‘Heartbreak’ at tourism leader’s sudden death

Tuesday June 09, 2020 Written by Published in Local
Sue Fletcher-Vea, left, with sisters Diane Fletcher and Karyn Vinsen. Sue Fletcher-Vea, left, with sisters Diane Fletcher and Karyn Vinsen.

Family are gathered in Cook Islands and in New Zealand to pay their respects to tourism leader Sue Fletcher-Vea, who passed away suddenly in Rarotonga Hospital yesterday.

The Tourism Industry Council president was feeling unwell and out of breath on Sunday so the hospital admitted her for observation, but late on Monday she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and passed away. 

Her husband Tom Vea, her sister Diane Fletcher, and Tom's sister Lotu were at her side. Her two daughters Ruby and Lile were in New Zealand with family.

Friends and colleagues remember Fletcher-Vea as a caring and compassionate leader for Cook Islands’ hundreds of tourism operators, and her dedication was reflected when she was re-elected last year for another term as president.

The family wish to invite friends and colleagues to a service at 4pm tomorrow, at the family resort she ran, Manuia Beach Resort in Arorangi.

Diane Fletcher, who owns the Vibe café and food van, said her sister was passionate and caring, and stood up for her principles. Sue, Diane and their sister Karyn first lived in Cook Islands as children, when their dad was working for the Post Office.

All three have returned as adults – Sue and her Tongan husband Tom have been here 15 years.

At Sue and Tom’s home in Arorangi today, Diane told how family came first for her: she was “a fiercely loyal Mama Bear” to her daughters Ruby and Lile, and her many feeding children.

“And it literally was feeding them! All these kids came to Sue and she fed them, clothed them, drove them around, put them through school.”

The 52-year-old Fletcher-Vea has spoken out on issues like the importance of helmets in saving lives, and valuing expat workers by not capping their work permits – but she’s also championed employing locals.

Beyond family, the former travel agent was also passionate about her business Manuia Beach Resort and local tourism, and was herself a keen traveller. She had hoped, when travel resumed, to spend time at a Buddhist retreat in Burma.

Close friend Adrian Hopwood said: "Time was never an issue when it came to friends, my very special coffee friend and confidante."

And Louise Wittwer remembered “Sue's most beautiful smile”.

“She lit up the room wherever she went, and she was the bestest mother, darling sister, gorgeous wife and stunning daughter ... my heart is broken for the amazing Fletcher/Vea family, we have lost a legacy!”

Rebecca Brown said: “Sue was so involved, her passion and commitment to this beautiful country was unsurpassable, I will miss her dearly.”

It’s hoped Tom Vea and Diane Fletcher will be allowed to travel with her to New Zealand on this Friday's flight; if so, they may have to go into quarantine for two weeks, before they can farewell her.

Others in Cook Islands will remember her at tomorrow’s service at Manuia Beach Resort. Sabine Janneck described her as “the sunshine in others’ hearts”.

And Fletcher Melvin, who worked closely with her on the Private Sector Taskforce and Chamber of Commerce, said: “Sue was a kind and hard-working lady who loved the Cook Islands and I'll miss her and my sincere condolences go out to her family and work colleagues.”

17 comments

  • Comment Link Jamie Urwin Tuesday, 09 June 2020 20:50 posted by Jamie Urwin

    Such sad news, we met Sue a number of times on our visits and have enjoyed the company of Tom fishing and staying at Manuia.
    A great lady, a passionate advocate for Rarotonga, so sad for her to leave us all far too soon.
    Our Aroha and thoughts are with you Tom, your daughters and whanau. Kia Kaha and be proud of such a great woman that the positive influence she had over many people, locals and visitors.

  • Comment Link Jamie Urwin Tuesday, 09 June 2020 20:50 posted by Jamie Urwin

    Such sad news, we met Sue a number of times on our visits and have enjoyed the company of Tom fishing and staying at Manuia.
    A great lady, a passionate advocate for Rarotonga, so sad for her to leave us all far too soon.
    Our Aroha and thoughts are with you Tom, your daughters and whanau. Kia Kaha and be proud of such a great woman that the positive influence she had over many people, locals and visitors.

  • Comment Link Vanessa and Murray McDonald Tuesday, 09 June 2020 20:33 posted by Vanessa and Murray McDonald

    A beautiful soul taken far too early. So shocked to hear this incredibly sad news. Our thoughts are with Tom, Ruby, Lile, Diane and family. Rest peacefully Sue

  • Comment Link Brent Fogelberg Tuesday, 09 June 2020 19:31 posted by Brent Fogelberg

    Very sad news!! I'm sure I am among many who have fond memories of Sue and will miss her. My sincere condolences to Tom and the Fletcher family.
    Brent

  • Comment Link Anne Nicholas Tuesday, 09 June 2020 18:48 posted by Anne Nicholas

    Gone too soon. Such a big loss and will always be remembered by the people of the Cook Islands. Aere ra Mama Sue, aere ra. Condolences to Tom and all the family. TE ATUA TE AROA.

  • Comment Link Jane Elliott Tuesday, 09 June 2020 17:56 posted by Jane Elliott

    So so sad to hear of the passing of a very special friend Sue. Sending much love to Tom, Ruby Lile & Lotu xx

  • Comment Link Suzanne Lisa paeariki Tuesday, 09 June 2020 17:50 posted by Suzanne Lisa paeariki

    To the family l will also miss her smile so sad my heart goes to each and everyone my love to you all love always Mama Sue

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