This is our tribute to the late Robert Geoffrey Marfleet, the man who made it possible for the Samoa Observer to be born as a newspaper, and in doing so become the entity that it is today.
On 16 February 2018, Mr. Marfleet passed away.
He was 84.
Still, as the Englishman who played the vital role in the early life of the Samoa Observer, he will always be fondly remembered by those of us who were touched by his friendship, his dashing smile, and above all by his willingness to help.
At the time, Mr. Marfleet and his family, had just arrived in Samoa.
A printer by trade, he was brought over by the businessman, Dick Meredith, to help revive his ailing company, Commercial Printing.
They were staying in a home owned by Mr. Meredith at Levili, near Apia.
Our friendship with Mr. Marfleet started somewhere in early August 1978.
It all started one afternoon when my friend Ieti Lima and I sat down and we started talking about all sorts of things that people our age were talking about in those days.
During the course of our conversation, I casually remarked about how boring my life would be without my poetry and now that we have stopped fishing, I really needed a job.
“What do you want to do?” Ieti asked.
At the time I’ve been thinking of only one thing so I told him: “How about starting a newspaper?”
And surprisingly enough, without giving the matter any thought at all, especially on the question of how much it would cost to make such a proposition become a reality, that was precisely what we did.
We went to Mr. Marfleet to seek his advice.
That morning, he was sitting in his office, when we arrived. We sat down around the table, Ieti and I looked at each other, and it was me who broke the silence.
“Thank you for making the time to meet with us Mr. Marfleet,” I said. “We’ve got a proposition to make.”
“Alright,” he said. “What is it?”
“We see that you’ve got printing machines sitting around doing nothing, and we believe we can give you some business.”
Although Mr. Marfleet said nothing it was obvious he was interested.
“We are starting a newspaper which we want printed,” I continued. “And we thought we could help each other. You need our business and we need your service.’
“Go on,” Mr. Marfleet urged.
“So here’s our proposal. You print our paper every Thursday for distribution on Friday for the first month on credit.
“After which, we start paying what we owe you plus your prices on subsequent and future editions.”
I also told him: “You are new in Apia and naturally you would want to make an impact on the local business community. We are also a new business needing your help.
“We believe your printing our newspaper will help promote your business.”
Mr. Marfleet looked at me and then at Ieti and in a little while a big smile flashed across his face.
“Done!” he said. “You’ve got a deal. We’re in business.”
And that was how the Observer was born. It was born in the cookhouse of Ieti Lima’s home at Vaimoso, a village near Apia.
On the morning of 28 August 1978, a Friday, the first edition of the weekly Observer started selling under the balcony of the Central Post Office, on Beach Road in Apia.
As it turned out, the first edition of 5,000 copies at 50 sene a copy, was gone before noon.
The lead story on the front page of the first edition was about the government’s tar-making plant located near the road at Fagali’i, a village near Apia.
Made for roading works, the tar is burned at night in a big crater on the roadside. The photograph accompanying the story showed black smoke rising from the glow of the furnace, and as it was continuing to rise it was disappearing as it was blending with the darkness at night.
The matter was reported to the paper by the German businessman, Alfred Metzler, who owned Apia’s steel fabricating company, Samoa Iron and Steel.
He said the wind blew the black smoke inside people’s homes so that in the morning, thick, black soot was covering everything inside those homes.
Early one morning we visited some of the homes and confirmed what Mr. Metzler had reported.
Shortly after the story had appeared in the paper, the government shut down its tar-sealing operation, and this time it was relocated away from the road and from people’s homes.
Mr. Metzler came to the office and thanked us. And from then on his company became one of the paper’s major advertisers.
Other businesses also made their support similarly known, so that in a relatively short time, it looked as if the bold newspaper experiment that Mr. Marfleet had helped started, was actually working.
And that, over the years, was something that we just could not stop thinking about.
As for now, on behalf of Samoa Observer publisher, Muliaga Jean Malifa, its editor, Mata’afa Keni Lesa, and its staff, let me extend our condolences to Mrs. Marfleet and the members of her family, on their loss during this hour of sadness.
Now having said that, let’s pray for a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!