Auckland, January 28, 2024
In the first days of January, Fiji was met with profound loss as it bid farewell to two titans whose imprints indelibly shaped the country’s tourism and business realms.
On January 4, Yanktesh Permal Reddy, affectionately known as YP Reddy, the esteemed chairman of the Reddy Group of Companies, passed away in Auckland.
On January 5, 2024, Vinod Patel, aged 84, the revered Founder and Chairman of the Vinod Patel Group of Companies, breathed his last at Lautoka Hospital.
Both hailed from Western Fiji and shared a remarkable narrative of ascending from humble beginnings to establish business empires that will stand as enduring legacies.
Vinod Patel, a dear friend of mine, has left an indelible void with his sudden departure.
My last encounter with him in September remains etched in my memory—his once robust spirit now subdued by frailty and challenges. Despite his unwavering resolve, his body bore the weight of his ailments.
Little did I realise that it would mark our final meeting with a person whose humility defined his very essence. Vinod was not solely a visionary entrepreneur; he embodied oceanic compassion, touching countless lives through his generosity and steadfast dedication to uplifting others.
At the familial level, Vinod was intimately aware of the struggles of a large family and the hardships endured by his parents to sustain their household. To alleviate his father’s financial burdens, he commenced his journey in the workforce at a tender age, toiling as a labourer at Bombay Trading Company, a hardware shop in Ba. His responsibilities encompassed loading and unloading goods, arranging shelves, and tidying the shop after the day’s end. Despite the toil, the earnings made only a marginal difference to the family’s fortune. It was within this toil that a dream was conceived—a dream that seeded his entrepreneurial odyssey.
Endowed with an inherent understanding of the hardware trade and bolstered by supportive family friends, Vinod inaugurated his foundational venture, Vinod Patel and Company in the 1960s. Unbeknownst to him, this humble outset burgeoned into an empire spanning nations, renowned for its integrity and excellence in the construction and hardware industry.
The Ba Town Connection
He served Ba Town as its Mayor and also as a councillor for several years when I held the position of Town Clerk at Ba. During his term, Ba was considered the hotbed bed of national politics, which contributed to robust and often fiery debates in the Council Chambers. Amidst the hubbub, Vinod’s presence had a calming and stabilizing influence, which ensured a collective and cooperative approach to addressing issues of importance to Ba. It was through such an approach that the landmark construction of Ba’s Govind Park Stadium, which sadly lies in ruins today, was accomplished in 1976.
Despite his vast business triumphs, Vinod retained his connection to his roots and the people of Ba. His heart resonated with the plight of the poor, propelling him to be a beacon of hope for those in need. Beyond merely establishing a business, he forged a legacy steeped in compassion and modesty.
Vinod’s dedication to uplifting others transcended the confines of his company. He personally engaged with rural communities, extending support, employment, and a sympathetic ear. Weekends found him amidst those he served, sharing in their joys and sorrows—an embodiment of his genuine concern for humanity.
The rapid expansion and diversification of Vinod Patel and Co Ltd culminated in the amalgamation of the sister companies under the Vinod Patel Group of Companies. As its Chairman, Vinod epitomised its values: honesty, integrity, and humility—a culture that reverberated throughout the organisation that he founded.
Fostering the family spirit
His ethos of treating employees as family members fostered an environment, that nurturing enduring loyalty and dedication. During the Covid catastrophe, when other employers initiated massive layoffs, none of the employees of Vinod Patel Group of Companies suffered such a fate.
Vinod’s involvement in numerous social, cultural, and religious organisations underscored his commitment to community service. His fervour for soccer, particularly his dedication to the Ba Soccer Association, mirrored his affection for his hometown. His contributions transformed the team, setting a precedent of excellence that endures.
Ba was not merely his birthplace; it served as the canvas upon which he painted his legacy. The memories, landscapes, and people of Ba held a special place in Vinod’s heart. It is fitting that Ba is where he found his eternal repose, leaving an indelible mark on its soul. The sendoff he received was deserving and not likely to be matched.
The name Vinod Patel shall forever reverberate as a symbol of honour, reverence, and gratitude in the hearts and minds of not just the people of Ba but the entire Fijian populace. His legacy will serve as an eternal wellspring of inspiration, reminding generations of the potency of compassion, love, diligence, and selflessness.
Farewell, great soul!
Rajendra Prasad is a former Town Clerk of Ba and author of the books, Tears in Paradise -Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004 (2004) and Enslaved in Paradise – A History of Mammoth Betrayals of Fijians by the British, Chiefs and Leaders of Fiji 1876-2006 (2018). He lives in Auckland. The above article was sent by him to Indian Newslink.