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‘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 Nooroa Moekore Friday, 12 June 2020 13:24 posted by Nooroa Moekore

    So shock to hear you Sue left us. My heart goes to Tom and the family. The Vea family use to be my neigbour in Kavera and during my wife Linda pass away, Sue and Tom one of the 1st people came over to see me. Never forget what Sue said to me. "If you ever need anything ,im right next door." Farewell Sue, God be with you.

  • Comment Link Steve Hart Thursday, 11 June 2020 18:55 posted by Steve Hart

    We are saddened and shocked at the sudden loss of Sue. Our hearts and thoughts go out to Tom, Ruby, Lile, Diane, Karyn and Whanau. We will always cherish your well deserved Xmas visits to your holiday home in NZ. Rest in peace beautiful lady.

  • Comment Link Sheila Powell Wednesday, 10 June 2020 20:36 posted by Sheila Powell

    Happy memories of Sue’s stay here in Sussex with. a Group of New Zealander’s and Australians. Such a great group of young people we loved welcoming them to our home and were hoping to visit Rarotonga on one of our visits to New Zealand. So very sad. Condolences to her family and many friends.

  • Comment Link Mike Sheffield Wednesday, 10 June 2020 14:53 posted by Mike Sheffield

    I am lucky enough to have known Sue and Tom for decades. My wife Mary is Jane Fletcher’s sister and I regard her father , Paul, as a great friend
    We are deeply sorry to see Sue die so suddenly and at such an early age
    Best wishes to all
    Mike Sheffield

  • Comment Link Roger dieudonne Wednesday, 10 June 2020 11:11 posted by Roger dieudonne

    I would like to send my deepest condolences and all my love to sue family and friends
    We really lost a great lady
    Kia orana
    Roger

  • Comment Link Greg Gustafson Wednesday, 10 June 2020 05:59 posted by Greg Gustafson

    A great asset to the cook islands has gone away to the other Paradise in the Heavens

  • Comment Link Susan Amani Wednesday, 10 June 2020 03:33 posted by Susan Amani

    Am saddened by this news. My condolences to the family. All my love at this time.

  • Comment Link Lynne Tuesday, 09 June 2020 23:08 posted by Lynne

    Beautiful words for a very special Mother, Daughter Sister, Aunty and friends - my condolences ❤❤❤

  • Comment Link Allison Mareko Tuesday, 09 June 2020 22:48 posted by Allison Mareko

    My thoughts go out to all Sues family, Tom,Ruby,and Lile
    A lovely caring human being who gave to all above herself, our lives will be
    less without her.
    To Diane and Karyn.....remember all the good times and the great sister ship you shared . It was not the island that called you ..it was the bond you had with each other. Take care of each other and know that many many others are thinking of you in the days ahead..Much love xx Allison

  • Comment Link Jackie Kerr and Deane Morrow Tuesday, 09 June 2020 21:31 posted by Jackie Kerr and Deane Morrow

    We are very saddened to read that Sue has passed away.In the two stays we had at Manuia Sue was a such a lovely lady with a smile that never went away.
    Manuia Beach Resort will forever remain changed without her presence.
    Condolences to Sue's family and friends
    Jackie and Deane x