The Death of Minnie King Dunbar: "The Liberian Lady in the Library"

By William E. Allen

The Perspective

August 15, 2001

On Saturday, August 4, 2001, Dr. Minnie King Dunbar died of a brain aneurysm in Miami, Florida after falling suddenly ill about five days earlier. "Minnie", as she was popularly known, was a librarian and an adjunct professor in the English Department and School of Business at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. She earned her bachelor's degree at Cuttington College and a Master in library science at the University of Illinois, shortly thereafter. In 1972, the newly-opened FIU hired Minnie as a librarian. Sometime after that, Minnie took a leave of absence to study for her doctorate in higher education administration at the University of Maryland. She returned to FIU with the doctorate, resumed her duties at the library and joined the faculty of the School of Business.

I first met Minnie in the Fall of 1996 when I enrolled in the doctoral program at FIU. Shortly after I arrived at the school, my advisor told me excitedly that I should look for "the Liberian lady in the library." Not having any reason to meet the Liberian Lady, I did not look for her during my visits to the library in the first weeks of school. One morning however, desperate and frustrated because I did not know how to use the library electronic resources to find bibliographic information, I went looking for the "Liberian Lady in the Library." She proved to be an immediate help. We became good friends thereafter. Minnie was always ready to help. When I was anxiously looking for someone who could register me in school for the two semesters I would be away doing research, Minnie quickly agreed to help. She did not mind the "indignity" (standing in long registration lines with mostly undergraduates) and the hassle. During my wedding she confidently walked in the room with a bowl of "potato greens" and went straight into the kitchen to help. She gave me a letter for her mother when I returned to Liberia in 1999. The instruction to her 80-plus-year-old mother went something like this: "Ma, please cook for Bill or he will not give the money I sent you." Ma Jessie did not need the incentive because she is naturally kind and caring. Like her daughter, she is always eager to help. I ate at Ma Jessie's for most of the eight months I spent at home.

Minnie was a likable person. She was friendly and unassuming. Very few of her friends knew that the fifty-six-year-old Minnie was writing the dissertation for a second doctorate in business administration. The impression I have of Minnie today was made the minute we began to talk that first day in the library: I realized instantly that she was willing to help. And she helped immediately. Others noticed this fine quality. John Radencich, a fellow librarian, had this to say about Minnie (Miami Herald 10 August 2001): "Minnie was the kind of person who always was helping people." Now I understand why my advisor, like the other Americans at FIU who knew Minnie, was excited when he mentioned "The Liberian Lady in the library."

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