I only met Sir Ebia Olewale once. I was with my colleague Mohan when he caught up briefly with him before Christmas. But half an hour with Sir Ebia left me with a lasting impression.
Seldom have I interacted with someone who was so focussed on ‘the other’. It is challenging to quantify what demonstrated this; to say that he asked questions, kept constant eye contact and that he was totally relaxed with himself, do not do the encounter justice. I believe it had been more than a year since Mohan had seen him, yet he asked intelligent questions about Mohan’s world as if it had been yesterday.
Alongside Ross Garnaut in their shared role as Directors of The PNG Sustainable Development Program.
If this is rare in a human being, it is doubly so in a leader of Sir Ebia’s standing. As minister for Justice in 1975 he served on a special select committee and played a major role in preparing PNG for independence. I have heard him referred to as one of the founding fathers of the nation. He held various senior offices including deputy Prime Minister, played an important role in developing tertiary education in PNG as Chancellor of the University of Goroka and witness the first multi-racial election in post-apartheid South Africa as a member of the Commonwealth Observer Mission.
Those who knew him had their worlds rocked yesterday when he passed away unexpectedly. If a person can leave a lasting impression after such a brief encounter, I can only imagine the loss to those with whom Sir Ebia had substantial relationships.
People like Sir Ebia call us to live beyond mediocrity. They remind us that greatness is not about self importance and public image. Greatness is about character – humility and grace. I am grateful for my chance meeting with this unassuming man that influenced a nation.
(some details of Sir Ebia’s roles were taken from an article in The National newspaper, page 3 on 14/01/09.)