John LilipalyImage Marcelle Davidse

    John Lilipaly would have preferred to become a footballer. As a boy he was the star of VC Vlissingen, and when he was elected to the amateur national team, paid clubs came up with offers. John was open to it, but his father was not. “You go and learn a decent trade,” he ordered. ‘And so it became the training college,’ says his wife Ada. Neither he nor his father could have imagined that he would be remembered not as a football player, but as the first Dutch member of parliament of Moluccan descent.

    John was born in 1943 in Ihamahu, a village on the Moluccan island of Saparua. His father was a sergeant major in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL). After the independence of Indonesia, The Hague brought the Moluccan KNIL soldiers to the Netherlands. John was 6 years old. After many wanderings he ended up in a camp in West Souburg near Vlissingen. “There was solidarity in the camp, but life was also hard,” he later told the Provincial Zeeland Courant. “I learned to fight there.”

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    He went to secondary school in Middelburg. Ada was a classmate. She came from Walcheren. They were each other’s first love, but it wasn’t until the teacher training college that they started dating. ‘Someone with a different color, that was special. My grandmother still wore regional costume and she really liked it. And don’t forget, John was a good football player, that counted,’ says Ada.

    ‘Making people of color resilient’

    They both became teachers. John in Souburg, then headmaster in Middelburg, teacher at the training college and then inspector of primary education. In 1986 he was elected to the House of Representatives for the PvdA. Education, minorities and Zeeland, those were his subjects. ‘Making people of color resilient is only possible by educating them,’ he said at the time.

    He knew what racism was. As a football player, he had come to know it. In an interview in de Volkskrant in 1995: ‘The public is a wall. I can still understand a single swear word in the fire of the game, but if they started on the field with: ‘Dirty cancer Moluccan, I’ll kick you back to your country’, and they kept saying it, it didn’t leave me unmoved .’

    Later, when he was traveling up and down between Middelburg and The Hague after the train hijackings in 1977, a traveler snapped at him: ‘You are definitely going to hijack a train.’ In his own circle he was under fire because he refused to stand up for the Moluccan republic in the Netherlands. He was accused of ‘letting his people suffocate’. Somewhat bitterly, he later said: ‘I devoted myself to Moluccan young people, to the renovation of the Moluccan residential area in Vught, to the Moluccan Historical Museum, the Support Center for Moluccan Education, but apparently none of that applies.’

    Huge role model

    Yet he was ‘a huge role model, without being aware of it or letting it lean’, says former PvdA director Wim Meijer. ‘He always stood up for the Moluccans. He was a staunch social democrat, extremely amiable, a hard worker and a sweet man who attached great importance to education. A beautiful man.’

    And above all modest, says everyone who knew him. When the PvdA lost a vote on the route of the A73 due to his absence, he called it ‘a nightmare’. He was abroad with his son, who had just returned from the hell of Srebrenica. The A73 is therefore not to the west, but to the east of the Maas.

    In 1998 he exchanged the Chamber for Zeeland affairs in a regional and international context and became chairman of the Oosterschelde National Park. ‘He really felt like a Zeeuw’, says Ada, with whom he had three children. A few years ago he contracted Alzheimer’s disease and very slowly his health deteriorated. John Lilipaly was 79 when he passed away on October 22.