bosnia report
New Series No: 42 October - December 2004
 
Majo Topolovac - remembering a life
by Funeral tribute

Majo was born and brought up in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, the son of Mirko and Milica Topolovac. His father was a journalist and from an early age Majo was taken to visit his place of work. This early immersion in the world of words proved to have a lasting effect on Majo - he himself would become a distinguished journalist, broadcaster and novelist.

In 1969, when in his early twenties, Majo was invited by the BBC World Service to come to London to work for their Yugoslav section. The post was originally intended to last for one year but somehow metamorphosed into five. It was, by Majo’s own description, the happiest period of employment in his life and he looked back on it with great pleasure and satisfaction. During this same period he married his long-term girlfriend Mebrura, and their two children, Ogi and Maja, were born here in London.

On returning to Bosnia at the age of 28, Majo set to work (after a year’s military service) as a journalist for RTV Sarajevo. A profound love of classical music which had begun in childhood blossomed as he presented numerous classical music programmes and became more and more familiar with the repertoire. He had a remarkable ear and a phenomenal memory for music. (Even when living with a professional musician during the last years of his life, he was able to ‘name that tune’ a whole lot quicker than she was!) He also presented programmes of jazz music.

After a while Majo sought a change of direction and became Editor in Chief of the children’s newspaper Male Novine, a post he held for some years. He then moved back to work for Sarajevo television, where he took charge of the foreign political section. He produced a series of documentaries during this time (several of them award-winning), worked on a multi-media project ‘These people know what they are fighting for’ based on World War II recordings by BBC correspondent Denis Johnston, and also wrote and presented a regular news programme in English. He helped in 1979 to set up the first TV service in the Seychelles.

In 1984 Majo was invited to become director of protocol at the Sarajevo Olympics, a post he was happy and proud to accept, and which he found challenging and rewarding. He was also, together with his wife Mebrura a television announcer, the chief multi-lingual commentator for the event.

Following the Olympics he continued his work for television and also wrote extensively. He produced a book of short stories and two novels, one of which, Saper 5, won a major prize for children’s literature and is currently a set work on the national curriculum in Bosnia.

Majo was never one to do things by halves and thus a series of interests which for some would have remained hobbies became for him consuming passions. Chief among these was mycology, the study of mushrooms. He made an extensive study of the subject and it was an extremely rare mushroom that he could not identify, whether in Latin, Bosnian or English.

Another of Majo’s passions was for building stereo speakers. He had first begun the hobby with his childhood friend Mufid (later a recording engineer) and continued it in some way throughout most of his life. There is a story that Kenwood Stereo systems got wind of his efforts and came knocking at the door… Somehow he found time between working, building speakers and collecting mushrooms, to co-author a book on astronomy with his brother-in-law, a professional astronomer.

Majo spoke five languages and acted frequently as an interpreter and translator. He had a great love of satirical English humour and gleefully translated series such ‘Fawlty Towers’ for Yugoslav television. For a spot of additional light relief (!) he wrote a Sanskrit/English dictionary in the odd spare moment…

In 1992 when, following the break-up of Yugoslavia, Bosnia came under attack, Majo made the difficult decision to send his family to London. He himself remained a while longer, surviving the terrible first months of the siege of Sarajevo as senior editor in the wartime international relations department of RTV Bosnia-Herzegovina, but finally came to London himself in August that year. England was the logical choice for him – he had developed a great love for the country during his years working for the BBC – and he and his family were given permanent asylum here. In 1993 his first granddaughter, Gracia, was born and 1996 saw the birth of his second grandchild, Maxine. Majo adored his granddaughters and only 2 weeks before his death had a wonderful time with Maxine when she came to stay with him and Sue. He was a co-founder of Action for Bosnia and also spent some time working for the Refugee Council. Sadly, his wife of 25 years, Mebrura, died in 1995, and he was devastated at the loss of her. After a long period of recovery he continued to write and worked as a reporter for Radio Free Europe and for the Bosnian news agency SENSE.

Three years ago he and Sue met, fell in love and decided to make a life together. They were years of great happiness for both of them. Majo and Sue were both born on 18 October – a rare coincidence for a couple - and felt that they shared a special and precious bond. His daughter Maja was delighted when they got together, pronouncing that they were ‘made for each other’. Over their years together she would often remark that Majo and Sue were like a couple of teenagers – giggling and joking together and texting and phoning each other constantly when apart. Sue is devastated at the loss of her beloved Majo and is profoundly grateful to have shared the life and love of such an extraordinary and wonderful man, even for so short a time.

Majo was deeply loved and respected by his family and friends. They are all devastated at his sudden death. He leaves behind two children, Ogi and Maja, grandchildren Gracia and Maxine, his sister Branka, his brother Edin and his partner, Sue.

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