8 December 2003


NEW YORK, 5 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the Secretary-General’s remarks at today’s memorial ceremony for Sharon Capeling-Alakija:

I am moved to be with you all today to pay tribute to a beloved member of the United Nations family.  I am also pleased that her son Gavin, his wife Izumi and her grandson, Shola, are with us this morning.

Sharon Capeling-Alakija’s entire life was driven by a sense of solidarity and social justice.  From her upbringing in a landlocked and windy Saskatchewan, through her service in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, to her pioneering work as a senior official of the United Nations, Sharon was a natural citizen of the world inspired by a profound desire to help build better lives for others.

The ideals and principles of the United Nations were second nature to Sharon.  At the same time, she always found creative ways of combining that commitment with a practical ability to get things done.  As inspiring as she was inspired, she possessed a rare ability to motivate those around her, whatever their background, culture, or position.

At a time of unprecedented change in the world and in the role of the United Nations, Sharon had an instinctive grasp of the need for the Organization to reach out as widely as possible and engage people from all walks of life to join in our mission.  She brought that understanding to bear on all her work with us -- whether as Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers programme, Director of Evaluation and Strategic Planning at UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], or Director of the UN Development Fund for Women. The highly successful International Year of Volunteers she led in 2001 provided vivid testimony of the energy and enthusiasm she brought to that approach.

I think it helps us understand Sharon if we look at how she described the work for development.  She spoke of “the need for the countries of the North and the South to work together and support each other -- very much like neighbours do”.  She said that to her, “development cooperation is like a global quilting bee for the benefit of all in one world”.

From the day Sharon set out into the world as a young volunteer, to her final contribution as head of UNV [the UN Volunteers programme], this courageous woman never stopped quilting in the name of solidarity, for the benefit of all in one world.

Today, my thoughts and prayers go to Sharon’s family and loved ones, especially her sons Gavin, Matthew and Sean.  And Gavin, we are pleased you are with us today.  Sharon will be sorely missed, but she leaves a legacy of warmth.  It is a legacy that will continue to inspire her many friends in the United Nations family, as well as many thousands of UN Volunteers, past and present, around the world.

And I personally, shall miss hearing her call out “Uncle Kofi”.  Now that she is gone, which other white-haired woman is going to call me Uncle Kofi?

* *** *