FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Hundreds of mourners accompanied the casket of French national and legendary aid worker Jacques Montouroy as his coffin was carried down the streets in a farewell to a man known for delivering food in parts of the world no else dared enter.
Known to taxi drivers and warlords alike as 'Papa Jacques,' Montouroy died Thursday of complications from an ulcer, a spokesman for the Catholic Relief Services organization said. He was 63.
In his 41 years as a humanitarian worker for Catholic Relief Services he had made courageous forays into Liberia, Somalia, Burundi and Sierra Leone at the height of each country's war. Colleagues described him as unflappable in the face of danger as well as a brilliant problem solver.
In Haiti a few months ago, he allowed himself to serve as a decoy in a teeming tent city where the aid group had gone to try to deliver relief kits to women.
Montouroy acted as if he was the one handing out the tickets for the relief kits and the men in the encampment mobbed him, grabbing at his clothes and crowding around him. It created a diversion which allowed his colleagues to hand out the tickets to the women left standing on the sidelines.
Montouroy was not married and had no children, but is survived by the hundreds of boys he coached on a local soccer team. As many as 40 of these young men now play professional soccer in Europe, said Lane Hartill, a spokesman for Catholic Relief Services.
"Papa Jacques used to organize football matches throughout the country for us young boys. He paid school fees for us, rent for some of us and was always ready to help us," said 13-year-old Alimamy Bundy, a midfielder in a team coached by Montouroy.
Sixteen-year-old Ishmael Koroma, who plays defense on the same team, said: "Papa Jacques was like a father to me."
When workers went to pack up Montouroy's belongings, they found his home in the city center of Freetown nearly empty except for a bed and a few pieces of furniture. Colleagues say he spent nearly his entire salary on the boys, including buying them cleats and uniforms and paying for their flights to overseas matches.
The hundreds of mourners included dozens of young men wearing soccer uniforms. Weeping, they carried his casket into the national soccer stadium.
Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.