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Sir Geoff a ‘true Pacific man’

Friday 11 May 2012 | Published in Regional


Sir Geoffrey’s true love besides his dear wife, lady Henry, their children and grandchildren, is his people of the Cook Islands.

That’s why he had the unique ability to make any person he spoke to feel important whether he be a paramount chief or a mama on an outer island.

His responsibilities traverse with ease and aplomb from a household problem in his constituency to contentious issues among leaders in the region.

I first knew Sir Geoffrey when I came to Aitutaki to attend Araura College in the early 1960s.

He had just returned from New Zealand as a teacher at the college.

Most of us kids walking to school from Ureia and Arutanga will see Sir Geoffrey riding to school with his brother Ken on their BSA motorbike. I have never seen a straight-back rider of a motor bike like Sir Geoffrey!

The thing that struck me then and remained with me since was the classy nature Sir Geoffrey conducts himself.

Always a quietly spoken man but when needed you would not miss the steely fibre in that slightly high pitched voice.

Even in his sport, whether it be tennis, rugby, cricket, or golf, he does it with immaculate style and dignity.

Even as the youngest member of parliament he brought that steely, quiet confidence to the political table.

Of all the politicians I have known in the Cook Islands, Sir Geoffrey to me had the best political antenna among all of them.

Sir Geoffrey’s oratory skill is well known in the Cook Islands and on the international stage.

His love of his own and the English languages were part of that skill.

Whatever is written for him to say or sign you can be sure that not a comma or full-stop is out of place.

Great orators also have the ability to personalise speeches so that you feel he is speaking directly to you and he certainly had that.

I well remember he and I attending a so-called boring religious regional co-operation meeting in Suva.

The meeting was chaired by Sir Micheal Somare, now one of the only surviving ‘fathers of the Pacific’.

Sir Geoffrey was the keynote speaker. It’s hard to imagine what he could say to a conservative churchy group of people to get them excited.

Sir Geoffrey based his speech around a Vanuatu story he heard with a theme of ‘running to the rock’.

His delivery and how he wove the rock theme through the experiences of Christianity in the region got a fantastic standing ovation. I was so puffed up for the rest of that conference.

Sir Geoffrey certainly had undoubted charisma and unique leadership quality. You only need to be in a room to see people gravitate towards him.

I have never seen him unreasonably raise his voice in a meeting but when he focuses those cats eyes on someone you know there is big trouble.

The whole nation know and experienced the tumultuous time of the mid 1990s.

Many continue to blame Sir Geoffrey for the crisis when all experts rightly point out that since independence the way we ran our country, sooner or later, when the conditions were right, we would hit the wall.

What is clearly acknowledged is that Sir Geoffrey’s leadership and ability to bring the country together plus the help of a few international friends of the Cook Islands, very quickly got the country back on the road to recovery.

I sincerely hope we will never have to go through that experience again because I am not sure at all that we have the leadership to do what Sir Geoffrey accomplished.

Sir Geoffrey also likes to relax and his favourite rum and coke will always oil the Cook Islands music he loved and whenever the current Prime Minister Henry Puna was present there was always a continuous banter between the two as to who is the better singer.

I am sure that the prime minster will miss his political confidante and close friend, very much!

Sir Geoffrey of course is human and has chinks in his armour.

He can be his own man and at times can be frustrating for officials who had their own agendas.

His forthright ways at times get in the way of diplomacy but I have also learnt, at times, such behaviour can be deliberate on his part because of his own hidden agenda.

I had the privilege to work for Sir Geoffrey for eight years as his chief executive officer and chief of staff.

I am humbled and honoured to have known and worked for a great Cook Islander and a dear friend.

He will be missed by many and especially the stalwarts of the Cook Islands Party, the political family of his heart.

To Lady Henry, Walter and the rest of the family, our deepest condolences from me and my family. Aere ra Sir Geoffrey: Koe koe e teia tavini meitaki aere ra ki the rekareka anga o toou pu.