The death of respected Maori leader Bruce Wikitoa has left the South Canterbury and wider community mourning an inspirational man.
The 76-year-old, who died in his sleep on Thursday, had been a local Maori leader for more than 30 years and was kaumatua for many local organisations.
His son Darrell Toa said his father loved being involved in the community. "To us he was just ‘Dad'. He was always there for us. We know he was part of a wider community family and we humbly respected that."
His tangi will be on Monday at Te Aitarakihi Marae and he will be buried at Timaru Cemetery.
Te Aitarakihi Multicultural Centre and marae chairman Dan De Har described Mr Wikitoa as a "poutokomanawa" (meaning the centre pole which helps support a meeting house).
De Har said he was the face of the marae. Mr Wikitoa worked on the development and building of Te Aitarakihi and was chairman of the Timaru Maori Committee.
Centre secretary Huriata Weeks said yesterday his death came as a shock. "He was a leader, adviser and a well respected elder, anyone would listen to him," she said.
"There's big shoes now to fill."
In 2009, Mr Wikitoa became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to Maori. He served as a cultural adviser for several organisations, including Timaru Hospital, Timaru and Ashburton police and the South Canterbury Maori Rugby Board.
Speaking to The Timaru Herald in 2010 about his honour, he was quoted as saying he owed his love and interest in the Maori language and culture to his grandmother. "She only ever spoke Maori, she never spoke English. I can still remember her taking me to the school bus stop, smoking a pipe. She's gone, and my parents have since departed, but they're still with me. That's what keeps me going. I know they're proud of me."
His work has been long and varied and he was a figurehead in both the Maori and Pakeha community. "I love the fact I get to work with all sorts of cultures, not just Maori, but Pacific Island, Asian, European, the lot," he said.
Police Mid-South Canterbury area commander Dave Gaskin said Mr Wikitoa would be sorely missed. "He was a bit of a fixture around the place and highly regarded by police who came in contact with him."
Gaskin said Mr Wikitoa worked with police on a wide range of matters. "We sought his advice on cultural matters, he attended meetings and would speak at meetings. He was our go-to man." Gaskin said representatives from both the Timaru and Christchurch police would be attending his funeral.
South Canterbury District Health Board chief executive Nigel Trainor said Mr Wikitoa was employed by the board for 14 years.
"Bruce was all things to all people. As well as our kaumatua, Bruce worked in our mental health unit, supported whanau in our hospital and provided significant contribution to our Te Reo Maori and Treaty of Waitangi workshops for our staff.
"Nothing was ever a problem and his smiling face and calming nature will be sadly missed."
He is survived by four sons, one daughter and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
- The Timaru Herald