Eulogy at Riebeek’s Memorial Service

BY Mrs M Woods

It has been a harrowing 48 hours and Jayde’s short life and the manner of her death has touched so many, not only in South Africa, but all over the world, that I feel totally inadequate to do justice to the overwhelming response we have had during this sad time. In my years as a teacher at Riebeek College I cannot recall such a momentous reaction to a loss such as this.


My sincere thanks to everyone, who has offered their condolences, their services and their love. During all this sadness for Jayde’s families and her Riebeek family, love has permeated throughout the school and the Uitenhage community. I believe that it is this love that has sustained us and helped us to cope in the best manner possible. 


I’m a proud principal as the manner in which the staff and girls have dealt with this traumatic loss has been a shining example of courage, respect and register. There has been an atmosphere of calm and serene sadness in the school during which we have continued to function to the best of our ability out of respect to Mrs Panayiotou’s special memory. I believe that Mrs Panayiotou is proud of all of you young ladies as she watches over us this morning. We are going to celebrate her life and thank God for the privilege of having had her as a much loved, exemplary teacher at our school. 


The days, weeks, months and years ahead of us, are going to help us work through our personal grief, pain and anger. It will happen to each one of us at different stages, but I believe in the end we shall all receive hope and peace. I once read that the love we give and receive is all that matters and all that is remembered. Suffering disappears;  love remains.   


I have very vivid memories of  Jayde as a student at Riebeek from Grade 4 to 12.  She was such a cute, neat, petite little girl, who always had the most gorgeous and generous smile. This never changed. As a highly respected, capable, compassionate young teacher, much loved by staff and girls alike, Mrs Panayiotou was a valued member of the Riebeek staff and the Riebeek community.


The response and support on social media from all over the world, has been absolutely overwhelming and tells the story of a life well lived. People have felt the loss of a beautiful, special teacher, person and friend. I think that this untimely, tragic loss of such a young teacher whose life held so much promise, resonated with everyone’s emotions, knowing that a class full of young, vulnerable children, has been robbed of someone they loved and respected dearly.


I often passed Jayde in the passages and I would smile at her and jokingly say with great fondness, “Jaydee!” Without fail, her face always lit up with her unique smile that seemed to radiate warmth. I clearly remember that that was the last thing I actually said to her on Monday, when passing her on my way back to the office.


Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” and I believe these words testify to the way Jayde lived her life. She had the capacity to make everyone with whom she came in contact, feel good about themselves. This is a rare gift. I don’t think that she ever realized this special gift that she so willingly, abundantly and quite unobtrusively lavished on those around her.


As a Riebeek staff member, Jayde was so professional, with a work ethic that was unsurpassed. She never moaned about having to do extra work, she was the first to offer to help anyone. She did not suffer lazy people readily. She didn’t know how to be lazy. Her work was meticulous, well planned and executed, innovative and exciting. More impressive than all these wonderful skills and talents that came so naturally to Jayde, was her positive and encouraging attitude. Jayde understood the concept of never giving up and I am sure she would have approved of the way you all kept the faith over these past days. We had faith right up until we knew that all was lost. We never gave up on you Jayde. When the news finally came, only then did we allow ourselves to grieve and mourn for our loss and for the unimaginable suffering of her beloved family. 


I have over the past few days received and read an immeasurable number of tributes, condolences and poignant messages. However, I have been humbled by the realization that it would be an impossible task to convey to you in one speech, the sheer enormity of the love that has come our way.  Jaydee, I have honestly felt your gentle presence while reading the outpouring of sincere emotions in all the words of so many children, adults both friend and stranger: while listening to the endless heartfelt messages, while watching the messaged balloons rise up to you

while feeling the emptiness of your chair in the staffroom while observing the immense effect your death has had on thousands and thousands of people worldwide.  I have felt your gentle precence...while just loving and missing you.

The words from the song,  “See you again” goes as follows: “It’s been a long day without you, my friend.  And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again. We’ve come a long way from where we began.   Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.   When I see you again.”


Jayde, once a Riebeek angel…always a Riebeek angel.





 June 09, 2015
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