|Eulogy for Dominique Morin ‘Momo’|
We are here to remember the life of Dominique Morin “Momo” our friend and comrade who died tragically on Monday of this week. Tonight his body will fly home to France where he will be laid to rest over the weekend by his family and friends. Momo died earlier this week doing the job that he loved to do and working with people who will remember him long after this day is done.
Your excellencies, ministers, friends and colleagues. Welcome. Thank you on behalf of Momo’s family, the FSD family and the global mine action community, many of whom are represented here, for coming to this important ceremony today. Every day people like Momo dedicate their lives and their extraordinary skill set towards helping people who cannot help themselves – the world’s poor and disenfranchised who by lack of choice are forced to live their lives surrounded by hidden killers (landmines) in villages and communities all around the world. It is the work of people like Momo that transforms these peoples’ lives, never seeking recognition or reward but always striving to achieve extraordinary things in the most difficult of circumstances.
So we are here today to remember Momo and for those who did not get the privilege to know him, perhaps to learn a bit about this extraordinary man who had a rich life, one of adventure and dedication of service both during a career in the French special forces and subsequently in the world of humanitarian demining. Some of his long-time friends are here with us today – Jean Claude (J-C) who also works for FSD in Sri Lanka has known Momo since 1972 when they both joined the French Navy, setting out together on life’s adventure.
Momo’s military career lasted for 28 years and as a Navy Seal he specialised in the underwater clearance of mines, counter terrorism and counter pirate activities with a long list of qualifications in EOD and diving. His dedication was second to none and his no fuss approach meant that he was selected for the most challenging of missions and many promotions. Momo will also be remembered for his wicked sense of humour. During free fall parachute training in Frejeuse San
Rafael, his friend J-C asked to borrow Momo’s altimeter for a jump. J-C’s parachute failed to deploy during this jump and he had a bad landing, actually breaking his hip in 3 places. As Momo and other colleagues rushed to provide first aid to the injured J-C, Momo jokingly chastised J-C for almost breaking his altimeter with his carelessness!
After his military career, Momo joined FSD and went on to enjoy a career in the humanitarian demining sector, working in a variety of countries, such as DRC, The Congo, Lebanon, Albania, Iraq, Sudan, Lao, Guinea Bissau, Tajikistan and Sri Lanka. This was his second TDY in Sri Lanka – he had been here since the start of December. Over the past decade he also worked for MAG and Handicap International (France) and the vast number of condolence messages received from around the world pays tribute to a man who achieved so much in so many places.
So what sort of a man was Momo? Well he was thoroughly professional in everything that he did and was very strict with himself as well as the teams he was responsible for. If you ever had the chance to visit ‘his’ minefields then you would have seen a 100% dedication to perfection in his approach and execution. He put the safety of his staff as an absolute priority. Since arriving in December he worked exclusively with AusAID teams in Mannar District working tirelessly in remote locations returning to Vavuniya in the evenings to relax with his colleagues. If you ever tried to give praise or encouragement to Momo he would simply shrug his shoulders and say ‘pfff’, as only the French can, as if to say ‘are you crazy – this what I do, 100% is the only option.’ Apologies to the French ambassador for this broad generalisation about her countryfolk.
He was a fit man. At 54 years old he would do fitness every evening setting off for a run in the countryside around Vavuniya with a stick in his hand to beat off the stray dogs that invariably try to attack you in this area – The threat of rabies was unlikely to deter someone like Momo from keeping his body in good shape and he would return in remarkably good shape from a run of several kilometres before starting his work out at the gym. And I say ‘at the gym’ what I really mean is ‘at the gym that Momo constructed for himself’ using sacks of sand, ropes and pulleys for this was a good reflection of the type of man that Momo was – not asking for gym equipment to be purchased for him but happy to make things happen using his own ingenuity. Even at the age of 54, I would have put good money on Momo to win any physical competition even against younger competitors. He may not have won, but I know he would always have given 100%.
He was not a particularly religious man but enjoyed philosophical discussions with his lifelong friend J-C about religion and the state of the world. Perhaps a good indication about Momo is that every time he left a country to move on to the next challenge, he gave away all of his possessions to the local people and his wife ‘Murielle’ also sent used clothes from France for him to distribute to those most in need.
He recently started learning to cook – and if you have ever tried to shop for ingredients in Vavuniya you will know what he was up against! Still after a day that typically started at 5am, and after 8 hours working in minefields, 2 hours repairing equipment and dealing with logistical issues, 2 hours of physical exercise, Momo would still find the time to cook a meal for us all – and wash up! He was tireless in his approach to life.
Momo was loud. I suspect he was partially deaf perhaps from a lifetime of working near things that go ‘bang’ and this gave him the appearance of having a tough exterior which was actually wafer thin. He had a heart of gold, genuinely caring for the deminers with whom he worked and even adopting local animals in Vavuniya for whom he always (embarrassingly) collected the leftovers at dinner so that they could be well fed. He had a great sense of humour, cracking jokes to keep everyone’s morale high even during the tough times.
It is therefore with great sadness that we have to say farewell to our dear friend Momo. There is a danger for us all that the demining sector can be distilled down to statistics of ‘square meters’, mines destroyed, etc or to proposals, spreadsheets and presentations, but let us please remember that there are real people out there, like Momo and his colleagues, who are every day on the humanitarian front line achieving extraordinary things in the most trying of circumstances.
We may never know exactly what happened in Momo’s final moment. The accident that took him from us was not witnessed by anyone – as ever he was working to reduce the threat that an item of UXO presented to the operations of his team. He may have tripped and fallen whilst removing the UXO from the minefield or the UXO may have spontaneously exploded, we may never know. Momo’s last words were to whispered into J-C’s ears in Vavuniya hospital and were to Murielle, his widow who waits in France for her beloved’s body to return. We wish his body God’s speed in its journey back to Brittany and our heartfelt condolences go out to Murielle Morin.
I would like to thank you all for coming today and braving the weather, the Colombo traffic and the busy schedules that we all have. Your presence here is important to us at this difficult time and will help us heal from this terrible loss. Your emails, texts and letters of condolences have been consolidated and will be sent with the official condolences book on the table over there. You are invited to please add your support to Murielle Morin by signing the condolence book.