Our fathers were good friends – members of a burgeoning tight-knight Samoan community in Utah. Though our fathers were close, we were casual acquaintances in the early years. Our first conversations were struck up through our mutual love of rugby many years into adulthood. We played two seasons together on a men’s club and it was there that the initial foundations for our friendship were laid. In the last three years, our conversations evolved, still touching on our shared love of rugby, but more focused on the things that mattered most to us – family, career and faith.
I was not sure that I was going to write this because in truth, I’ve been trying to avoid being introspective about Lopati “Bott” Mulitalo. His death on Sunday was a shock to many in our community because even though there always seemed to be a leisurely pace about Bott, in reality he was always thinking of and doing a million and one things in rapid succession for his family. Thinking about him and the empty space he leaves in the hearts of his dear wife Lala and their children is really affecting me; perhaps because there seemed to be so much opportunity, potential and life left for Bott to live for and do. Losing someone is difficult. Losing young people in the prime of life is devastating.
There are some common themes when you are asked to describe Bott as a person. Family and friends universally agree that he was a kind, loving man. In our friendship I cannot recall a time in any of our conversations when Bott spoke an unkind word about anyone. Additionally, he was never judgmental when someone chose to criticize another person in his presence. He would politely smile and slowly remove himself from the conversation. And Bott loved conversation! He could talk for hours on end about things that he was passionate about and his words always looped back to his family. His family meant the world to him and that was evident in the way that he spoke of them.
It was one of Bott’s most admirable traits – he persistently praised, adored and showed unwavering support for his wife and children. The dude bragged about his kids all the time which demonstrated his fierce loyalty as a father. Dads are supposed to brag about their kids but with Bott I always got the sense that his pride for his children ran deeper and had a more significant meaning than a dad just praising his kids – it was more about cheering the little victories with them as a means to encourage and empower them every step of the way.
If laughter is the best medicine then Bott got an overdose of the stuff every minute of every day. Anyone who spent time with Bott knew that they were going to be laughing by the end of the conversation. He enjoyed banter and his laughter was compelling. When Bott laughed you couldn’t help but join him because he enjoyed hearing his peers laugh almost as much as he loved to laugh himself. It was a gift and a testament to his optimism and the will to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Bott didn’t just want to be happy, he was the poster-child for happiness and he always looked cool doing it.
More than all these things I think the characteristic that really stood out about Bott was that he was genuine. When Bott said that he treasured your friendship you knew immediately that he really meant those words. There was no gray-area or in-between zone with Bott, only a direct approach that told you exactly where he stood with things. He had the blessing of being candid no matter how controversial or hard the subject matter and I appreciated him for that.
I am sad for Lala and the kids but I have faith that they will persevere as they remember a memorable man whose presence was as large as his ego was small. We love you Bott, Lala and the Mulitalo children. Please stay strong, trust in your abilities to overcome all adversities and above all, love and hug each other more than you ever did before and you will always feel him near. Our prayers are with you; our hearts and hands are available to serve you.
Alofa tele mo le uso peleina o Lopati ma le aiga faavauvau – Ia tu Ieova ‘i lo tatou va!