Tributes flow after Hawke's Bay kaumātua Des Ratima dies
If you knew Hawke’s Bay kaumātua Des Ratima, putting that relationship into words is not something that even his closest friends find easily done.
Ratima died on Sunday, aged 69.
The kaumātua was an integral part of the Hawke’s Bay community, was involved in many projects during the past decade and served in the army for close to two decades.
He received the ONZM in 2018 for services to Māori and became a justice of the peace in 2016. In 2018, he was named Hawke’s Bay Business Leader of the Year.
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Ratima organised the inaugural Whakatu Christmas in the Park event in 2003 and contributed to the development of the Whakatu community.
He chaired Whakatu Kohanga Reo for 10 years, reviving it from a struggling early childhood education provider to a successful learning centre.
Ratima was a cultural and environmental adviser for regional and district councils, and a member of the Hawke's Bay District Health Board Māori Relationship Board.
He was chairman of the marae collective Nga Marae O Heretaunga and helped organise various projects.
Ratima was also instrumental in establishing the first military marae in Waiouru in 1995.
He was chairperson of the Te Kupenga A Maui and Whaea o te Ara police committees since 2007, helping to develop strategies to reduce the number of Māori involved in crime.
Close friend and Hastings district councillor Henare O’Keefe said the pair "argued like a husband and wife”.
One particular memory for O’Keefe was a stand-off with the High Court last year, after he and Ratima opposed an application by the Flaxmere Liquor store to renew its liquor licence but the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority granted the application.
“The judiciary hit me with quite a substantial fine, and I can recall saying ‘well I’m not paying one cent. You take me to jail and lock me up’. Afterwards when we were standing in the foyer, someone said to Des ‘you going to go to jail with him, Des?’ He goes ‘oh, no but I’ll visit him’.'’
O’Keefe and Ratima met at an early age, as both their mothers were social workers together.
“Des would have to have been one of mine and my wife Pam’s biggest supporters. Whatever we put our hands to, we supported one another.
“It was a very special relationship and not one that you can put on a piece of paper. Our word was our bond and that was it.”
Ratima was a strong voice for Māori when it came to Oranga Tamariki and child welfare.
Midwife Jean Te Huia met Ratima 15 years ago, describing him as an “academic, a scholar and a true gentleman”.
“He was an absolute strong advocate for Māori and we have lost a soldier. I know his family will dearly miss him and so will the community. He could be relied on and he was a man of integrity. You always knew if you talked to Des, he would have your back 100 per cent”.
Ratima, along with Te Huia, supported a young woman after Oranga Tamariki attempted the removal of her 6-day-old baby at Hawke's Bay Hospital in 2019.
“When I heard the news on Sunday night, I cried. I just thought of all the hearts and souls he has touched. He led by example, and he was not afraid to go into places that nobody else had gone into. He was there to challenge, and he was there to try and make sense of the world and help the best he could.
“We really respected and loved Des, and he will be greatly missed in our community,” Te Huia said.
Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the community had lost “an outstanding leader and kaumātua” and was honoured to have worked with Ratima, naming him ‘mayor of Whakatu’.
“Des Ratima was a hero of Whakatu, Hastings, Hawke’s Bay and wider New Zealand – always doing everything in his power to draw people together for the greater good, and to bring about fairness and equity in the education, health and justice systems.
“I was grateful for time with him last week to present to him a mayoral commendation for the unparalleled work he has done for our community. He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.”
Hawke’s Bay MP Meka Whaitiri said Ratima’s “love and compassion knew no bounds, and you leave a big hole in a world needing that more than ever”.
“Go to your eternal rest knowing you served this country and your community with humility, dignity and strength with a 19-year career in the NZ Army; to your Church Latter Day Saints; to the community of Whakatu as our unofficial mayor; the fierce advocacy, awhi and care to the many whānau struggling amongst us,” she said.
Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson visited Ratima two weeks before he died.
“I met Des in 1998 and we were going into politics together, we were competitors to start off with, and then we became mates. He never got to Parliament but he was a bloke who never needed to.”
Ratima worked closely with Jackson through the Māori Council and was a strong advocate, Jackson said.
“He was one of those special people who would front for you, he was a great speaker, and had special qualities. He radiated aroha and he was an exceptional character,” Jackson said.