Saturday 12 May 2012 | Published in Regional
A long procession of Cook Islands political and traditional leaders joined with sporting, cultural and community leaders yesterday to bid goodbye to Sir Geoffrey Henry and reflect on his nearly 50 years of public service.
The funeral procession following Sir Geoffrey’s casket brought traffic to a halt in Takuvaine and Maraerenga as it travelled between his home, the Avarua Cook Islands Christian Church, Vakatini Palace and the National Auditorium before returning to the Henry family home and Sir Geoffrey’s final resting place.
The weather reflected the sombre tone of the proceedings, and eerily followed the events and emotions of the day.
Grey skies dimmed the sun throughout the day, creating a solemn feeling for the procession as it stopped at each of its destinations for memorial services and tributes.
And as Sir Geoffrey’s casket was moved in to the Avarua church and then on to the National Auditorium, onlookers and pallbearers were splashed with rain as if the skies understood the nature of the event.
At the National Auditorium, Prime Minister Henry Puna led the main memorial service in front of a crowd numbering in the hundreds.
Puna laid down a tribute wreath to his mentor and friend, before canvassing Sir Geoffrey’s many life achievements in service of the Cook Islands during his eulogy.
Puna described Sir Geoffrey as a ”giant among men“, a description that was repeated throughout the memorial by Opposition Leader Wilkie Rasmussen and Sir Geoffrey’s son Walter Henry.
The tributes underlined the important role Sir Geoffrey played in helping lift the Cook Islands on to the world stage, while also showing the humour, generosity, passion and doggedness of the two-time prime minister.
Sir Geoffrey’s reach as an ambassador for the Cook Islands to areas across the Pacific and the world was also highlighted during the ceremony.
New Zealand politician Winston Peters travelled to Rarotonga for the service and listened on as remarks from French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and the People’s Republic of China chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Wu Bangguo were read out.
Puna at times struggled to finish his testimony to Sir Geoffrey, but found the energy to share one last song with his mentor and salute him with a performance of Frank Sinatra’s ‘I Did It My Way’as a nod to Sir Geoffrey’s determination as a leader.