Saturday 12 May 2012 | Published in Regional
Cook Islands leaders remembered former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Henry at yesterday’s state funeral held in his honour as a giant among men in the Cook Islands, a fearless defender of its culture and champion for its cause.
Prime Minister Henry Puna led the tributes at Sir Geoffrey’s memorial service at the National Auditorium, using the time to reflect on the impact his predecessor had on the Cook Islands and the enduring legacy Sir Geoffrey will leave behind for his dearly loved country.
Puna, who also delivered Sir Geoffrey’s eulogy, said that Sir Geoffrey was a man who “shone and shone brightly” in service of his people in establishing the Cook Islands’ personality and identity within its borders and internationally.
Puna said the country was lucky to have a straight-talking, charismatic, articulate and culturally spirited individual at its helm as prime minister for more than 10 years.
“He wasn’t just visionary, he was a vision,” Puna said.
Throughout his career, Puna said Sir Geoffrey left a stunning legacy that spanned more than 40 years and would be hard to match.
As a measure of his impact and reach in Cook Islands politics, Puna described the number of responsibilities included in Sir Geoffrey’s ministerial portfolio throughout his career as “just staggering”.
In recent times, Sir Geoffrey returned to parliament as its speaker and Puna said he was again pleased to serve alongside and with Sir Geoffrey in a new role that he relished for the opportunity it provided in allowing Sir Geoffrey to conduct, and sometimes scold, both sides of the chamber.
Speaker for the ‘other side’, Leader of the Opposition Wilkie Rasmussen gave the hundreds of people gathered at the National Auditorium a special insight in to the private side of very public figure.
Rasmussen provided a window to Sir Geoffrey’s humorous side and talked of his love for music, language and culture.
Rasmussen said he was proud that he could still call the man who persuaded him to join politics a friend, even though he now sat with the Democratic Party rather the Sir Geoffrey’s Cook Islands Party as he did at the beginning of his political career.
In Sir Geoffrey, Rasmussen said he found a great political “boxing opponent” who commanded his respect.
He also found a man who was eloquent and elegant, even in his low moments.
“True to form, it didn’t make a difference to him. When he came to parliament, he still wore his cuffs, he still dressed as smart as can be,” Rasmussen said.
As opposition leader, Rasmussen said Sir Geoffrey’s legacy in politics was even more obvious to him.
He said Sir Geoffrey was the man who introduced the idea of a political opposition to the Cook Islands, guaranteeing that the opposition leader can have an office, a salary and a voice for the people.
“He was a great man, a great servant and a son that the Cook Islands should be proud of,” Rasmussen finished.
Sir Geoffrey’s eldest son, Walter Henry, represented the Henry family including Lady Louisa Henry and Sir Geoffrey’s five surviving children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Walter said his father gave his family the greatest gift possible, by telling them as often and regularly as he could that he loved them.
“We didn’t have doubts,” Walter said.
Walter said that he would remember his father for his love of socialising, his passion for music, his focus, his tenacity, fearlessness and dedication.
But he also said he would remember Sir Geoffrey for being both Mother Teresa and Attila the Hun all at once for his duelling stubbornness and generosity.
Puna finished the memorial service by sharing one last song with Sir Geoffrey and performing Frank Sinatra’s ‘I Did It My Way’, fighting tears throughout the performance and drawing a large round of applause from the auditorium.