insignia PRO.ECC (VAT).(pro Ecclesia) His love for church was apparent, marked by regular attendance at mass and other church services and functions, going to the sacraments, providing support for the church (financial, material, advisory) when and where he could. He loved church hymns many of which formed part of his collection of audio/video tapes too vast to quantify and which he also made available for the appreciation of clergy and laity alike. His favorite church music was Gregorian: all other forms of church music came a distant 2nd place. Was it because of the Latin, or that his name was Gregory? My guess, it would have been because of the Latin. Tom loved his Latin and never lost a good opportunity to render a line or two in his speeches. They were always impressive and fitting, and added some kind of opulence to the rendition. I remember after he discovered my interest in classics he would always greet me in Latin when we met, starting with my name and surname before introducing discussion on early Latin poets. I was always left impressed yet confounded.
Tom was strongly attracted to religious sites: and more than once or even twice had visited the same monastery at Keur Moussa, the old Seminary at Ngasobil, the shrine of our Lady Queen of Peace at Popongueil and at Kunkujang Mariama respectively. In spite of this variety of vocations and avocations, he never forgot or lost touch with his Serer roots and cultural heritage. In that regard, he frequently joined congregations in Joal , Senegal (Joal Palmarine,Fajouth, Fundioune,…) whenever he had the opportunity to visit. He knew the history of all the sites he visited, the name and biography of each Abbe (Priest).
In February 1990 when a high-level delegation of Liberian and Sierra Leonean Archbishops and Bishops visited The Gambia for an inter-territorial Bishops conference led then by His Excellency the Papal Pro-Nuncio Archbishop Panciroli, TGG addressed that conference in the name of his organization (the Fraternal Order of Saints Peter and Paul, now Knights of Saints Peter and Paul) in what could have been one of his best speeches ever, on the position and immediate ecumenical needs of the Catholic Church in The Gambia in spite of the church’s growing contribution to the socio-economic development of The Gambia with particular reference to the education sector. His message, apart from being cogent was quite relevant at a time when the hierarchy’s attention to Gambian issues was losing momentum. It was well received and followed up with positive reaction that yielded material results for The Gambia through subsequent interventions by sub-regional and regional Catholic organizations, and greater attention to the issues concerning justice and peace and the church’s position in a growing era of secularization. I have hinted earlier that Tom was an erudite scholar, his erudition matched only by unmatchable eloquence.
When His Holiness Pope John Paul II visited The Gambia in February of 1992, TGG was at the forefront in the planning and execution of the programme of the visit together with organizational committee members of Saints Peter and Paul Confraternity. The visit was widely acknowledged as a great success as all activities were properly put in place and the visit achieved its objectives despite the fact that it was the first time a pontiff visited The Gambia and on relatively short notice for the local organizers. Tom had made lots of remarkable impromptu interventions at Committee level.
One of his last initiatives for service to church and community was the establishment of the Order of Saints Peter and Paul in 1988 which has as its cardinal objectives the provision of educational support to needy young students, counseling for both youth in employment and those looking for career paths. Members of the Order would provide social services in the general community especially to those marginalized groups, the youth, the aged and distressed with little or no visible means of financial support, engaging in various educational and social activities that help to promote social cohesion and harmony within the wider Gambian community. These were his noble and laudable goals set at the level of the new organization. But at his personal level, he also set goals to achieve more immediate results: accordingly, many a needy student bill he privately settled, many a school student did he sponsor: but always quietly, confidentially, from the silence of a generous heart.
We see therefore that TGG’s life portrayed the words of his spiritual teacher, St. Ignatius Loyola to which words he expressed total commitment throughout his life. It reads:
“Give and not heed the cost,
Fight and not heed the wounds,
Toil and not ask for rest,
Labour and not ask for any reward
Save that of knowing that we do the will of God”
And now that a great life has in fact ended, oh how
shall we mourn this loss? I shall return to TGG his
own very words in his tribute on the 1st anniversary
of the passing of his hero, the venerable church warden
Pa Rene Antoine Blain of blessed memory, as follows:
“Man of God, patriot and philanthropist
Countless were your acts of kindness
You lived the gospel as the master taught it,
You set an example for us to emulate.
To Abraham’s bosom we consign you
To Mary’s immaculate heart we entrust you:
Under the mantle of her maternal care
May you find peace, joy and rest.
Adieu! Adieu! Adieu!
Truly your memory remains evergreen
Your deeds stand out bold and indelible
Sleep in the Lord
Thou good and faithful servant”
And as we return this great tribute of his,
may we also bid him Adieu in song:
Sleep on beloved, sleep and take your rest
Lay down thy head upon thy Savior’s breast
We love thee well, but Jesus loves you best
Goodnight! Goodnight! Goodnight
(Sleep and take your rest)
Goodnight! Goodnight! Goodnight!
Lord, may the soul of your servant
Thomas Gregory George Senghore
and the souls of all the faithful through
the mercy of God rest in Peace. Amen.