Tessa Temata traced part of her heritage to the Cook Islands to be able to relate to and appreciate local custom and culture, says Helen Clark.
Temata, the New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, died early yesterday in Palmerston North after a short battle with cancer.
Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister, in paying tribute to Temata, 52, said she was a very talented Kiwi diplomat who rose through the ranks to become a head of mission.
Clark said she was privileged to have met Temata in Rarotonga earlier this year, and to engage with her on challenges and opportunities for the Cook Islands.
“Tessa has been taken from us far too young. My heart goes out to all her family, work colleagues, friends, and community. Tessa will be greatly missed,” Clark said.
Temata was New Zealand’s first High Commissioner of Cook Islands descent to serve in the Cook Islands, and also the first female New Zealand High Commissioner of Pacific ancestry to be posted to the Pacific.
Prime Minister Henry Puna said Temata made various contributions to the Cook Islands and New Zealand relationship and the people of both nations.
Puna said it was with pride, given her Cook Islands Maori heritage, they embraced her as New Zealand’s High Commissioner here.
“The scope and depth of our collaboration since her appointment speaks to her extensive foreign service capabilities in trade, development and legal matters and the heart and people centric approach that has been a hallmark of her engagements with the Cook Islands throughout the 20 years of her service in the Pacific region,” Puna said.
“On behalf of government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration and our people, we extend our deepest heartfelt sympathy to Tessa’s family, friends and colleagues,”
Foreign Affairs secretary Tepaeru Herrmann, who worked with Temata over many years, said she would be remembered as a champion of promoting and protecting the interests of New Zealand and appreciative of New Zealand’s place as part of the Pacific family.
“It was our privilege to have Tessa for this brief period of time as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the Cook Islands. She was engaged across the full spectrum of Cook Islands Society and had an innate appreciation, as all Pacific Islanders do, the importance of people, and core Pacific Islands values shared across Te Moana Nui a Kiva including the importance of family, community, humility and inter-generational sacrifice,” Herrmann said.
The New Zealand High Commission here said they were devastated to have lost Temata who was “clever, inspirational, and courageous”.
New Zealand’s deputy prime minister Winston Peters said Temata had recently returned to New Zealand for medical treatment.
Peters said Temata, whose family hails from Samoa and the Cook Islands, was a respected diplomat with over 25 years’ experience in trade, development and legal matters.
Since joining the Foreign Ministry in 1992, she had postings in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Niue and Cook Islands.
Peters said this was a difficult time for Temata’s colleagues, particularly those at the High Commission in Rarotonga, who all knew her as courageous and inspirational.
“Ms Temata served her country with great distinction,” Peters said.
“The Pacific is the part of the world where New Zealand can and does make the most difference. It is therefore to Ms Temata’s great credit that she spent so much of her career serving right across the Pacific.
“She demonstrated how much of a difference expertise, warmth, hard work and cultural competence can make to New Zealand’s Pacific diplomacy. She will be hugely missed.”
Temata, in an interview with Cook Islands News in March this year, said she was content to return home to serve her people as the New Zealand High Commissioner here.
“What happens in future, that’s up to the Lord but here’s where I am and this is very much where I want to be,” Temata said after taking up the top diplomatic role.