Memorial Speech for Josefa Tuamoto’s Solomon Islands Funeral
Hello, my name is Susan Yee. I have to say right away, I’ve always been extremely shy and when I was asked to share my thoughts on Jo’s passing, it was near panic mode for me. But then my thoughts almost instantly went back to a story about kava. Well… actually about a time when Jo helped bring me out of my shell… and I thought it would be a nice story to share with you all how Jo influenced my world.
I got to know Jo from time spent around him, both in Fiji and in the Solomon Islands working with him and “THE” team. I was going to say ‘HIS’ team but nothing was ever his. To Jo, we all were in it together. He was as generous with time as he was with his Smile. You know, they say ‘Smiling is an act of charity’, and if that is the case, Jo donated more to the South Pacific than the European Union.
One night… at the Tourism Solomons’ Christmas Party, Jo saw me sitting alone at a table in my semi-wallflower state, and doing my best ‘gecko on a wall’ impersonation while so many others in the room were having so much fun. Jo then approached me with his smile and offered me a bowl of kava.
Now… I am born and raised in Fiji and I never had Kava before and I had turned it down literally hundreds and hundreds of times. But I just could not say ‘No… to Jo’ and to his incredibly warm and friendly smile. He came over with his bowl and then sat with me for a few moments, and made me feel that my happiness was genuinely the most important thing to him in the world at that time… and then brought me over to a larger group and the rest of my night went much different, it was so much more social, so much more fun. I had been touched by the aura of his presence, I was made comfortable and I immediately felt accepted in a way that really only happened for me in my home and among my office mates.
From that time on, Tourism Solomons was another extension of my workmates. Not a client anymore, I was now part of a big, happy family. And you know… I observed Jo a little more that night… I saw him repeat what he did with me for a few others too. I saw him put others’ happiness above his own all evening long. He was having fun, always smiling and leaning his head back… but then he looked around and picked his next target to bring into the fold… because he would ‘not’ be having fun unless everyone was having fun. He did this all night.
This is a small story of how Jo broke through my self-limitations, and I can only calculate how many thousands and thousands and thousands of other people he did this same thing to in his role as Ambassador of the South Pacific.
Jo, I promise to find other ‘geckos on the wall’ and maybe even offer them a bowl of kava. Isa Jo, Tagio tumas. Vinaka vakalevu. I will miss you.