In Memoriam: Talalelei Vou
In October this year, Samoa lost a man his colleagues repeatedly called a “hardworking, loving and caring” person, who was completely selfless – right to the end.
Talalelei Vou lost his life, caught in a dangerous rip off the coast of Return to Paradise Resort, but not for nothing. He saved the life of a guest, Peng Lin Chris, who had been caught in the same rip before Talalelei rescued him.
Referred to by his colleagues as Tala, the 31-year-old porter, driver and even Zumba instructor from Salamumu, is dearly missed. His ultimate sacrifice is why he is a nominee for Samoa Observer’s Person of the Year 2018.
Tala’s former general manager of Return to Paradise, Ramona Sua Pale Gilchrist, held back tears sharing her memories of him.
“I don’t think there is any person here, staff or guest on the resort who didn’t love Tala,” she said.
“He went out of his way to make everybody feel special, even the little children. He would never walk past anyone without acknowledging them.”
His gentle attention to the resort’s youngest guest was remembered by his former front of house manager, Mika Colaudolu as well.
“Some staff will say talofa to the kids, and keep going, but Tala? No, he will stop, he will make them laugh, try to be friendly, and make them feel at home.”
He said unlike many people working in tourism, Tala did not ignore the children.
“Tala put himself down to earth, down to the children’s level, and played with them, and that is how the parents remember him.
“What I learned is to put yourself down to be the same level as other people and to have an open heart to help them,” Mr Colaudolu said.
Tala’s spirit and impact on the people around him, especially the guest he saved Mr Peng Lin, has inspired a memorial fund for tertiary education. Fundraising began in earnest this month with a dinner in New Zealand, organised by Mr Peng Lin, and the Chinese community around him.
After it was clear Talalelei could not be revived at the shore, Mr Peng Lin asked to visit the victim’s family. Thinking they might refuse in their grief, the management were surprised when the Vou’s accepted a visit from Mr Peng Lin.
“So 7pm that Sunday evening, myself and the general manager and his family, we all went.
“Little did we know they had an envelope of T$5000 tala already, they wanted to give it straight to Tala’s dad and mum.
“And they promised they would come back for the funeral. And he did come back, with two big suitcases of clothes for the children,” said Mr Colaudolu.
Three of his colleagues, Isaac Warren, Faletoese Faletoese and Kapeli Mauigoa, sat with the Samoa Observer to remember their loved friend and brother.
A helping hand. A skilful and experienced man. Full of life, with a can-do attitude. These are just some of the many qualities his friends repeated of Talalelei Vou.
Mr Faletoese is also a porter and driver. The two of them used to make regular trips to the airport together to collect guests from the airport. Today, Mr Faletoese still thinks of Tala sitting next to him in the passenger seat as he makes the familiar drive to Faleolo Airport.
Their last day together, they made that trip together as they always did. And it being Mr Faletoese’s birthday, Tala invited him home to celebrate.
“He invited me to his Nana’s birthday, and they celebrated my birthday there too,” he said.
“I didn’t know that would be my last time for me and Tala - that was on Saturday, and on Sunday I heard the news.
“I can feel that he is there for me, there with me when I go to the airport.”
For all his colleagues, Tala’s smile was something they each remembered fondly.
“Most of the time when guests come I will always think of Tala saying smile, just smile, welcome the guests in the way that we’re supposed to do, from the heart,” Mr Faletoese said.
“I think that it’s hard for me to forget about Tala because he smiles every day,” said Isaac Warren, assistant food and beverage manager.
“If I come with a problem from home or whatever, his smile can make my day perfect.”
Food and beverage supervisor Kapeli Mauigoa added that he and Tala used to plan resort activities together, which he would always do with that big smile.
“He is a brave man. I think that’s why he lost his life, because of his bravery, just like Jesus Christ: he gave his life to save the people.
“All the good things that Tala has done for our family here are unforgettable,” Mr Mauigoa said.
Tala’s sister Annie Vou was offered a job in housekeeping by Return to Paradise. She joined the colleagues with a word about her brother.
“His presence lit up any room he walked into and you couldn’t help but smile every time he was around,” Ms Vou said.
“Life will certainly not be the same without him but we know that if he was still here that he would want all of us to be happy and live life to the fullest.”
“Strong people stand up for themselves. Stronger people stand up for others. Fly high, Tala,” said Ms Gilchrist.