No time to celebrate for Jim Morunga winning NZ of the Year

By Roger Moroney

For "local hero" New Zealander of the Year Jim Morunga no celebrations are planned and life will simply be "to get on with things".

In his response to receiving the major honour at the Kiwibank Awards in Auckland on Thursday night, he followed his everyday philosophy of actions speaking louder than words - he was happy the honour "has made others happy" and when asked if he was proud and humble to receive it he simply said, "The second one, mate, not the first."

That will not surprise anyone who knows Mr Morunga and of his devotion to, as he put it, "helping people and passing something on".

Blind since he was 22, he has long been an advocate and worker for the sight impaired, as well as social work across a wide range.

His main drive now is suicide prevention work.

With a chuckle he agreed with what last year's "local hero" winner Henare O'Keefe said - that life was now going to get a whole lot busier.

"I suspect that will be so, so I'm having a break today, but I've made a commitment to the Relay For Life so I'll be there for that."

Would he give himself Sunday off? "Here's hoping."

He said he was prepared for busier times ahead and would simply "manage it".

Mr Morunga said he had a lot of work to do but one thing he did not have on the immediate or even long-term horizon was any thought of retirement from his work - or stepping back a little. "No, don't want to retire - every day is another day - things to do - I'm happy."

His blindness had never held him back.

"People see what I do and I say to them, 'Well, if I can do it then why can't you'?"

Mr Morunga's achievement received a big thumbs-up from Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia. She said all four major award winners on the night had made it a "very proud moment for Aotearoa".

"Heemi [Jim] Morunga has been a stalwart of support for people with disabilities. He has also taken on leadership of suicide prevention approaches through his work as co-ordinator of the Kia Piki te Ora programme."

Ms Turia said a major ingredient to his success had been his strong belief in the need to revitalise the art of korero - "because if we can't communicate then we lose connection with one another".

She said all the 700 nominees made people proud to be New Zealanders.

The other main award winners were New Zealander of the Year, writer and environmentalist Dame Anne Salmond; Young New Zealander of the Year, sustainable coastline advocate Sam Judd; Senior New Zealander of the Year Ian Grant; Mitre 10 Community of the Year - Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust / Diane Vivien and Geoff Lawson.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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