Victor Imboua-Niava: a treasured member of Calliope-Interpreters

 | Interpreter insights

For almost 20 years, Victor Imboua-Niava was the Calliope member for Western Africa. An outstanding consultant and conference interpreter, he practised his profession with humility and generosity, always willing to share his experience and knowledge.

Victor Imboua-Niava: a treasured member of Calliope-Interpreters

Victor Imboua-Niava was a leading light in the interpreting profession, above all in Africa, where he was determined to ensure that clients had access to world-class interpretation services. A long-standing member of AIIC, in 2002 he was invited to join Calliope. Founding member, Danielle Gree, recalls the day that she asked Victor to become the network’s member for Western Africa: “He was surprised, flattered even, and accepted with great humility, yet for us he was an obvious choice: Victor was known as an excellent consultant interpreter, with outstanding organisational skills and high standards, and for consistently promoting the best working conditions for his colleagues.”

Victor was born on 13 February 1952 in Daloa, Côte d’Ivoire. Early on in life he developed a passion for languages and decided to pursue a career as an interpreter, inspired – he later revealed – by the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. Victor explained that it was initially curiosity that caused him to choose the road “less travelled by”, but later the appeal became the challenge of acquiring a skill which most students and even some teachers do not fully understand or perceive as being too difficult. As we all know, Victor was more than equal to that challenge.

Victor trained as a conference interpreter at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster), where the Course Director, Jennifer Mackintosh, recalls that he was “not just a dedicated and hard-working participant, but also an asset both in and out of the classroom with his calm, courteous manner and warmth of personality”. Victor went on to be accredited by several international organisations, and – for one memorable mission – to work as the personal interpreter of the World Bank’s former President James Wolfensohn, which saw him crisscross Africa on Wolfensohn’s business jet and provide consecutive interpretation for President Kabila at a dinner of the political elite in Kinshasa. In 1985 Victor set up his own interpretation services business, Symposia Consult.

Since Victor’s death, countless colleagues across the conference interpreting world have paid tribute not only to his professionalism, but also and above all to his wisdom and collegiality. At Calliope, Victor will be remembered as a real gentleman and a kind and affectionate soul, always calm, always smiling.

Veronica Perez-Guarnieri, the Calliope member for Spanish-speaking South America, recalls how nervous she felt at her first Calliope meeting in Paris in 2015, and how Victor put her at her ease: “I still remember your kind, warm smile and the words which did the trick. You said, ‘You blend very well’. Since then we have shared endless talks about business proposals, and most importantly, about life and family. You always had the right word at the right time. You have been a beacon for the interpreting profession and for your friends.”

Rosaura Bartumeu, the Calliope member for Andorra, remembers Victor’s kindness and patience, combined with a deep sense of humour, exemplified by a post-work shopping trip: “Once in Dakar, following a very long working day, Victor was kind enough to take the European women colleagues shopping to an indoor market where we spent ages trying on kaftans and boubous. He sat on a stool watching us all and giving us his advice, as if he was our elder brother, never showing any signs of fatigue or boredom!”

Despite the rigorous demands of his professional life, Victor kept his family very close. His proud devotion to his wife, Rowena des Bordes-Imboua, and children Patti, Louise and Will, was clear for all to see.

Calliope is immensely grateful to have had the privilege of being Victor’s friends and colleagues. We, and the entire conference interpreting profession, will miss him more than we can say.

Au revoir and fare thee well, Papa Victor.

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