Phiri - and his smile - leave a lasting impression
July 16, 2007
By Mary Alice Casey
More than anything, they will remember the irrepressible smile.
Friends, co-workers and family - including a brother speaking by satellite phone from Africa - gathered Friday afternoon to remember Likondwa "Liko" Phiri, an Ohio University undergraduate who died in a July 1 car accident while visiting his home country of Zambia in south central Africa. Phiri, who worked as a resident adviser for three years, was just a few quarters away from earning a bachelor's degree in computer science.
Phiri's cousin, Musonda Kapatamoyo, who completed his doctoral work in telecommunications here in June, led the memorial service in the Baker University Center Theatre. As some 60 attendees entered, a pair of friends offered each person a t-shirt bearing Phiri's image - and legendary smile.
Kautemba Phiri, by phone, thanked Phiri's friends for welcoming the youngest of his four siblings into the Ohio University family. "We were so grateful. He was in safe hands there," he said. "If you were a friend to Liko, you were a friend to the whole family."
Obviously, many considered Phiri their friend. One by one, they stepped to a microphone to share their memories as photos of Phiri appeared on the theater's screen.
"My heart is so full thinking of him," said Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Judy Piercy, who got to know Phiri in his role as an RA. She and Mike Hess, assistant director for residential education, said the Residence Life staff has decided to create the Liko Award, to be given annually to an RA who shares Phiri's happy, respectful, thoughtful and helpful approach to life.
"We will definitely miss this brother," said a representative of the African Student Union. "We'll miss his smile. We'll miss his laugh. We'll miss everything about him."
Another friend brought up Phiri's fondness for Facebook, where Phiri posted this message to friends on April 10, his 25th birthday: "You have affected me and made me a better man."
Staff members in Environmental Health and Safety, where Phiri worked as a Web designer, won't forget his demeanor and work ethic. "His smile would light up our office. ... He took such pride in his work," Julie Wilson said.
A former resident of Phiri's Brown Hall floor section of first-year male students, apparently notorious for their antics, said, "My freshman year wouldn't have been the same without Liko."
Another student, who lived in Phiri's floor section in Wray House last year, said he helped her through a challenging freshman year. "He was my friend when I needed a good friend in my life."
Kapatamoyo plans to send to family members a DVD of the service, an Ohio University flag flown last week in front of Cutler Hall, and the many messages and photos friends shared after learning of Phiri's death.
Kevin Price of WOUB's Center for Public Media arranged for the service to be streamed live on the Web, allowing friends and family in Zambia, Zimbabwe (where Phiri attended high school), Australia (where he started his undergraduate studies) and elsewhere to listen in. Kapatamoyo also thanked Krista McCallum Beatty, interim director of International Student and Faculty Services, for suggesting the memorial service, and the Dean of Student's Office, for providing food for a reception that followed it.
"One thing is clear," Kapatamoyo said of his cousin, "this boy was just awesome."