"You would've been very, very pleased to meet her," Conteh's 24-year-old son, Francis Sankoh, said as a younger brother stood beside him at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Marple Township. Sankoh said he has always looked like his mother - people would stop him on the street to ask, "Is Roseline your mom?" - and now, he said, he won't look at himself in pictures quite the same way. He said he was trying to stay strong.
Eight of Conteh's children attended her funeral. Her husband, Aiah Boya, and a son were not able to get emergency visas to come from Sierra Leone, from which Conteh emigrated 10 years ago. A teacher in Sierra Leone, she worked two jobs in the United States, both structured around caring for others. She was a nursing assistant at both Villa St. Joseph and Broomall Presbyterian Village. Many of her colleagues said she'd been a mother to all of them.
"She brought sunshine to every room," Betty Lee Davis said. Davis attended the funeral in a traditional dress from Sierra Leone that Conteh bought for her, patterned in yellows, browns, and whites.
Conteh took care of Davis' mother, Mary Lee, for six years. "When she came over, she was 'Rosie Lee,' " Davis added.
Conteh's older sister Kadie wailed throughout the services at the church and cemetery but smiled when she spoke of her sister.
"She's a loving sister, everybody's mother," Kadie Conteh, 53, said. While she wore a suit to the funeral, she remembered how her sister preferred traditional dress from Sierra Leone.
"She doesn't hold a grudge," Lamin-Silla said. Conteh used to call her niece at least once a week just to check in. "She tells it like it is and then will cook you a meal the next day to smooth things over."
Marlene Keating, a retired social worker at Villa St. Joseph, had to collect herself before she could talk about her friend and former colleague. "I'll always remember her really sweet smile," Keating said. "It took over her face."
She added, "I was lucky to have known her."
Contact Sarah Smith at 215-854-2771, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @sarahesmith23.