People of the Year 2019: Va'asilifiti Moelagi Jackson
Affectionately called the “Queen of Savai’i”, the late Va'asilifiti Moelagi Jackson’s personality was contagious and had an impact on many people.
She is remembered as a trailblazer who helped forge a path for women in Samoan public life.
Va’asiliifiti, who is also a High Chief, also introduced ecotourism in Savai’i and was the first to invest in a hotel on the big island.
Founder of the Fa’asao Savaii Society, Va’asiliifiti was also the president and co-founder of the Samoa Umbrella for Non-Government Organizations (S.U.N.G.O.), which was established in 1997 and registered as an incorporated society the following year.
The umbrella organisation was established to provide alternative development options and assistance to vulnerable groups in Samoa, and provided input on Government policies from non-government organisations, community-based organisations, and civil society organisations.
She also co-founded Women in Business (W.I.B.) and was at one time the President of Samoa Red Cross Society.
Her integrity, resilient and fearless character influenced, inspired and empowered many to pursue excellence.
Surrounded by her children and grandchildren, she passed on at the age of 77.
During the family service to celebrate her life after her passing, the occasion looked more like a concert with the guests served coke and champagne – which were her favourite drinks – and danced to her favourite songs. Va'asilifiti loved dancing as much as she loved her Samoan culture.
She held eight chiefly titles: Tuisafua, Tuma’ai, Taumasasoli, Tauo, Tevaga, Saosili and Galuvao (besides Va'asilifiti) and comes from the villages of Safua, Sagone, Avao, Fagamalo and Gataivai.
Va’asiliifiti received her first chiefly title at the age of 22 in 1964 – a period in Samoan history when it was rare for women to receive titles in villages.
Red Cross officers and volunteers, who attended the family service, made reference to her term as President between 2011-2017.
“We have been blessed to have such a God-fearing, and bold woman who empowers all our young people and volunteers, especially all our young women.
“Words cannot express how thankful we are to have had her work alongside us these many years. Our final words, "Who can find a virtuous woman; for her price is far beyond rubies" Proverbs 31:10.”
Va’asiliifiti has also served as a Board Member for St Theresa's Primary School Parents Teachers Association; Logoipulotu College PTA; Rotary Club of Savaii; Samoa Law and Justice Sector; Samoa Returnees Trust; Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organizations; National University of Samoa; University of the South Pacific; National Environment Sector Committee; Disaster Advisory Committee; Water Sector and the Samoa Tourism Sector.
Speaking at the family service recently, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) General Secretary Reverend Vavatau Taufao, said he attended the bereavement to praise God for giving Moelagi.
"I did not come here to praise Moelagi, I came here to praise God for giving us Moelagi,” he said.
In her honour, her children have created a scholarship fund for children in Savai’i. Their final message for their mother is printed verbatim.
“Our faithful, eloquent, strong, beautiful and vivacious Mom, the environmentalist, human rights advocate, the humorous high chief, the orator, the dancer, the lady in the saree and lady in red and our beloved mother, grandmother and great grandmother bid farewell to us today.
And after saying goodbye to all of her children and grandchildren far and wide, she decided that today is a good day to say adieu!
There is no sadness here, but happiness at the privilege and sincere appreciation of being born and nurtured by greatness.
Hers is a journey and a legacy that will live forever, in us, in you and in every life, tree, coral and wisp of air she graced.”
Awards High Chief Va’asiliifiti has received include the Seacology International Conservation Award and Seacology Foundation, National Tourism Award from the Samoa Government, and the Pacific Partnership Recognition from the U.S. Government. She also received the Tusitala National Award from the Robert Louis Stevenson Foundation.
Married to the Late Edward Barry Jackson of the Isle of Wright in the United Kingdom, High Chief Va’asiliifiti is survived by seven children, 28 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.