Prime Minister Henry Puna, Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters and Dr Williams’s son Richard Williams via a live Zoom feed addressed the audience with tributes.
The Prime Minister said Dr Williams was “among the chosen ones”.
“He was a young, highly educated professional, destined for something greater than himself. A knowledge seeker, who was willing to teach, keen to impart the benefits of his higher learning. A healer with the heart to listen and to understand,” Puna said.
Puna noted the remarkable career of Dr Williams and the many highlights.
“But it was the essence of a man who cared and wanted to serve people that puts him in the good company of our national heroes,” he said.
The accolades for Dr Williams have poured forth far and wide.
“The recognition is deserving. Few would achieve such heights and accomplish as much in their lifetime,” Puna said.
“That one of our own sons could have impacted and touched the lives of so many is simply outstanding. How proud we all are to have had him among us as a Cook Islander, to have had him as a doctor, to lead us as a politician, and to have served our community as a mentor of knowledge and ideas.
“The celebration of the life of Dr Williams, and the honour with which we bestow on him today, stands as a significant representation of success and professional achievement.”
Puna acknowledged how the older generations remember him fondly.
“The young doctor who returned home in the early 1960s and quickly established himself as a physician of enormous promise,” he said.
As a young professional, Dr Williams soon came to occupy the theatres of two worlds - that of medicine and politics.
Puna spoke of Dr Williams’ political career as Prime Minister in 1999. On one day each week, the veranda of the Prime Minister’s office often resembled a waiting room.
Visionary leaders, especially those breaking new ground, are often held to a higher degree of criticism and Dr Williams sometimes had to face the challenge of acceptance, Puna said.
Papa Joe had been the last surviving member of the country’s second general election in 1968 and the last of his medical profession from the era of political transition from New Zealand to self-government in 1965.
“A true pioneer in service to our people through governance and healthcare,” PM Puna said.
“To his wife Jill and all the family members, here and overseas, we embrace you in sorrow to honour our Papa Joe - for his life and his memory.”