That was too soon a deadline, bosso

Dev Nadkarni

Exactly a decade ago to the day, on April 18, 2004, when I emailed my first ever Views from Auckland column to Laisa for the May 2005 issue of this magazine, little did I imagine that my tenth anniversary column would be her tribute. In fact, when I called from Auckland to wish her on her birthday on January 15 this year, she reminded me that 2014 was my column’s tenth year. Ever since, I’ve been wondering what the theme for my anniversary column for the May issue should be. Laisa, like many times before, gave me the idea – but in such a sad way, this once. And to think that Bosso won’t even be reading it…

Laisa’s trademark wink-and-smirk, known to so many of us, was her way of saying, “You’re on… just go ahead and do it!”
Laisa’s trademark wink-and-smirk, known to so many of us, was her way of saying, “You’re on… just go ahead and do it!”

Laisa’s professionalism and work ethic always held me in awe. In her final weeks, she wanted to work as long as she would be able to. When she was too frail to travel to work, she insisted that a small office be set up at her home. It was done but sadly, it did not work out well but Laisa did not give up. The last issue of this magazine left the presses on April 3. Her colleagues rushed with an advance copy to her home. Though she was too weak to meet with them, her son Aisake leafed through the copy for her that evening. He later said she smiled and then went to sleep. She passed away the next morning.

Her ability to plan ahead and work simultaneously on as many as six titles on an average workday was simply superhuman. Ever the meticulous planner, Laisa had the cover story for this magazine’s April issue written well in advance in March. In what can only be a strong premonition of the inevitable that April 4 was to bring, she not only held that cover story back but also had several extra stories prescheduled for April. “A major reason why the Islands Business team was able to come out early with the April edition is basically because of Laisa’s immaculate forward planning and impressive work ethic,” says Samisoni Pareti, who held the fort for Bosso.

Laisa was a tremendous leader. She led from the front but never making her presence felt. She never asserted authority but nobody ever forgot she was in charge. Her steely strength and firmness had a strong undercurrent of compassion. That compassion extended well beyond her colleagues, coworkers and circle of friends to the common folk of Fiji and the Pacific. It wasn’t hard to see that she had her ear on the ground for them and her heart beat for them. Like all true leaders she commanded respect – never demanded it.

With her sharp intellect she could analyse a situation threadbare to suggest a story angle or a stand for comment. A cool head on those strong shoulders, she was a great listener, too, never afraid of standing corrected if she had made an erroneous assumption. But whenever she disagreed, she never let it come in the way of her friendships. As mentor and senior colleague, Laisa had the capability to bring out the best in her team. She did it most unobtrusively but firmly and with a great conviction that sometimes surpassed a junior’s own confidence to carry out the task.

It was Laisa who persuaded me to take on assignments I never thought I would ever do because of what I saw as my lack of knowledge and experience about the region in my early days. She once phoned me out of the blue in Auckland and told me in no uncertain terms – in true bosso style – that she thought she believed I could take on writing this magazine’s leader columns. I would have never attempted to do that hadn’t she encouraged me.

Self-effacing and humble to a fault, Laisa never ever sought the limelight. Not many knew until they read her tributes that she was Fiji’s first ever woman newspaper editor. Nor did many know that she was an ace sprinter who represented her beloved country in the Commonwealth Games. She editorially helmed nearly a dozen magazines with varying frequencies concurrently for several years. I wondered how this one-woman powerhouse worked with so many deadlines, often simultaneously. When I once asked her, she made light of it. Small wonder that some of her emails were time stamped 0145 and 0215 hours.

She was so good at spotting trends and discussing current affairs issues that many times I felt she should have done more writing than she actually did. But editorial management and production editing (including rewriting contributors’ pieces) became such a big part of her long, long workday that it must have left little time for her to write anything more than her monthly, much looked forward to ‘Letter from Suva’.

Despite the workload, she was unflappable, composed and always had her wit, humour and smiles about her. Her trademark smirk-and-wink, which I was lucky to capture in this picture in 2005, was her way of saying ‘You’re on’. Her ability to mingle with everybody around her was worth emulating. I do not understand Fijian but her conversations with others that I overheard resulted in peals and guffaws of hearty laughter, a testimony to her earthy and highly infectious sense of humour. Her photos on Facebook tagged by others (Laisa couldn’t be bothered putting them up herself) show how much of a family and people’s person she was. Busy workweeks notwithstanding, she made time for her near and dear ones and for her friends.

Laisa was one of the first persons I got to know when I arrived in Fiji to teach journalism at the University of the South Pacific. In my very second week in the country, she invited me to lunch with her friend and then PINA manager Seini Lakai. I remember that lazy afternoon repast, where we got to know about each other better. She invited me to contribute to Islands Business straightaway and I did. She introduced me to her publisher and the doyen of journalism in the Pacific, the late Robert Keith-Reid and to Godfrey Scoullar. Those early, animated discussions with Laisa and Robert set me on the path of my continuing writing stint in the region.

Laisa undoubtedly had what they call a high emotional quotient. Most of my interaction with her after I left Suva to live in Auckland was by phone and email. During our conversations three or four times a month to discuss editorial content, she would make it a point to enquire after my family, particularly my 92-year-old father. She once told me she had great respect for him because he was an author and journalist from a previous era, though she had never met him.

I will miss speaking with Bosso every month as will I miss her emails suggesting ideas, angles and editorial stands and her reminders asking me to send copy by deadline, always with the subject line “Desperately waiting for your copy”.

It is only because I have tried my best to emulate her sense of commitment and work ethic and to live up to her expectations – and because of her compassion, understanding and her faith in me and in my work, that I have never ever let her down.

RIP, Bosso.

This column first appeared in Islands Business Magazine, May 2014