Remembering ambassador Giovinella Gonthier (January 11, 1949 - May 21, 2012)


Ambassador Gonthier with former Minister Jacques Hodoul representing Seychelles at the United Nations General Assembly during the 1980's

Giovinella Gonthier, teacher, concierge, diplomat, author, consultant, passed away on May 21 after a prolonged illness.

Ambassador Gonthier was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (today Tanzania), the eldest daughter of Wilbur and Germaine Gonthier, who themselves were born in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. She grew up in Tanganyika with a younger sister and three younger brothers, learning to speak Swahili, English, French and Creole (her parents' native language).

Her family made many trips to the Seychelles to visit relatives when her father received leave from his job with the British colonial government or, later, with the government of the independent state of Tanzania.

She graduated from Arusha Secondary School in 1968, the first school in Tanzania to be headed by a Tanzanian woman educated in the United States.

Largely due to her school's headmistress's influence and that of various Peace Corps volunteers living in the Arusha area, she applied to various colleges in the United States, and was accepted on a full scholarship by Wheaton College, a women's college  (one of seven women's colleges in the northeast United States then called the "Seven Sisters") in Norton, Massachusetts. 

After compiling an impressive academic record as a history major, she graduated in 1972 and was accepted into the Master's Programme in Education at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While studying at Harvard, she met her future husband, Roger Wilson of Chicago, who was a Harvard law student at the time.

Notwithstanding her birth in Tanzania, Ambassador Gonthier thought of herself as a "Seychelloise" (a citizen of the Seychelles islands) because her parents were born there, so many of her relatives resided there, and she had spent so many happy days there as a child while her father was on leave.

She was always very proud of her Seychelloise origins. Accordingly, after receiving her Master's Degree in Teaching from Harvard in 1973, she returned to the Seychelles Islands, then a British colony, to teach at the Seychelles College and to help her country in its struggle for independence from Great Britain.

At that time the Seychelles Islands were a group of approximately 115 islands, inhabited by 65,000 people, spread across the center of the Indian Ocean.

While teaching in her country, she came to know many of the Seychellois who were later to lead the country after its independence from Great Britain (she also taught many students who are leaders of the country today).

In 1975 she resigned from her position at the College and returned to the United States to marry Roger Wilson, then a third-year law student. They were married on March 7, 1975 in the Cambridge, Massachusetts City Hall by a female justice of the peace.

After Mr. Wilson received his law degree, the newlyweds moved to Chicago to start their lives together.

During her first few years in Chicago, Ambassador Gonthier held a variety of positions. She taught at the University of Chicago Lab School; she was hired as the concierge of the Ambassador East Hotel and, later, the Marriott Hotel on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

But after the Seychelles became independent from Great Britain in 1976, she anticipated a call from a representative of the new Republic of the Seychelles. Eventually that call came in 1979.

She was asked to go to New York City, establish the office of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Seychelles to the United Nations, and become the Seychelles' Representative to the United Nations. She served in that capacity from 1979 to 1987 when she resigned her position.
She was also appointed Ambassador of the Republic of Seychelles to the United States, presenting her credentials to President Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1983, and serving in that capacity until 1987.

Her accomplishments on behalf of the Seychelles as a diplomat were featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker magazine, the New York Times, the Boston Globe and in many newspapers abroad. Perhaps her proudest accomplishment for her country was the unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the unsuccessful invasion of Seychelles in 1982 by a group of South African mercenaries.

While serving her country, Wheaton College, her alma mater, awarded her an honorary doctorate (LLD) in May 1985 for her record in public life.

After completing her service for the Republic of Seychelles, Ambassador Gonthier returned to Chicago to live with her husband, to become a US citizen, and to start her own successful consulting business assisting companies with their international relations and advising companies on how to improve productivity through the promotion of better relations among employees in the workplace.

In 2000 she was approached by a publisher who had heard her speak and was asked to write a book on the latter topic. In 2002 her book was published under the title "Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace." The book was released to rave reviews in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, Fox TV, the Financial Times of London and many other newspapers and legal journals. Along with President Carter and General Colin Powell, she received a "Civvies Award" from Americans for More Civility in 2003.

Ambassador Gonthier never lost her love of life and learning. During the 1990's she made a point of learning Spanish and for a short time dabbled in radio with a talk show that she hosted on a radio station outside of Chicago. She collected African art.  She learned to tango.  She and her husband also loved to travel outside the United States, where she insisted upon meeting with and understanding the needs and desires of the people of each country that she visited instead of taking pictures of the usual popular tourist attractions. Her travels included, among other locations, Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Tanzania, Brazil, Tahiti, Haiti, Jamaica, India, Soviet Union, China, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and many other exotic places.

Ambassador Gonthier is survived by her husband of 37 years, Roger Wilson, her mother, who lives in the Seychelles (Beau Vallon), her sister (Gillian), her three brothers (George, Godfrey and Gilbert), who live in Australia or New Zealand, and many nieces and nephews.
A party celebrating her life is planned during the summer of 2012 in Chicago.