Dr Joe Williams Memorial: “A totara has fallen”

About 700 people from the Pacific and wider communities gathered in Auckland yesterday to farewell Dr Joseph Williams, MBChB, MPH, QSO, QSM, in a fitting tribute that his daughter described as an occasion full of “love and celebration.”

The former Cook Islands Prime Minister, medical leader and mentor was farewelled in a ceremony of beautiful singing and emotional tributes from the Cook Island High Commissioner Her Excellency Elizabeth Wright-Koteka, Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) CEO Debbie Sorensen , PMA president Dr Kiki Maoate ONZM, FRACS and Dr Williams’ dedicated staff at the clinic he founded, the Mt Wellington Integrated Health Clinic.

Musical tributes were performed by the staff of the Pasifika Medical Association Group (Etu Pasifika and Pasifika Futures) and the Pacific Congregation Choir from Auckland’s Apostolic Church.

The memorial was held at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau and was attended by Dr Williams’ wife Jill and the family including a wide cross section of the community. This included church ministers, Councillors, Pacific leaders such as Alfred Ngaro and Dr Robert Woonton, Parliamentarians including Hon. Jenny Salesa and Hon. Poto Williams, former All Blacks legend and Pasifika Futures director, Sir La’auli Michael Jones and Cook Islands High Commissioner H.E. Elizabeth Wright-Koteka.

The most emotional tribute came from Dr Williams’ daughter, Joanna, who described the pain of not being able to physically say goodbye to her father because he passed away during the Alert Level 3 lockdown restrictions in September.

“We weren’t able to hold his hand, to talk to him, to tell him how much we loved him.

Today is the day to give him a send-off that he deserves, one of love and celebration of his incredible life; to show how much we appreciate what he did for all of us.”

Labour MP for Mangere, the Hon. Aupito William Sio shared how Dr Williams’ passing is a great loss for the Pacific community.

“The totara tree has fallen in the forest of Tane, is an appropriate proverb to describe the life and death of Dr Joe Williams. 

A totara tree is a special tree and belongs to the group of chiefly trees. Dr Joe Williams is a man who has left a legacy of service to his people.”

CEO of the PMA, Debbie Sorensen, shared how integral he was to the establishment of PMA and other organisations he was involved with that advocated for the wellbeing of all Pacific communities.

“He was very good at understanding that internationally we stood together as sovereign nations and he encouraged us to use our collective voice.”

The official memorial service was followed by a meal and a community celebration tribute of music and dance that went well into the night.  


Date: Friday 30 October 2020