The sudden loss of Lado Ladoka in a fluke accident involving the furnace in his home on December 2 shocked Mainers of all colors and countries of origin. Ladoka had deep ties to a wide network of people and communities in the greater Portland area as well as in New Gloucester, where he lived with his four children, and was a member of the New Gloucester Economic Development Committee. He was a community leader, an advocate for social justice, a friend to many, and beloved by people involved with a multitude of organizations and nonprofits statewide. 

Ladoka came to the U.S. as a refugee from South Sudan in 1995, and immediately started to make friends. At the time, Maine was not yet home to many Africans – refugees from Somalia, refugees and asylum seekers from Angola, people escaping violence in the Great Lakes region of east Africa; members of all these diasporas began arriving after 2000. “I believe he was one of the first in the wave of families from African nations to arrive in Portland,” recalled Julie Criscitiello, a teacher at Ladoka’s alma mater, Portland High School, who was known to many at the time as Julie Wise; she was co-advisor of the Portland International Club, which he joined. 

Ladoka arrived with a good command of English, Criscitiello remembered. “He was very mature for his age, self-confident, positive, and purposeful. Even back then, he brought people together and celebrated the moment. He had learned to sew at some point before arriving in the U.S. and could make suit jackets, pants, etc. I believe he made outfits for students in our international show – he may have had a small business sewing for others. He was a maker and an entrepreneur,” Criscitiello said. And he served as master of ceremonies  for the annual International Club show. 

The final curtain call at the International Club show Photos courtesy of Julie Criscitiello
Lado is in the back row in this photo of students in the PHS International Club Photos courtesy of Julie Criscitiello

Over the course of his 44 years, Ladoka earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine, a master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire, and served in the U.S. Army. He worked as a case manager, regional refugee coordinator, program director, entrepreneur, and inventor, and was a landlord. Everything he did was with ingenuity, determination, good humor, and gusto. Housing and civic engagement were two of his primary passions. Even during the worst of the COVID pandemic, he knocked on the doors of community members, explaining how the electoral process works, and encouraging people to register to vote. 

Getting out the vote with Ekhlas Ahmed 

Criscitiello said, “Soon after finishing high school, he bought his first building. Over time, he bought other properties and learned a lot about housing and home ownership. He was often busy doing repairs on his property. He told me that he would hire a professional, watch them carefully, and then try to do the work himself next time. He was not afraid to try.” Recently, Ladoka had earned a real estate license and was planning to devote even more time to housing. 

In addition to paid work, Ladoka invested thousands of hours in volunteer service, in leadership roles with the South Sudanese Community of Maine, the South Sudanese Group of Friends, and Cross Cultural Community Services. 

A large number of grieving Mainers attended his viewing, burial prayer service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, burial at Veterans Memorial Cemetery, and funeral reception.  

A social media post from the South Sudanese community on December 3 read, “The South Sudan community in Maine is devastated by the loss of our prominent leader, Lado Lodoka. He is a proud father and a great leader/mentor for all. … This tragic loss is devastating to many friends and families across the nation. We’re truly blessed to have witnessed his noble work, and years of volunteering, [and] commitment to our state, across various organizations and communities. May his memory live on forever and his soul rest in eternal peace.” 

Lado after his graduation from PHS Photo | courtesy of Julie Criscitiello

A GoFundMe campaign organized by the South Sudanese Group of Friends raised $44,037 for his funeral expenses and his family. The post read: “Lado Ladoka was a champion of change, a great community organizer, a loving servant of humanity, a gracious and humble member of the greater Portland community, an intellectual and bright mind and a devoted and loving father to his four children. His captivating and infectious smile lit up the room. His calm demeanor served as a binding glue to all who came into contact with him. The entire Portland community, the South Sudanese community in particular, have lost a dear friend and leader. Words cannot express the loss his family will endure. He left behind his four children and their mother. May his soul rest in eternal Peace.” 

Papy Bongibo 

“Il était un pilier de la communauté. Il y a beaucoup de gens qui ont appris de Lado, de son travail, de son courage, de ses ambitions. C’est l’un des africains qui a beaucoup battu pour l’amélioration de la vie de beaucoup des immigrants ici.”   

“He was a pillar of the community. A lot of people learned from Lado, from his work, his courage, his ambitions. He was among those Africans who fought to improve the conditions of life of immigrants here. 

Beatrice Balou 

“C’est une personne remarquable. Il était doué de multiples qualités, de multiples connaissances, doué d’une intelligence hors du commun et vraiment une connaissance approfondie dans divers domaines. … Sa bienveillance et son dévouement envers la communauté était inégalé. Vraiment inégalé. Je m’en souviendrai toujours de sa gentillesse, de sa sagesse et surtout son sens d’humilité et ainsi que sa capacité à rassembler les gens autour des causes importantes. Lado était une très très bonne personne. La perte de Lado, c’est vraiment la perte d’un pilier de la communauté et je sais que c’est vraiment une tragédie pour eux, pour la communauté. …Je crois fermement que son esprit continuera à inspirer et à guider ceux d’entre nous qui ont été touchés par sa vision et sa passion … sa lumière continuera à briller à travers ceux qui ont été touchés par son exemple.”   

“He was a remarkable person. He was blessed with many great qualities, knowledge, an out-of-the-ordinary intelligence, a deep knowledge in many different domains. … His kindness and devotion toward the community were unequaled. Truly unequaled. I will always remember his kindness, his wisdom, and above all his sense of humility, and therefore his ability to gather people around important causes. Lado was a very, very good person. The loss of Lado is truly the loss of a pillar of the community and is a real tragedy for them, for the community. … I firmly believe that his spirit will continue to inspire and guide those among us who have been touched by his vision and his passion … his light will continue to shine toward those who were touched by his example.” 

Tarlan Ahmadov 

“The news has shocked all of us in our community. It will not be easy to recover.  He was always so full of ideas, love to other people, kindness. He took care of many, many things in the community in terms of housing, and a lot of other initiatives. His vision was always very important for many of us.”