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Friday, May 27, 2022

Can’t cage her: tribute to the late Dr Ralphina Phillott-Almeida

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My dear Dr Ralphina,
I salute you with utmost respect,

It is with a heavy heart that I write you this memo; hoping that beyond the material cage that this earthly life encases our spirit, this message reaches you in the rarefied realm you have risen to.
I learned of you demise yesterday [July 4th] morning. It was a Facebook post by one of your grateful students. I was at the beach writing and when I glanced at the newsfeed and saw the post, I could not believe it; I first ignored, then questioned the post with a comment asking “what?” I proceeded with my writing, wishing deep down in my heart that the lady who made the post erred in some way and would come back to rectify her error. There was to be none till late afternoon. But I was just in denial; and like my late mother would tell me in lucid Mandinka proverb “nyoe nay nay sanga dentewo, woyi mbaa waaliyo leh ka labang jay” (being furtive about announcing a death would do nothing to the reality; but the end shall always be “woe unto me!”
I make reference to this Mandinka proverb because I know how much you love Mandinka culture with your repeated appreciation of your ‘kabasilote’ dress and the head tie that you would never forget to don in tandem with the ‘kaba’.


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So I was to truly confirm the reality I was trying to deny by wishful thinking when your good friend, GRTS’s Fatou Janneh M’bai tagged me to a post lamenting your demise. Oh, how she loves and honours you Dr. Ralphina! That statement brought me to tears, knowing the very special relationship you and Fatou had. I will share her remarks here with you, hoping she would not mind me doing that:


Just learned of the demise of Ralphina Phillott-Almeida (Mrs. Almeida) on the Standard Newspaper. It’s a sad day for me knowing that I’ll never set my eyes on you. Knowing that I’ll miss to hear your sweet toned voice immediately I finish presenting the 8pm news. I’ll miss to hear you call my name like you used to. You have always been there for me, encouraging and above all made me believe that I can do it as a young woman. You have undoubtedly been a woman of substance and of excellent character. I can still remember our last conversation we had after Assignment shortly before Ramadan. Mrs. Almeida was the Mother I never had. Rest in peace and may your gentle soul rest in peace

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Oh Dr. Ralphina, tears are rolling down my cheeks as I pen these lines. You were a paragon of truth, honesty and sincerity. I have never had anyone be so forthright with me in terms of critique and advice; you spoke your mind without fear or hesitation whenever you deemed it fit. But even when your criticism became bitter and unpalatable, I still accepted it in good faith because I knew it came from a golden spot in your good, caring, and loving heart. My former office, GRTS, never had a more determined critic than you but we all understood and accepted that what you said to us was not borne of malice or spite, you were doingYou, being You, without fear, because no one could cage you! Yours is a liberated soul even while you sojourned on this earth!


Dr, all these days your brilliant students from the University of The Gambia and other institutions are praising and thanking you for having touched their lives and inspired their souls. May God reward you with His Amazing Grace for the good things you taught, spoke and executed during your time in this our temporary abode.
What really makes me sad about your passing, my good old wise friend, is that when last we spoke (and met) you were still full of life, you still exuded than strength of character and spirit, you were not one of those who give up on life even before the angel of death visits them. You were always present.


Two days before I heard of your passing I was in an academic conversation with Dr. Momodou Sallah, and Hassoum Ceesay at Sallah’s Munduar Library and then I mentioned your name – what better place to make mention of you Dr. than at a library? – I suggested that in our bid to ameliorate the challenges of use of the English language for our up and coming writers, we needed to consult you for advice and instruction during the proposed camp we intend to set up.


And all of a sudden you were gone to the next world my good old Dr. Ralphina. I am sad, I am dejected; I still want to hear your voice; I still crave your love and support and prayer. Yes you criticized me whenever you saw it fit; and you did that with great intensity of voice and spirit. But then you also prayed for me and blessed me with your good blessed palm on my head. You did all of this with love and you also gave me warnings and advice because you understood me more than any Gambian apart from my wife whom you equally adored, taking a liking to the fact that I call her “my better brain”.


Dr, I don’t know how to end this short epistle, for indeed I am overwhelmed with emotion. I will continue to pray for you, to honour you and to celebrate your blessed memory. Truly you served your country and your God. I remember one fine Sunday when you found out that GRTS TV was playing something different from the Christian Religious programme normally run at that time slot, you called me as then Director General, and you advised me strongly that inasmuch as we were doing a good job trying to bring in interesting and entertaining programmes, we must protect all the time slots designated for sacred programmes be it Muslim or Christian. I was to find out upon enquiry that the fault did not emanate from GRTS staff. Yet the lesson stayed with me. It made me to be more particular about sacred programmes. For this and the many other calls you made to promote the good and sacred things, may God Reward you abundantly.


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