Published in OFF THE WALL - Fiji Times 23/3/11
On Sunday I received news of the passing away of Mrs. Grace Magdelene Deoki a few days short of her 94th birthday.
Mrs. Grace Deoki was born in Levuka, Fiji, on 21st March 1917, her birthdate though was registered in 1918. She was the eldest of eight children born to Paul and Damayanti Herman, who were Christians from Kerala, India.
Grace was educated at the Marist Convent, later becoming a school teacher. In 1932 she married the late Rev. Ramsey Deoki , the first Indo-Fijian to become an ordained Methodist minister in Fiji.
Ordained in 1939, Rev. Deoki remained the only Indian minister for the next 20 years. “Being the first Fiji-born Indian to apply for a position in the church, Rev. Deoki faced a lot of difficulties. Questions were asked whether he ought to be accepted on the same status as his European” counterparts and he kept struggling to gain recognition.
He started preaching inside and outside the Methodist Church. Rev. Deoki represented Fiji at the May 1963 General Conference in Adelaide. During the discussions around the coming together of the Fijian and Indian Synods of the then Methodist Church in Australasia for the formation of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Rev. Deoki fought for Indian autonomy in the Methodist Church in Fiji, fearing that integration of the Fijian and Indian Churches would lead to Indians being swamped by numbers. His struggles meant the setting up of some standards and guidelines for the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in future.
Rev. Deoki is remembered as someone who embraced and moved easily amongst all sections of Fiji's multi ethnic and religious society. He was well known for his years of selfless service to the multiracial communities of Fiji. He possessed an intimate knowledge of the Hindi language and of Indian culture yet had absorbed much from Western culture. Through this, he was able to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in a profound manner. He had lofty ideals and was truly ahead of his time. He was also a founding member of the Indian Reform League, a social and sports organisation formed in 1924 to cater for the needs of Fiji Indians.
On 1st January 1964, he was appointed the first Indian Divisional Superintendent of the Indian Division.
That same year Rev. Deoki died and Grace was left a widow at the age of 49 and her 7 children fatherless. Three of her children were married at that time, Titus, Irene and Doreen. The other children - Ian, Maureen, Lorraine and were studying and working, while Angela was a primary school student.
Apart from helping her husband in the church, Grace was involved with the Red Cross and various other organizations, but after his death, she engrossed herself into serving the people of Fiji.
She traveled widely in many countries and spoke a few languages, and apart from English and Hindi, spoke Malayalam and Tamil, as well as Fijian, fluently.
In 1971 she completed a comprehensive course and obtained a diploma in sociology from Selly Oak College, England.
At the invitation of the Indian Government, she spent 2 months in India, studying various aspects of women’s organizations and their services to the country and people.
Grace spent many years serving in various organizations, welfare and community groups in Fiji and was the first local person to hold such responsibilities:
· Girl Guide Commissioner for Fiji – the first local to hold the post.
· President of Pan Pacific South East Asia Women’s Association.
· President of National Council of Women of Fiji.
· Y.W.C.A. Director of the original Board.
· Red Cross – member of Board of Directors. Also as Welfare Officer.
· Fiji Government Education Advisory Board member.
· Stri Sewa Sabha – President and member for some 35 years.
· St. Giles Hospital (mental hospital) Board member for 5 years and then Chairman of Board for 5 years. She worked very hard to improve the conditions of the hospital and patients.
Mrs. Grace Deoki was respected and loved for her dedicated services by the people of Fiji. In 1976 she was honoured with the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) by Her Majesty the Queen.
In 1984 Grace moved to settle in Brisbane, Australia. Her children, Titus, Irene and Angela are settled in Brisbane with their families. Ian and Maureen have made New Zealand their home. Doreen moves between Labasa, Fiji, and Brisbane. Lorraine is in Sydney.
Grace was a caring person who loved people of all races. Her services to the people of Fiji involved all races and she loved it. It was her calling to serve her God. She is survived by 7 children, 17 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.
A special memorial service for the Late Grace Deoki will be held on Thursday 24th March, 2011 (tomorrow) at Dudley Memorial Church in Toorak, Suva at 12pm to coincide with her funeral in Brisbane.
May the rest of your week be blessed with an appreciation for every opportunity to serve our fellow human beings.
* Rev. James Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.