“They are not dead who live in lives they leave behind: In those whom they have blessed they live a life again.”
– published in ‘My Day’ column, Eleanor Roosevelt, April 26, 1945
This scrap of verse, submitted by a reader, Mrs Eliza Keats Young, was shared in Eleanor Roosevelt’s syndicated newspaper column in the dying weeks of the Second World War in Europe. It was a time of great loss, as many Allied forces continued to lose soldiers, sailors and airmen – and homes continued to be emptied of husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, sweethearts and providers.
Mrs Roosevelt thought the verse would be a comfort to many a grieving mother – though doubtless, its contributor had intended it as a kind offering to the columnist herself, still mourning the death two weeks prior of her husband, the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR would not live to see the full fruits of his labour against the evil of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in a just cause of liberation from tyranny and mass murder.
We, too, are reminded of this verse at a time of loss in our own ranks of the media profession. In the last year alone, we have seen the passing of technical operator Trevor Hollingsworth, engineer Ralph Richards and journalist Bernard Babb.
To this passing parade, we have been forced with great sadness to add the name of Dr Veoma Alisha Ali.
It would be too easy to recount the incredible accomplishments of an over-achiever, the super-smart broadcaster with the law degree and then the doctorate. The advertising and marketing communications guru. The motivational writer and speaker. The inspirational columnist. The children’s author.
These would easily be listed at the very top of Veoma Ali’s impressive “resumé virtues”, as the New York Times columnist David Brooks describes them. These are the achievements and skills she brought to the workplace, the pinnacles of success for which we daily strive as working people.
As Brooks notes in his best-seller, The Road to Character, we spend so much of our lives striving to be good at our jobs, make the most of our office hours, and earn as much as we possibly can in our struggle to live the proverbial Good Life.
But he poses a far more vital question we repeat here today: what of our “eulogy virtues”?
He writes: “It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”
Today, Veoma Ali was memorialised as the little Trinidadian girl who made good as she made Barbados her home – a rare talent behind the microphone who was also fluent in French and Spanish, a gifted pianist and guitarist, known for her radio gifts of warm voice, gracious tone, intelligence and wit.
But what was exposed to the astonished delight of some and the knowing nods of many were Veoma’s irrepressible and irreplaceable gifts away from the microphone, her “eulogy virtues” – not what she did in her life but what she did with it, packing extraordinary acts of civic responsibility, great humour and pathos, and, dare we use a much-overworked word still vital to human progress, love.
What was not advertised on websites, in her columns for Barbados TODAY, or her broadcasting for radio networks, Starcom Network and Capital Media HD, was a nearly secret life of immense kindness, charity and generosity that many live for decades without achieving. And she was only 38 years old.
The hidden story is one of care for disadvantaged young people with free after-school lessons, care for homeless people with modest gifts of food quietly delivered, of care for animals of all sorts and stripes, of care for a sick, aging friend in hospital by daily visits, even to the point of impersonating a doctor just so she could spend after hours by his side – it was here that she able to tap into a rich of talent as a prankster.
In the hours and days of her passing, one or two minds, wrought in malevolence, have sought to sum up her life with a past story of personal turmoil in public view. It is the price of admission for a life in public view and in public service.
We would do well, at a time when so much life is being lost to acts of evil, to examine our own ledger of life, love and service. We may well find ourselves in deficit where today we bade farewell to one who gave the last full measure of devotion to people throughout her life. Such complexity may be difficult for some accustomed to the fast-food-speed judgements of the social media age. But big people know better.
The greater truth is that as with few of us in life, a singular moment was met and overcome to the certain satisfaction of all concerned, friends, colleagues, family and loved ones. It was overcome not merely by adding to a CV but by adding even more to the ledger of life, by doing good deeds in private, and by dwelling in a land of mercy, forgiveness and redemption.
What will commit the life of Veoma Ali to warm and long memory, though her life was short, was not so much what she did in this country in a remarkable media career but by how she made others feel.
Her devotion to kindness and service exemplifies and resonates the great and long life of a predecessor broadcaster, the late Dame Olga Lopes-Seale, another Caribbean woman who chose Barbados to be the land she loved, and for whom this nation is a little better and brighter for her sojourn upon it.
We hope that a suitable living memorial to Dr Ali’s life will follow to perpetuate the memory of one who was unforgettable, one who lives on in the lives she leaves behind: “In those whom they have blessed they live a life again.”
Those who knew and loved this remarkable woman may be inclined to feel that meaning and purpose have ceased in life now devoid of her physical presence.
But the verse we repeat here is a commission to us, to ensure these gifts of selflessness and love are not in vain.
David Brooks is achingly right: “Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”
We are satisfied, and gratefully so, that Veoma Alisha Ali, in just 38 years of life and a decade in this country, was so demonstrably clear on how to build inner character that we should heed the admonition her family issued today in the celebration of her life: to emulate her inspiring life of warmth, good humour, kindness, inspiration, deep love and service to humanity, animals and the thing in such short supply and yet needed in this land more than ever — the common good.
Requiescat in pace.
Donations of your time and financial support in Veoma Ali’s memory may be made to The Ark Animal Welfare Society, a registered charity dedicated to animal rights. It seeks volunteers and permanent space for a shelter to “continue helping those who cannot speak for themselves”.
More information is available at arkanimalwelfarebarbados.com or on the Ark’s Facebook page.