Mornings in the Josiah family home in Maplewood have been chaotic but fun for much of the past decade. As they walk out the door, the household’s three siblings, now in their 20s, have grown accustomed to trading places with a gaggle of children filing in to attend their mother’s child care — the first to be offered to the Twin Cities Karen refugee community.
Many of those children came to know Daisy Josiah as “Pee Pee,” or Grandma in the Karen language, and could even recognize her car as it passed by. But Josiah could also be relied on to volunteer as treasurer at her husband’s Baptist church, to construct elaborate floral arrangements — often free of charge — for weddings and funerals, and to travel to annual Karen Baptist Church women’s leadership conferences.
Josiah died June 7 while riding in a truck that was struck outside an airport in Buffalo, N.Y., by a driver who left the scene. She was 53. Josiah had just arrived to attend this year’s women’s leadership conference, which was canceled upon her death and replaced by the first of two funeral services that attracted loved ones from around the country.
“She was a woman of faith,” said Novia Josiah, 27, the oldest of Josiah’s three children. “She always prayed for us no matter what. She was very strong and very firm, but also kind.”
Tharamu Daisy Josiah was born June 22, 1963, in the southwest Myanmar town of Nyaungdon. She worked briefly for the Karen National Union’s mineral and treasury department, then became a broadcaster for Kaw Thoo Lei Radio, where she was a steady source of both information and song from 1982 to 1985, chosen for her proficiency in the Pwo Karen language. Soon after, Josiah began her teaching career with an assignment near the border with Thailand, teaching Burmese literature and mathematical science.
With her husband, Saw Josiah, she became part of the first wave of Burmese Karen refugees who immigrated to the United States from camps in Thailand. Saw Josiah sought asylum in 2000, and the rest of the family followed in 2004. Daisy’s experience teaching children applied in her new home, where she first worked as a caseworker for the Hmong Women Association and began her own child care business in 2007.
Novia said the chance for a better education eventually proved to be the driving force behind the years-long process of moving the family across the world. Just earlier this month, she said, the family’s youngest, Kaziah, joined her siblings as St. Olaf College graduates, and all three are pursuing higher degrees. For them, careers in law and social work are now more than an aspiration.
Daisy also enjoyed interior design, handmade decorative crafts, gardening and music — carrying on her tradition of singing Christian songs that she first sang on the radio in Myanmar. There was always a pretty good chance that any floral arrangements at Karen wedding or church services were her mother’s work, Novia said.
“Every time someone would have a wedding, they asked my mom to do it,” Novia said. “She put no price on the work.”
Josiah is survived by her husband, Saw, minister at the Karen Baptist Church in Oakdale, and three children: Novia, 27; Darius, 26, and Kaziah, 21.
Services have been held, first with the funeral in Buffalo and again days later in the Twin Cities. Novia Josiah said the local service was large even by Karen standards. She can only guess that about 500 people showed up, because a guest book with 300 spaces for names filled up fast.