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A compassionate and remarkable man

Thursday 10 May 2012 | Published in Regional


Sir Geoffrey’s tenure as Prime Minister was probably the most challenging and difficult any leader has had to endure since self-rule.

After years of profligate spending by successive governments the nation was bankrupted in the mid-1990s. The blame for this was unfairly heaped on the incumbent as was the pain of getting out of the economic crisis. But Sir Geoffrey understood better than any other politician what needed to be done. While a degree of reform was required by creditors, Sir Geoffrey took this a step further of his own initiative, the establishment of the Cook Islands Investment Corporation and some of the privatisation programmes being examples.

The prosperity of the Cook Islands economy today relative to other Pacific nations is due in no small measure to Sir Geoffrey’s leadership at that time.

Sir Geoffrey Henry was an enigmatic man. He was irascible at times but he could also be full of humour as well. He was obsessed by protocol but he was tolerant, some would say to a fault, of human frailties and no person was too unworthy to have an audience with him.

Sir Geoffrey loved language and had a superb command of both English and Maori. His copy of the Savage dictionary, which he had filled with notes, is the only possession I heard him lament the loss of.

When at his best he was a remarkable orator but at times he could disappoint as well. Those flaws and wrinkles in his personality could be frustrating, for beneath them, as those who have worked closely with Sir Geoffrey know, there was a compassionate and quite remarkable man.

Brian Mason worked for Temu Okotai who was Chief of Staff of the PM’s Office in 1997. After the Cook Islands Investment Corporation was established Mason went to work there in 1998 and subsequently became the CEO and held this position while Sir Geoffrey was Chairman of its Board.