Last week we received the very sad news of the death of Madame Marc Leon, one of the long-term staff of St Vincent’s School.
I first met Madame Marc in 2008 when I brought my first medical team to St Vincent’s in November. We stayed in rooms at the school then, this was before the earthquake completely destroyed those quarters in 2010. Madame Marc cooked for us, and we made friends with her and Marie Carmelle, Dixie, and Elvie. These ladies cooked 3 meals a day for us, including spaghetti for breakfast, wonderful griyo (fried pork) and rice, diri ak pwa (Haitian version of red beans and rice), picliz, and other delights. Fresh squeezed juice every morning. And that delicious Haitian coffee. I remember one of the first Kreyol words I learned was “supe” which means supper. Madame Marc would knock on the door to our guest quarters in the evening, after we had finished clinic, and smile and say “supe”.
Each time we stayed at St Vincent’s, I got to know Madame Marc a little better. She did not speak any English and my Kreyol was in its infancy, so our communication was with smiles and nods, and big hugs as we said goodbye. Soon it became big hugs when we said hello, as we learned to trust each other and appreciate the good work we were both trying to do.
I saw her in medical clinic as well, and learned she had diabetes. I remember taking glucometers down to Haiti, in part because I wanted to teach Madame Marc how to use one. I have a vivid memory of Dr Bheki Khumalo teaching Madame Marc how to stick her finger. She was NOT HAPPY about that and made a big fuss, with Marie Carmelle and her friends laughing at her.
Soon it became routine for me to sit and visit with Madame Marc and Marie Carmelle soon after arrival at St Vincent’s. As my Kreyol got better, I could converse a little bit and “check in” with her and Marie Carmelle about the children, how were they doing, who was sick, who was the new kid and what was his name, and so on. I learned that she was Pere Sadoni’s mother, who was at that time the priest in charge at St Vincent’s. I was not surprised to learn that Pere Sadoni had grown up around St Vincent’s, with his mom being the cook there for so many years. It explained why he felt so comfortable and did such a fine job taking care of the many children with disabilities. He became a strong advocate for them, as his mother had taught him.
New visitors to St Vincent’s would often be “afraid” of Madame Marc. She was stern and often raised her voice to correct the children’s behavior. She was not one to put herself forward with the visiting Americans, to ask for favors or try to become friends. She was a dignified woman who did the hard work of caring for the children day in and day out, for decades.
After the earthquake, when the children were moved to Montrouis (up the coast from Port au Prince), during our visit Madame Marc was there of course, looking after the children and helping them adjust to their new environment. She was with them when they moved back to St Vincent’s and worked there up until she became too ill this last year and had to retire.
The last two visits to Haiti we did not see Madame Marc, which saddened me greatly. Her daughter works at the school, so we asked her if she would invite her mother to come see us. Great smiles and hugs from John Mutin and myself when she came to see us in March.
When JoJo died at the end of May, I thought that the children of St Vincent’s had lost their father. Now they have lost their mother.
Farewell to you, Madame Marc Leon. Thank you for caring for the children for so many years. Thank you for putting up with my inexperience and my good intentions, and for accepting me as one of your friends. I will treasure our moments together always.