“Without her we would all be in very different places, no doubt,” said Leila Remaili, a technology expert who came to Richmond from Algeria for a year of graduate work and joined Becky Trader’s “family.” Their relationship has lasted more than 20 years.
Trader came to her role as host, parent, teacher, and friend of Richmond’s international students by marriage. Her late husband, Edwin, was a Spider, Class of 1960. In 1994, they attended a meeting for prospective hosts for international students.
“We didn’t have birth children, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we give this a try?’” she said.
At the meeting, they became concerned that the handful of African and Caribbean students might be harder to place — “some people didn’t think they would fit into their situations,” she recalled — so she and Edwin invited them in.
In those first years, they had students from Trinidad and Ghana. Those students recommended UR and the Traders to others. As word got around, the Traders’ international family grew.
Edwin Trader died in 1996, but Becky Trader continued hosting, with the students helping heal her loss. That year, she established the J. Edwin Trader Fund to enable UR’s international students to attend events of cultural, literary, musical, artistic, and historic interest. Since then, she has welcomed students from the Bahamas, Swaziland, Ivory Coast, Europe, and Japan.
“She has been a part of every major milestone of my life, giving sound advice, cheering me on, and showing her support or being a shoulder to cry on,” said Andrea Monique October, ’01, who came from the Bahamas and lives with her husband and daughter in Williamsburg. “She has truly shown me the meaning of unconditional love.”
The University pairs international students with alumni, faculty, and staff as hosts, said Michele Cox with the Office of International Education. The students live on campus but interact with their hosts regularly, doing things such as shopping, dining out, and going to sports, cultural events, and wherever their shared interests bring them. Last year, more than 100 students participated.
There are many great stories, Cox said, but few “rock stars” like Becky Trader.
Last fall, after realizing Trader’s 75th birthday was approaching, her students planned a surprise reunion to celebrate.
Marybe Assouan, ’05, a senior manager in tax practice with Ernst & Young who lives in Richmond and came here from the Ivory Coast, played a lead role in the planning.
Assouan lost her mother in a car crash that also seriously injured her a year and a half before she came to UR. Her father died while she was a student.
“I still get a little teary-eyed when I think how she took care of me,” she said, referring to Trader.
The support runs both ways. Trader recalls traveling to Nashville for her mother’s 90th birthday party with Assouan and soon after returning for her mother’s funeral.
“Marybe was there for me,” Trader said. “We are family now.”
The birthday party in November was the highlight of the year, Remaili said. Trader’s students and their children — her “grandchildren” — surprised her.
“When they opened the door, the kids ran and jumped into my arms,” Trader said. “I had absolutely no idea.”
The international students Trader hosted have gone on to become pediatricians, anesthesiologists, engineers, medical researchers, and educators.
“They have done so well,” she said. “This has been the joy of my life.”