Paddy, aged 97, has received a Distinguished Fellow Award from the Faculty of Education’s School of Critical Studies in Education, becoming the first ever Pacifika recipient.
The prestigious award was presented to her during an intimate and moving ceremony held at her Titikaveka home on Thursday morning, attended by family and life-long friends.
Three representatives of the University – Associate Professor Airini, Dr Diane Mara and Manutai Leaupe — honoured Paddy by donning their academic robes for the presentation.
Airini said the Distinguished Fellow Award recognises outstanding service and leadership in the field of critical studies in education.
She described Paddy as a wayfarer and navigator in the field of transformative education.
“It is our honour as academics from the University of Auckland and School of Critical Studies in Education to come here today to award you the CRSTIE Distinguished Fellow Award. This is a celebration of wonderful achievements by you as an exceptional woman and education leader.”
Although unable to speak as strongly as she’d have liked, Paddy was characteristically quick to praise those around her.
“It’s a most beautiful thing you’ve done. I appreciate and love all you do to support me because nobody does anything by themselves.”
All previous Distinguished Fellows are university academics, making Paddy the first thought-leader from outside the academy to have been recognised.
“This means scholars from the School of Critical Studies in Education see Eleitino as more than their peer. Through her research, educational service and curriculum development Eleitino is recognised by members of the academy as exceptional, unique, and distinguished,” Airini said.
In an emotional speech, long-time friend Dr Mara described Paddy as the quintessential Pacific woman, full of grace, love, honour and humility.
“In a world where many people are promoting themselves, you have represented for me and for many woman that quiet service and love that just keeps going on and on,” Mara said.
“The greatest legacy we can leave with others is love and peace and you have always epitomised that.”
Paddy has joined a small group of Distinguished Fellows from around the world. Previous recipients are professors and senior scholars based in universities in countries such as Israel, USA, England, New Zealand and Australia.
Eleitino Edwina Diana Patricia Walker has lived in Rarotonga since 1990 and been influential in education in the Cook Islands, providing a programme enabling teachers to use traditional ways to reach their Polynesian students through music, dance and art.
She has written a number of popular early childhood songs and four beautiful children’s stories, including “The Peace Bird”, published in 2011.
Airini said this is the first time the Distinguished Fellow Award has been made to a leader with Samoan ancestry, and with such strong links to the Cook Islands.
“Indeed this is the first time there has been a Distinguished Fellow from the Pacific. Once more Paddy’s service to education, community development and peace leads into new territories.”