From all of us down here, to Laisa

Islands Business International editor-in-chief Laisa Taga’s passing away on April 4, brought in a flood of tributes from across the region and beyond. Here is a small selection of them, compiled to fit a page that her column ‘Letter from Suva’ graced for so many years. We celebrate her life here, writing to her on her special page one last time.

Tributes and condolences cascaded incessantly on social media walls and email inboxes just minutes after word got around that you had passed away on April 4. Messages long and short came from far and near from colleagues, friends, associates, mentees, admirers – and quite a large number of people who said they had never known you or met you personally but were so very saddened by your passing. Self-effacing to a fault, you shunned the limelight and always chose to stay in the shadows. You perfected the art of leading your team of staff and contributors from the front – while remaining almost totally invisible. Everyone knew you were editor in chief of the region’s largest and one of the oldest and most respected stables of publications, but you never ever sought to consciously build a profile for yourself. You were too down-to-earth and focused to get on with the job for that. Perhaps one of the most precise descriptions of your unassuming yet affable personality and hard-as-nails work ethic came from Islands Business publisher and long time colleague Godfrey Scoullar. In his letter announcing your passing he wrote, “Laisa was a tower of strength, a hard working and knowledgeable editor with a measured temperament and great sense of humour… As a regional media figure she was a quiet achiever who downplayed her achievements and never sought recognition.”

Your unassuming yet strong and firm personality peppered with candid humour was much admired by all who came into contact with you. “I knew Laisa for many years as someone who loved words and yet was quietly spoken; who was strong-minded but yet was easy-going; and who loved to listen and interpret what she saw in the most elegant way,” wrote Papua New Guinea communications professional Euralia Paine. Longtime contributor Rowan Callick wrote, “It was always such a delight to hear from Laisa, always so bright and breezy and also professional.” Though colleagues and close friends knew you were ailing over the past few months and the inevitable was looming, it does not make the event, when it comes to pass, any less devastating.

Especially when you faced it so very bravely and insisted on working until you could do so no more. “It was her wish she should continue to work until she could work no more,” wrote Godfrey. And as Marshall Islands IB correspondent Giff Johnson wrote, “Even having had warning that it was coming doesn’t make it easier to accept.” The Pacific’s interests were closest at heart for you. You felt genuinely and passionately for its parlous political and economic state of affairs, its people and their plight amidst a range of growing challenges. PNG journalist Sam Vulum said, “Laisa was an elite and a tower of a force whose brilliance and flair in the profession were evident in her treatment of topical regional issues … under her relentless leadership until her passing.” “She was a realist and was critical of those whose service to the region was questionable.

That was because she was genuinely concerned for the region and in particular, our Pacific Islands people,” wrote Parties to the Nauru Agreement Office CEO, Dr Transform Aqorau. South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) Director General and IB columnist David Sheppard wrote, “As advocates of environment awareness and gender equality we have always admired and respected the pioneering strength of Laisa in her many different media leadership roles over the years. She has been a role model for many including staff within our organisation.” “Through her many correspondents, Laisa Taga was a watching eye, and a listening ear to the myriad of issues facing all our island states,” Pacific Freedom Forum chair Titi Gabi was quoted as saying on the International Federation of Journalists website.

Laisa, you were a mentor and role model to so many young journalists and someone to look up to even for experienced writers from around the region and beyond. “I owe her a great debt of gratitude for her example and assistance over the years,” wrote journalist Sophie Foster. Media professional and consultant Ulafala Aiavao’s tribute echoed, “I am one of many who benefited from Laisa’s insight, her assistance and sense of humour.” Lusi Banuve Leqa, a former Islands Business staff writer wrote, “Your constant disciplining and correction but at the same time ‘mercy and grace’ shown paved the way for me. You were always ‘hard’ but man were they the best training one could get.” Likewise, writer Marie Barbier is full of admiration: “In the years had been liaising with her [for] feature ideas, she was always the most graceful, polite and supremely professional editor to deal with. I am privileged to work with all the editors I have been freelancing for over the years, but there was something so tangibly human about Laisa.” Like so many who posted tributes, editorial contributor Joycelin K Leahy had never met you: “Laisa has been so patient with me with my writing and the articles and this is so very sad. Oh, I feel so sad. I wish I had met her. How lucky was I to know her so briefly and in those last moments of her life. My heart grieves for this amazing woman that I have never met.”

Haidee Eugenio, correspondent from the Northern Marianas wrote, “I am very grateful for Laisa’s guidance, her knowledge about and interest in Pacific issues including those involving the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It’s a shock to hear of [her] passing. I couldn’t stop crying.” In a touching tribute on the Pacificmedia/ googlegroups web resource, long time friend and media professional Lisa Williams-Lahari said, “I thank you, big sister, for the lesson in mentoring and the simple power of an affirming nod. For the laughs and conversations, both in the wings of whatever meeting we were at, or in the online one-liners where a quick response on a burning question was all I needed to deal with the emergency of the moment. We didn’t always agree, but throughout a career spanning more than two decades one thing has been constant – you have always had my back.” Your peers and contemporaries had the highest respect for you. Titi Gabi said that during her time as editor-in-chief of Islands Business Laisa provided a monthly drumbeat unequalled in its regularity and consistency. Former Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Director Roman Grynberg wrote, “She was a great Fijian and a wonderful part to a free and vibrant press in the South Pacific that never feared speaking the truth to power.” An editorial in Republica magazine said, “She was a strong, dedicated woman who spent long hours working on assignments and leading from the front.” You commanded respect from all segments of Pacific society – including the political class. “She was one of the few women in the Pacific who commanded the respect of many leaders and governments around the region even though they did not always agree with her viewpoint,” Former PINA coordinator Matai Akauola said. Fiji Sun Publisher Peter Lomas, who first recruited Laisa as a journalist on the original Fiji Sun said, “Laisa was a remarkable journalist and editor. She led and influenced through deeds, rather than talking. She made a true difference in many lives.”

The sneaking admiration for your unflappable personality with a dash of humour never went unnoticed. Steve Menzies, Director of The Pasifika Collective wrote, “Laisa had a deliciously wicked sense of humour and a complete disdain for pretence of any sort. Her passing is a great loss for anyone who had the good fortune to be inspired by her humanity.” And from amidst the unfolding flooding disaster in Honiara came this message from Anouk Ride: “In talking to people about the loss of Laisa Taga over the past few days in Honiara, where media are consumed by the tragedy of the floods, I am reminded that everyone has stories of Laisa – how she encouraged us, made us laugh, made us aim higher in our work. I will always remember her guidance and am comforted by the thought this is her legacy – the inspiration she gave to all of us.” Unfortunately, unlike social media walls, space here is limited. It is impossible to accommodate all the tearful, touching and deeply respectful tributes that are still coming in on this page. But they are all on the Islands Business Facebook page and Laisa’s personal FB page. Besides, we can almost hear you, Laisa, from the big newsroom up there asking us to stop the fuss and to can this piece and find a replacement for it. And to get on with the job. And to not miss the deadline! RIP Laisa, editor, friend, colleague, exemplarily compassionate human being.

• By Dev Nadkarni on behalf of Laisa’s wide circle of colleagues, friends and admirers