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Eru George farewelled: Mourners pay tribute to Te Arawa kaumātua

A gentleman, a leader with immense knowledge and a snappy dresser – to know Eru George is to know a man considered among his people as a “real treasure”.

It was a farewell fitting for the humble Te Arawa kaumātua as hundreds of people gathered at Mokai Marae, between Rotorua and Taupō, to remember the 71-year-old.

George died at his home on Monday after a long illness.

He wore many hats during his lifetime but was perhaps best remembered as the Māori adviser for the Lakes District Health Board and for his work negotiating with the Crown that led to Te Arawa’s Treaty of Waitangi settlement in 2008 and his work post-settlement.

Former Treaty Negotiations Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen was among those at today’s tangihana.

Despite his own recent health battle with terminal cancer, Sir Michael told the Rotorua Daily Post his cancer seemed to be a standstill and he had no hesitation to pay his respects to George. He said they had become close and had a mutual respect for each other.

He said he would never forget George allowing the Crown to delay Te Arawa’s settlement while it investigated the Central North Island claim.

“That was a difficult thing to do when you had a deed done but he saw the greater good.”

He said that proved to be the case.

“If anyone deserves the description gentleman it was him.”

Sir Michael said George was gentle but not weak and could show strength when needed, often flicking to his native Māori tongue when he needed to put someone right.

“He was just a lovely person and a pleasure to work with.”

Former Lakes District Health Board chairman Deryck Shaw, who was wearing a taonga gifted to him when he left the board and whichwas blessed by George, said the “ripple effects” of the work George and his late wife, Ngaire, did would be felt for a long time.

“He is a real treasure. I can’t think of anyone quite like him.”

Health board Māori health general manager Phyllis Tangitu gave a eulogy and described the moment she met George.

He had just been made redundant from the New Zealand Employment Service and he called her to request a meeting.

Tangitu agreed but was a little apprehensive as she feared it was “another complaint” she had to deal with.

She said he arrived wearing a maroon suit that was impeccably pressed, a crisp white shirt, matching tie and snake leather shoes.

“I thought ‘woah, is this papa for real?'”

After their discussion, George told Tangitu: “Kōtiro (young lady), you need to employ me. I have just been made redundant but I am still of value. Health is the next thing for me.”

Tangitu said she went to the chief executive and the only job that was going was for a support worker in infant mental health, so they gave it to him.

But she said within six months they realised his worth and he was quickly promoted to Pou Herenga (chief adviser) of Māori health, a position he held for 20 years.

“When he stood up, there was a hushed calm and people waited with anticipation for him to speak. He commanded presence but was humble when he spoke.”

Tangitu said Ngaire was his love.

“You are coming home to her today.”

Former NZ First MP Ron Marks also gave a eulogy – but he wasn’t introduced as Ron Marks, instead, he was Rongowhitiao Maaka.

Marks gave an emotional speech about how it was George and Ngaire who connected him to his Māori side, despite being brought up “by the state”.

“I had no understanding at all except from pieces of paper left for me by my birth father … Eru started filling in the gaps.”

Marks said George would tell him he had work to do where he was but eventually he would return to his Māori roots at Horohoro.

Marks described George as a man who was many things – a tradesman, an academic, a minister, a tohunga (expert) and a whakapapa expert.

What did Eru George mean to you?

He was such a gentleman who was incredibly respectful and was always trying to build relationships and build opportunities and outcomes for his people.

Deryck Shaw

Former Lakes District Health Board chairman

I worked with him for more than 20 years on the Lakes District Health Board. I will miss his humility, his cheeky smile, his wisdom, his incredible knowledge and relationships across the whole of the lakes district.

Phyllis Tangitu

Lakes District Health Board, Māori health general manager

He walked the talk when it came to being a good Christian and upholding his Māori values.

Willie Te Aho

Whānau spokesman

If anyone deserves the description gentleman, it was him. He was an extraordinary gentle man but not weak but could show strength when required.

Sir Michael Cullen

Former Treaty Negotiations Minister and Deputy Prime Minister

He will be missed for the role he played in different organisations that helped our iwi. It will leave a gap that we have to look at filling.

Sir Tumu Te Heuheu

Paramount Chief of Tūhwharetoa

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