100 pack funeral for woman killed in building collapse

Millicent Conteh reaches out to touch the casket carrying her mother's body at the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Darby Borough, while her sister Francess Conteh weeps. Their mother, Roseline Conteh, died in the Market Street building collapse. Story, another photo, B3.
Millicent Conteh reaches out to touch the casket carrying her mother's body at the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Darby Borough, while her sister Francess Conteh weeps. Their mother, Roseline Conteh, died in the Market Street building collapse. Story, another photo, B3. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 20, 2013

Roseline Conteh died doing what she loved: being a mother to everyone.

Conteh, 52, was shopping at the Salvation Army thrift shop at 22d and Market Streets for clothes to send home back to Sierra Leone for friends and family who couldn't afford them. The mother of nine died June 5 when the building collapsed.

Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Darby Borough was packed with mourners Tuesday to commemorate Conteh's life.

"Your presence shows she impacted each and every one of you," Conteh's niece Josephine Lamin-Silla said.

More than 100 relatives, friends, and colleagues lined the aisles to bid farewell before Conteh's casket was closed. Some of her coworkers from Villa St. Joseph, just around the corner from the church, came in scrubs to pay their respects before going back to work.

"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, ssmith@phillynews.com, or on Twitter at @sarahesmith23.

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