Shocked. Devastated. Gutted. Why do I and so many of our common friends feel this way when Wendell Rodricks was not a family member? The answer lies in his heart — it was large enough to embrace, as family, almost everyone he ever interacted with, worked with, associated with, or kept in touch with over the years of his meteoric rise to fashion stardom.
We all had a special place in that heart of gold, and he worked as hard at strengthening these relationships as he did at realising his dreams. If there is one person who systematically took steps to make each of his dreams come true, it was Wendell. As the associate editor of Society in the early 1990s, I was fortunate enough to be among the lifestyle journalists who followed his journey to the top with avid interest.
I heard his amazing story about his dream house in his village Colvale, and retold it in a couple of design magazines. Casa Dona Maria, he told me, first came to him in a dream in 1985 — a dream so vivid that he was able to walk the owner around her own house when he crossed the threshold and met her six months later.
“A karmic thought entered my head. ‘This house is yours’; but I dismissed it as a foolish prank, as the lady owner had three children who tended to her and the house. But I startled her with details which I had no business knowing. Like, ‘This was the room your husband slept in’. She was spooked out.
We became friends. Seven years later, her daughter called me. By then I had moved from Muscat to LA to Paris to Bombay, and was a known name in Fashion in India. She eventually offered me the house for sale. I got my dream house.”
Two years ago, Wendell and the love of his life Jerome moved out of that dream house to a smaller one in order to leave Casa Dona Maria as a legacy to Goa and India. In between designing, writing and being an activist, he worked on The Moda Goa Museum & Research Centre along with architects and experts of display, lighting and curation to make his new dream a reality. It was slated to open on March 28 — and, hopefully, it will.
When Wendell shared the transcript of his talk at TEDX Panjim in April last year, I could identify with each of the different stages of his inspiring life story. I wanted to share that Facebook post with my daughter Simone, also a media professional who he knew while she worked with a lifestyle magazine; but found that he had immediately deleted it, as he was asked by TEDX to wait till the video was available. When I requested him to send me the transcript, he clarified that it was not to be shared publicly and then promptly emailed it to me. That was Wendell — he was trusting, and he earned our love in return.
Success courted Wendell at every stage of his extraordinary journey; but he remained hard working and humble. He once dropped in unannounced at my office at Magna Publishing when I was the founder editor of Society Interiors in the late 1990s. He had come personally to deliver some photographs! Over the years, we kept in touch — first through occasional calls on his landline to ask for and receive his help on story ideas for magazines, then to share jokes and silly chit-chat or engage in serious conversations on Google chat (it was still the early 2000s), Facebook messenger and
A few years ago, when Facebook was still sending notifications on email, I received one telling me that Wendell Rodricks mentioned me on Facebook. It said, he wrote: “Maria Louis, I inherited my Dad’s smile and my Mom’s wicked sense of humour. She was always making me laugh with her comments. One day, she forgot my Dad’s very dark Uncle’s name. She cracked me up, saying, ‘We going to Uncle Ace of Spades house’ ;)”
Later, Wendell won over his vast social media following with the same open-hearted sharing of his humorous anecdotes, inspirational accounts and travel photo-diaries on a daily basis. He was always approachable, even when he was travelling or madly busy. But he could be firm, and would brook no nonsense.
I remember how he sent me a curt message, ‘You don’t know the rules’ — when I made the ‘mistake’ of WhatsApping him about work after 6 pm. When I apologised and pointed out that there was no hurry for him to respond, he could do so when it was comfortable for him, he apologised in return. That was Wendell — almost always willing to admit when he made a mistake.
What I love most about Wendell is that he never forgot those who lent him a helping hand, however, small. When he heard that my daughter was getting married, he offered to create a Wendell Rodricks outfit for me to wear on that special occasion. He even copied Schulen Fernandes (to whom he handed over the reins of his fashion empire, to concentrate on his museum) on his email to me, asking what I wanted — and more important, what I did not want.
I wish now that I hadn’t, but I politely declined his offer as I felt he was being overly generous. His response? “Don’t be stupid! You have done so much for me through your writing, this is the least I could do!” That was Wendell. And that’s why, though its physical avatar gave way unexpectedly, his heart will go on…