Read about Patrick O’Leary’s long history with Sierra Leone in his newly published memoir From Freeborn to Freetown & Back.
Patrick was a Minnesota farm kid who grew up in Freeborn County, Minnesota, when he became a Peace Corp trainee at Syracuse University in 1966 for the Tanzania XIII program. But once training was completed the program was cancelled, and many of the trainees were sent to Sierra Leone, West Africa — including Patrick. He became a agricultural advisor and worked with farmers in an upcountry chiefdom. As a Volunteer Patrick had a number of adventures including being bitten by a poisonous snake, driving over and killing a pregnant cow, and raising chickens that were quickly killed by driver ants.
During Patrick’s Peace Corps service he developed a relationship with the village chief that lasted 40 years. He accompanied the chief to Sierra Leone’s diamond mining area, and later was the guest of the chief’ — then a member of Parliament— at the June 1968 reopening of Parliament after the military had ruled the government for a year. In December 1968 when Patrick was leaving the country the chief surprised him with a farewell greeting at Freetown’s Paramount Hotel.
They maintained written correspondence until it was interrupted by ten years of war. Then in 2004 Patrick returned to Sierra Leone, and reconnected with the chief. They continued to speak by phone until the chief’s death in 2007.
During his visit to Sierra Leone in 2004 Patrick returned to the village in which he had once lived. It had been ravaged during war and was slowly recovering. The last house Patrick lived in had been destroyed in the war.