Passing of APCD George Yebit, 10/12/06

October 12th, 2006 by bobebill

George YebitTo all our staff, friends, family members, volunteers and trainees:

George Yebit, our beloved friend and colleague, passed away this morning in Maroua where he was on site prospection in the Extreme North with driver Yisah Joseph. George’s terribly premature passing comes as a terrific shock to all of us.

It is hard to know where to begin talking about George. He was a wonderful man, a true professional, a dedicated researcher, a walking agronomic encyclopedia, a man of enormous heart who loved trees, plants, nature, his wife, his biological children, his adopted children, Peace Corps, and life. He, his wife Florence, Kim and Jean-Marie Ahanda, Nina and I were all out for dinner together just a few weeks ago. We were at the home of a member of the Cameroonian parliament who feted us until late in the night. We all left laughing, happy and pleased to be in one another’s company.

Just a few weeks before that George and I crammed into a car together with many others (and three dozen plants and a thousand pounds of materials) to visit PCV Jenny Stella at her post deep in the South Province where George was conducting a follow-up to the medicinal plants training that had been held in Mvangan some months before. When all of us got thrown out of the village’s auberge at 10 PM on a Friday night to make way for a wedding party, George took it all in stride. He wound up sleeping in a Peace Corps car (with two others!) because he didn’t want to trouble anyone late at night.

Just yesterday I spoke with George and he sounded like his ever-optimistic self. On my desk, I have copies of two speeches that were read to me on Tuesday when I was in the Littoral Province visiting two of the communities where PCV Yune Lee works. There’s a Post-It now on the speeches where I simply wrote “George” because I wanted to share how happy those Cameroonians are with our volunteers and with the Peace Corps sponsored-training they received in aulocode rearing and medicinal plants cultivation. George would have been so happy to add those hand-written speeches to his always well-organized files. Unfortunately, that day will no longer arrive.

According to George’s wife, he was not feeling well last week yet he opted to continue with plans that entailed the long road trip to the Extreme North so that he could finalize sites for his trainees now in PST. I so vividly remember the day George said he would never travel on CamAir again; after his flight to Maroua landed so hard that all the emergency oxygen masks tumbled down from their ceiling compartments. George and I laughed many times after that episode. In retrospect, maybe this one time George should have stayed home and enjoyed a weekend and a Federal holiday with his wife and five children. Yet as many others on our staff have done so many times, he put Peace Corps, our mission and his volunteers above all else, including, I am so sad to say, his own welfare.

For all of you who ever attended one of George’s workshops, who participated in one of his consultancies, who had the pleasure of watching him work with farmers in the field, who struggled to keep up with him as he walked to yet one more farmer’s remote field far off the beaten path, or who ever lifted a beer with him at the end of a long work day or ever listened to his stories and marveled at his broad, happy smile, you know what a wonderful and unique individual has left us.

Over the last 28 years, I have spent a good portion of my life living and working in Africa and around the world. I’ve been fortunate to meet some tremendous people who have dedicated their lives to changing this one world we all inhabit. Among all the hundreds, possibly thousands, I have been proud to count as friends and colleagues, I can say without the slightest reservation that it was my rare, rare honor to work alongside George Yebit. In 2005, I nominated him for the US Mission’s Local Employee of the Year Award. Had it not been for the construction and completion of the new embassy in Yaounde, which required the heroic efforts of many on the Embassy staff, I have no doubt George would have been the LES of the Year. As it turned out, he received a Meritorious Honor Award which he richly deserved and which, to my own regret, was several years late in coming.

At George’s request, I have been giving a final polish to the indigenous plants book he just finished writing, one of the many extracurricular activities he undertook over the last few years.

In his acknowledgement, George wrote, “I was inspired to take an interest in medicinal plant science by CD Robert Strauss. He has been a wonderful motivating force throughout this endeavor. I lack the words to express my appreciation for his support and guidance toward the accomplishment of this work.”

As I sit here at the keyboard, tears choking my breath and blurring my vision so that I cannot see the words I am typing, I, too, can say that George was a wonderful, motivating force in my life and that I, too, lack the words to express my gratitude for his support, his guidance, his ever cheerful voice, his willingness to try something new, his wisdom and his friendship.

At the school where I did my graduate studies, they occasionally honor an alumnus with the distinction of “The Uncommon Man.” George and all of us share a common alma mater; Peace Corps. I’d like to bestow upon George the post humus distinction of his having been and truly meriting being remembered as an “Uncommon Man.” Cameroon, Peace Corps, and everyone who ever had the good fortune to cross paths with George is richer for having done so and so much poorer for no longer having the chance to do so again. I feel a sadness I have not known in many years as I am sure many of you do.

George’s body will be brought to Yaounde tomorrow by plane. I will be in touch regarding his final arrangements and burial. For those who would like to make a contribution to a fund that will help support George and Florence’s five children, you may do so in care of me. I will ask that Friends of Cameroon also assist with this effort.

Please share this email with all those who knew George.

Nina’s and my hearts go out to each and every one of you.

Robert L. Strauss
Country Director
Peace Corps/Cameroon