Probably the toughest gig a journalist gets is covering the death of someone who was not only an historical figure, but who was known to us.
The nation spent the morning with the Kalpokas family yesterday and shared their grief over the passing of one of the key figures in Vanuatu’s struggle for independence.
The heartfelt outpouring of grief was terribly difficult for them. To be confronted with the deep loss that everyone feels with the passing of their patriarch had to be tough—it tore open their own deep wound again and again.
But it also gives us the chance to share. Not just our pain and sorrow and loss. But our appreciation of the importance and impact that this man had on the entire country. The fact that Vanuatu exists at all is in no small part because of him.
But it wasn’t just his actions that we remember. He was that rarest of men—someone whom everyone remembers fondly and with admiration. It was tough to watch those who have been at the core of the republic since it was nothing more than a dream, to see them standing there in dignity and pain, to see the anguish they shared with Donald Kalpokas’ wife, children and grandchildren.
It was toughest because of something we all know, but sometimes fear to say: People like Donald Kalpokas are few and far between. When we lose one of them, we lose a bit of ourselves.
Our country—the country he helped to create—is diminished with his passing.
In some ways, Donald Kalpokas was more than we deserved. He was the first Prime Minister to face a no confidence motion—something that became a depressingly common feature in the years since then. And he was the only Prime Minister who preferred to resign rather than throw Parliament into turmoil.
Now that the cut and thrust of partisan politics has infected every aspect of government, it’s easy to forget that leaders weren’t always defined by the power they exercised, but by the principles they upheld.
His exemplary approach to the exercise of power is an example for future leaders. His passing should remind us that nations are made of people, not territory or the things within. Vanuatu became a reality thanks to the sacrifice and selfless actions of Mr Kalpokas and dozens of others whose hearts burned for freedom.
Without that fire, that sense of service and duty to all, the republic cannot survive.
Donald Kalpokas will be sorely missed. We take comfort though, in the knowledge that his children have learned well from his example. They are working in service to their country still. We may yet find his legacy inside the Parliamentary chamber in the coming years.
All of us at Trading Post Limited extend our sincere condolences to the Kalpokas family in their time of sorrow.
The nation mourns with you.