Published in OFF THE WALL – Fiji Times, Wednesday 16th February, 2010
As the nation mourns the passing of a great traditional and national leader, many of us have reflected on the life of the late former President and Turaga na Tui Vuda, Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda.
As many us have read and heard over the past few days since his death was announced, Ratu Iloilo (as he preferred to be known) worked as a teacher and civil service administrator, before becoming a member of the House of Representatives. He then served as a Senator in the 1990s, and was President of the Senate prior to his becoming Vice-President of Fiji on 18 January 1999, under President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara in 1999.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”
Ratu Iloilo became President during one of our country’s most turbulent periods from July 2000 until his retirement in 2009. Many have been criticial of the late former President’s actions in 2006 and 2009. However there are many who also feel that Ratu Iloilo was a humble and prayerful leader who sought at all times to model Christian life.
“God’s signs are not always the ones we look for, yet the private prayers of people, whether in our homes or in this place, are known, heard, and understood. There are prayers that help us last through the day, or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey. And there are prayers that yield our will to a will greater than our own,” he said at the National Day of Prayer in 2005.
I came across the following statement in Wikipedia: “(Ratu) Iloilo refused to intervene directly in the disputes among politicians, but quietly reached out to disaffected factions, including the Indo-Fijian community.”
Ratu Iloilo’s faith and worldview guided his vision for our nation, “God created this world with a moral design. Grief, tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end. It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of a nation as well. We see our national character in our ability to rally together in times of difficulties, celebrations and in eloquent acts of sacrifice. In these acts, and in many others, we show a deep commitment to one another, and an abiding love for our country.”
His humility was made evident to my family in 2004 when only five days after my father’s death and two days after his funeral my family had to attend a Commonwealth Day event at Government House as I was to present for viewing to the President and Prime Minister a short film I had made which had resulted in Fiji’s first Commonwealth Vision Award.
It was a difficult time for us all, especially for my mother. I had made this short film in 2003 when my father was still alive and his joy on hearing that December that I had won the award had known no bounds. The last time we were together as a family at Government House was in 1996 when my father had received the Medal of the Order of Fiji from the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Now we were there once more – without the head of our family.
After an emotional speech and the viewing of the video, Ratu Iloilo shook my hand firmly, looked me in the eye and placing his hand on my back said, “Well done my boy.”
As I was recalling this episode to my mother over the long weekend, she shared with me that as she was meeting the dignitaries at the same function, Ratu Iloilo, knowing her loss, gave her a hug of comfort and shared words of encouragement. It meant a lot to a grieving widow that the head of state would comfort her in her loss.
That for our family marked the true humility of the late Tui Vuda.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, sums up the concept of humble leadership in this quote, “To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness”
May Ratu Iloilo’s example of humble and servant leadership inspire all those who acquire the mantle of leadership, and especially those who find it thrust upon them.
May he rest in peace.
Rev. James Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister for Dudley Methodist Circuit – Suva. He holds a Bachelor of Divinity in Ecumenical Studies (Hons) and is a regular columnist for the Fiji Times. The opinion expressed in this article does not necessarily represent the views of this newspaper, the Methodist Church in Fiji or any other organization with which Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated.